If you consider yourself a fan of MMA and didn’t say “wow, that was awesome!” following the Shogun Rua vs. Dan Henderson fight at UFC 139, something is wrong with you. Seriously, go check your pulse if that’s the case.
A fight that saw two former Pride Fighting Championship stand-outs go back and forth made it absolutely worth waiting years for it to happen. Henderson, who’s right hand leaves devastating marks on his opponents’ faces, tested Rua on the feet early and rocked the former UFC light heavyweight champ on more than one occasion. As a Muay Thai specialist, many thought Rua would have the edge on the feet. But the fact Henderson was able to tag Rua with so many punches early on was a surprise to many – including Hendo’s corner.
A pleasant surprise, according his striking coach.
“The first three rounds, he was very happy with (his performance),” Gustavo Pugliese told MMAWeekly.com. “He was surprised that he was hitting him so easily.”
Indeed, the first three rounds were great for Henderson, but this – like most UFC non-title main events going forward – was a five-round fight. The wrestler out of Temecula, Calif., was visibly tired in the fourth and fifth rounds and didn’t carry the same firepower he did in the previous frames.
The third round provided Henderson with an opportunity to finish Rua, but several punches to a rattled Brazilian didn’t provide a strong enough signal for referee Josh Rosenthal to stop the fight. The result: Henderson was gassed.
No one on Henderson’s side expected Rua to last that long, and according to Henderson’s cornerman, the plan was to wear Shogun down in the early stages.
“We didn’t expect Shogun to endure that much. (He) has that reputation of getting tired,” Pugliese said. “We actually had a game plan to go to Shogun’s body more in the beginning of the first (and) second round.
“Things went the other way because Dan landed a good punch then tried to finish the fight and ended up punching himself out.”
The fourth and fifth rounds were all Rua, especially the final frame. The California State Athletic Commission judges scored the fifth 10-9 across the board, but Rua’s domination from bell to bell has many asking if his performance in that round warranted a 10-8 score. Although he admits he’s not in a position to judge fights, Dana White saw the fight, overall, as a draw.
The UFC president gave rounds one through three to Henderson and scored the final two for Rua, which included a 10-8 score in the fifth.
“I thought it was a draw,” White said following UFC 139. “In the first round, they both knocked each other down. You give Henderson the first three rounds. You give Shogun (round) four and 10-8 in the last round for a dominant round.”
That’s fine, according to Henderson’s coach. Rua can have his 10-8 score in the fifth as long as you award the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ a 10-8 for the third. Pugliese feels Henderson’s performance in the third has more 10-8 written on it than Rua’s fifth-round showing.
“If you give that a 10-8 round, in my mind, the third round can be a 10-8 round for Dan,” he said. “He was really close to finishing that fight. He knocked him down twice.
“(Henderson) was dominated, but (Rua) wasn’t doing any damage.”
Regardless of the coach’s view on the fifth frame, the five-round war was, indeed, a battle to remember. Spectators got excitement in the Henderson-Rua scrap that was found only in championship fights in years prior. For all the the criticism generated by non-title main events going five rounds, UFC 139 proved it was great change.
Critics of the five-round main event can give it a rest now.
The next UFC five-round main event without a championship at stake takes place next month at UFC 141. Former UFC heavyweight king Brock Lesnar and former Strikeforce champ Alistair Overeem will lock horns on Dec. 30 in a match that will truly test the durability of the Octagon.
Lets hope the big fellas live up to the bar set in San Jose, Calif., by Hendo and Shogun. After all, it would be a shame to go into New Year’s Eve without fireworks, right?