(Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting)
Allow me to paint you a picture:
He shuffles forward on stiff legs, his arms occasionally jabbing out in slow, tired fashion. There is a man standing across the cage who advances and strikes him. A blow to the head. He staggers, but still shuffles forward, like something undead. Twice more he is struck in the head. With the third blow he goes stiff, like a corpse already in the grip of rigor mortis. He topples backwards like a stricken tree, to lay rigid and unmoving.
Sound familiar? Well, it should. It was the main event of UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi between Roy Nelson and Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira. (Watch the carnage here.) It was a fight that, bottom line, shouldn’t have happened. Nogueira has suffered the most knockdowns (8) in UFC heavyweight history, and his previous knockout losses to Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez proved that Big Nog’s formerly armor-plated chin was becoming vulnerable. So why put him in the Octagon with one of the most devastating right hands in the UFC?
This kind of thing has become common in MMA.
MMA promotions have made it a habit to put beaten and tired legends of the sport in fights that they can’t hope to win. Look no further than Nelson vs. Nogueira, Overeem vs. Mir, Cro Cop vs. Mir/Schaub/Nelson. The UFC assumes that fans want to see these fights, but really, only a certain kind of fan wants to see these fights — the same fans who would gladly watch George Foreman and Muhammad Ali go at it again. One more time. For old times’ sake.
Let me preface this by saying that I am a HUGE Dan Henderson fan. I still sit and watch old clips of Henderson wasting some of the greatest welter-, middle-, light heavy-, and heavyweights of all time. Henderson knocking out Fedor Emelianenko with an uppercut from behind is still one of the greatest performances in MMA history in my book, but let’s be real — Dan Henderson, 43, is old to be fighting at the top level in the UFC. Sure, others have had success at that age, and Henderson just picked up another come-from-behind win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC Fight Night Natal. However, Henderson lost three in a row before that, including a knockout loss via vicious head kick to Vitor Belfort.
Henderson’s supporters will say, “Don’t count him out. If he connects with that big right he could win.” They’re dreaming. Henderson will be fighting for the first time in years without Testosterone Replacement Therapy. He doesn’t know how his body will respond to intense training minus TRT. But experts agree that the users of testosterone therapy are…let’s just say reduced, after they suddenly stop using.
Then there is Cormier.
Apart from being nearly a decade younger than Henderson, Daniel “DC” Cormier is coming off of, well, no losses. Ever. The former Strikeforce Champion is undefeated in 14 fights and, prior to his move down to light heavyweight, he was the #2 heavyweight in the world. You need only look at the purple face of Patricks Cummins after his 79-second bout with DC at UFC 170 to see how hard Cormier hits.
To beat the unbeaten Cormier, Henderson has to put on the best performance of his life. At 43 years old and after dropping TRT, that seems awfully far-fetched.
Henderson should have been given the chance to take his TRT-less body for a test drive before facing elite competition. And ideally, Henderson should have been offered a grappler as his next opponent, who, worst-case scenario, could have submitted him without damaging a brain that has already taken a beating. No one wants to see Henderson with Cro-Cop-esque twitches.
So why would the UFC put Dan Henderson in the Octagon with Daniel Cormier?
The UFC is sacrificing Dan Henderson as DC’s first legitimate test at light-heavyweight, because Henderson has name value and he draws viewers — not because the matchup is competitive. Watching Henderson fight is nostalgic. It reminds us of better days when we actually liked the LHW champ, Randy Couture was (literally) spanking Tito Ortiz, CagePotato was but a little CageSpud, Pride existed, and Don Frye was still shooting his mouth off…well, some things never change.
Someone (you know who you are) needs to comes to their senses and stop sacrificing legends for viewers. Put them in the Hall Of Fame where they belong and treat them with the respect they deserve.