By Matt Larkin
Well, that was the war we all knew it would be.
Dan Henderson versus Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was a match 10 years in the making and an extremely difficult one to call. Both guys possessed tremendous knockout power, both had beaten the best in the business and both were masters of their respective disciplines – Henderson Greco-Roman wrestling and Rua Muay Thai.
So it was no surprise the two star 205-pounders put on an epic show. Both guys took such horrific beatings that they were posing together for photos in the hospital after the fight. The UFC handed both of them six-month medical suspensions. Henderson got the decision but it easily could have gone the either way in such a back-and-forth bout. I personally scored it a draw (the first three rounds at 10-9 for “Hendo,” the fourth round 10-9 for Shogun and the final round 10-8).
It was a legendary bloodbath and a great way to showcase the new five-round format for non-title main events. But for me, the praise stops there. Some pundits and fans have resorted to hyperbole, labelling it the “greatest MMA fight of all time.”
That’s where I jump off the bandwagon. Though it was a fantastic battle and certainly one of the 2011’s best, I don’t consider it the best fight we’ve ever seen. I believe it was missing a few crucial elements necessary to elevate it to the all-time pantheon. To illustrate what I mean, I’ll refer to some of the bouts I do consider the best ever.
Did it feature a remarkable comeback?
No. It almost did. Shogun was inches away from being stopped midway through the fight, woozy from blood loss and turtling as Henderson rained down punches. That he rallied to utterly dominate Hendo in the later rounds constituted an absolutely remarkable comeback. But there was just one problem: he didn’t complete it. Shogun still lost.
One of my picks for the greatest fights of all time, Matt Hughes versus Frank Trigg II, featured the complete comeback. So did Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard III.
Did it feature non-stop action?
The kneejerk reaction is to say “Yes, are you kidding? It was all-out carnage.” Yes and no. Both fighters gave it their all – but to the point where they were exhausted and “zombified” by the final round. Hendo had nothing in the tank. It was rather anti-climactic.
For a non-stop tilt in which both guys kept swinging for five full rounds, give me Leonard Garcia versus Chan-Sung Jung any day of the week.
Was justice served?
Can a fight truly be one of the best ever if so many people believe the other guy won? From what I’ve heard and read, the judges were just about the only ones to score it in Hendo’s favor.
If you want a war on par with Henderson versus Rua, but where the right guy wins in the end, watch Forrest Griffin versus Stephan Bonnar I. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision but the case for Griffin’s win was very strong.
Based on the above questions, I believe Henderson /Rua fails the “greatest of all time” test. But don’t get me wrong; it was still a fantastic fight that deserves to be celebrated.