If there’s one thing you can say about Dan Henderson, it’s that he doesn’t back down from a challenge.
The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion has faced some of the best fighters in the world at 185 and 205 pounds, and even made a trip to heavyweight for his most recent fight where he knocked out former pound-for-pound king Fedor Emelianenko.
So it should be no surprise that when he signed his new deal with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Henderson asked to fight UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Henderson saw no need in wasting time, so he wanted to get a title shot on day one, but when he was offered Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 139 instead, he happily accepted.
“I actually would have rather been in a fight for the title, but this fight excites me too. Shogun’s a tough guy, and it’s gonna be a big challenge,” Henderson told MMAWeekly Radio recently.
Had it not been for Rashad Evans’ inability to take his scheduled fight with Jon Jones due to injury, Henderson is pretty sure he actually would be fighting for the belt at UFC 140.
“Had Rashad said he was injured two or three weeks earlier, I probably would have had that fight instead of (Lyoto) Machida,” Henderson revealed.
No matter, he is motivated and ready for his match-up with Shogun at UFC 139. Both fighters spent several years fighting in Pride Fighting Championships in Japan, but never met in the ring.
Henderson has, however, watched Shogun fight several times, from his days in Japan all the way to his recent run in the UFC. Breaking down the fight footage, Henderson sees some gaps in the Brazilian’s performances, but still considers him as dangerous as ever.
“I think he’s always been a little bit hot and cold, but when he’s on, he’s a little dangerous and tough. When he’s off, he’s still tough just not quite as tough as he normally would be. Everybody has those days, but it seems like the last couple of years he’s been hot and cold,” Henderson said.
Much like anything in the UFC, performance pays off and even though former champion Rashad Evans is waiting in the wings for the winner of the Jon Jones/Lyoto Machida fight in December, nothing is guaranteed until bout agreements are offered and signed.
With the right kind of fight plus injuries that slow down contenders, Henderson could absolutely earn a shot at the light heavyweight title with a win at UFC 139. But while Henderson would love to add a knockout of Shogun to his resume, he won’t start headhunting just to prove a point or make a play for a shot at the belt.
“I’m not going to try extra hard to knock him out just to get a title shot,” said Henderson. “I’m going out there first and foremost to win the fight, and obviously try to finish him along the way.”
If Henderson is victorious, he’s ready to take on the challenge of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones right away if possible.
It’s a fight that intrigues him, but also presents certain problems, and as evident by every other fight Henderson takes, it’s all about the challenge.
“I do think that would be a fight I would enjoy,” Henderson said about facing Jones. “He’s awkward and unorthodox and it creates something to think about and how to beat that, and that’s what excites me these days. Guys that are a big challenge, and he would be more cause he’s awkward and dangerous at the same time, but I think he matches up really well with me style wise.”
Henderson definitely respects Jones for all the talent that he possesses and believes he has a bright future ahead, but he’s not ready to buy into the talk that he’s one of the best already.
“I’m not one to buy into things too quickly. I’ve been doing this for a long time and seen a lot of guys beat a lot of tough guys really quick and then die out,” said Henderson.
“I think he’s going to be around a long time, he’s just going to get better. But at this point he’s still got a lot to improve on, and he’s athletic and talented and he does learn. He’s got a huge future, but I think he’s got a little ways to go.”
Will Henderson get the chance to prove he’s better than Jon Jones?
First he’ll have to get past Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and then he’ll worry about UFC’s reigning light heavyweight champion.