Fight of the Year: Henderson, Shogun Make for Memorable War

January 1, 2012

When considering the Fight of the Year candidate, it takes little time to choose which fight sticks out the most in 2011.

Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua put on what many considered one of the greatest fights of all time on Nov. 19. It makes an argument for that, too, but let’s just focus on this past year.

When first reported the UFC’s plans to make this fight the UFC 139 main event, the buzz was instant. Both Henderson and Shogun made careers out of smashing opposition and already guaranteed being looked back on as legends for years ahead.

What made the build-up to the fight that much more intriguing was the amount of time it took to finally make it happen. For years, the two fought in Pride Fighting Championships promotion, but never crossed paths. Rua won the 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix and was widely considered the best 205-pounder in the world by most popular opinion, even though his teammate, Wanderlei Silva, held the division title. Henderson held Pride hardware, also, but more than his UFC 139 counterpart. “Hendo” won the 185-pound Pride Grand Prix, as well as the weight class’ title. He then went on to dethrone Wanderlei Silva and capture the 205-pound strap, becoming the only two-division Pride fighter to do so.

Then Pride fell and was never seen by the MMA world again…

But from Shogun’s and Hendo’s perspectives, Pride’s demise didn’t falter their careers. The UFC almost immediately scooped up the high-profile fighters and placed them on the promotion’s roster after acquiring Pride’s assets. Fast forward four years and Shogun-Hendo headlines a UFC pay-per-view in San Jose, Calif.

Finally, Henderson and Rua took each other on in a highly anticipated contest, and for the first three rounds, Henderson got the best of the Brazilian. Hendo admitted that he hit Rua as hard as he could, but just couldn’t finish him because his opponent was able to take a punch so well. And anyone familiar with Henderson’s right hand will know that’s a whole lot of punch to take.

It didn’t reflect on the scorecards, but Henderson could have garnered a 10-8 round in the third because he rocked Shogun to the point where the fight looked moments from being over.

“In my mind, the third round can be a 10-8 round for Dan,” Henderson’s striking coach, Gustavo Pugliese, told “He was really close to finishing that fight. He knocked him down twice.”

But referee Josh Rosenthal didn’t stop the action, and the fight went on. It looked like Henderson punched himself out in the rounds that followed, and Shogun began to turn the offense on in the fourth and fifth frames. The fifth round stood out for Shogun because he stayed in top position for a majority of it, giving whatever he had left in the tank in the form of strikes from mount. To a lesser extent than Henderson’s third, Rosenthal could have stepped in to stop the contest in the fifth because of the domination by Rua. And it might have been stopped in any other fight, but the momentum moving back and forth kept the fight exciting and MMA fans got to see two warriors give whatever they had to top each other.

After some time for deliberation, judges scored the bout 48-47 across the board.

One look at Twitter following the fight would show updates from MMA followers expressing their extreme pleasure for having witnessed such an epic display of fortitude. Fans recorded their reactions to the fight on video and posted them online. Tears, smiles, anger – they were all uploaded and shared. Even article leads after the fight read “wow, wow, wow, wow.”

Being there to watch it in person, however, was an experience all unto its own. The vibe in the arena was like nothing one can feel at a professional sporting event. Reporters on press row, which doesn’t generate a ton of visible emotion during most events, had trouble containing themselves. UFC president Dana White was extremely jovial at the post-fight press conference.

Battered and bruised after a five-round war, Shogun and Henderson rode their wave of awesomeness for weeks following the fight. It will forever be etched in the minds of MMA faithful, and as a result, wins’s Fight of the Year award. Congratulations, Hendo, and parabéns, Shogun!

Honorable Mention: Eddie Alvarez vs. Mike Chandler

Step outside of the UFC Octagon for a moment and drink up some action that made MMA’s radar. Bellator’s Mike Chandler and Eddie Alvarez tested each other in a lightweight championship contest where Chandler dethroned one the world’s best lightweights in Alvarez.

Alvarez, who was on a seven-fight win-streak and was yet to see a loss in the Bellator cage, was favored to take out the undefeated youngster, Chandler. That being the case, Alvarez was surprised by a Chandler right hand in the first 20 seconds. A couple punches later, Chandler had Alvarez against the cage and dropped him with another hard right hand.

Alvarez miraculously recovered from the first-round barrage and got in a few good shots of his own, but Chandler added another uppercut towards the end of the round to add to the punishment.

Rounds two and three saw Chandler continuing to put on the pressure, but a stiff opposition by Alvarez excited the crowd that night in Hollywood, Fla. The two seemed to go all out and not lose any energy in doing so. Alvarez began to pick up speed and land more strikes as time went on, especially in the third, where he landed several strikes that rocked Chandler halfway through the round. Chandler persevered, however, and the fight went to the fourth.

The intense standoff finally came to an end at 3:06 when Chandler sunk in the rear-naked choke after dropping Alvarez with another right hand and mounting the champ on the ground.

Bellator got themselves a new lightweight champion that night, and MMA fans got them selves an exciting contest with two guys willing to throw leather at any expense. Because of these things, Alvarez-Chandler has to get mention when considering the Fight of the Year.

See you in 2012!

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