In the pre-dawn hours Sunday morning in Stockholm, Dan Henderson made his future intentions clear.
“I want to fight right now,” Henderson said.
Of course that’s what Henderson would say. That’s what Henderson does. This is a guy who has been around so long, he actually won an old-school, one-night UFC tournament, winning what was called the middleweight tournament at UFC 17.
The former Olympic wrestler from Southern California is one of mixed martial arts’ most decorated fighters. He remains the only fighter ever to simultaneously hold world titles in two weight classes, winning PRIDE’s 205- and 183-pound titles. He was also the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion.
Fans love Henderson because he represents so much of what they love about the sport. He’s a hard-nosed, no-nonsense, humble competitor who has never backed down from a fight, conducts himself with dignity, and gives the fans his best every time out.
The problem is, time is finally catching up to the legend of the sport. Henderson is 44 years old, turns 45 in August, and has been fighting as a professional since 1997.
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Donald Cerrone pulled off a pretty mean feat Sunday night.
Not only did the popular UFC lightweight nicknamed "Cowboy" win for the seventh time in 14 months, but this time around, he was victorious a mere 15 days after his most recent fight.
But the rowdy, beer-swilling post-fight celebration fans have come to expect from Cerrone was missing Sunday at UFC Fight Night 59 at Boston's TD Garden.
And why was that?
Well, this time around, Cerrone had defeated his longtime friend, Benson Henderson.
And while the "Cowboy" is usually the rambunctious sort, he wasn't about to go disrespect a friendly foe after getting the better end of a tight, across-the-board 29-28 decision in the evening's co-feature bout.
"This was a hard victory for me to celebrate," Cerrone said after the fight. "This is tough. I could tell he was timid in there. I love the dude. We grew up together."
Eventually, one of the calls wasn't going to go his way, and it finally happened. Henderson, who has now lost consecutive fights for the first time in his career, appeared genuinely stunned when the scores were read against him.
LOS ANGELES — Everywhere Alexander Gustafsson turns, it seems, someone asks him about Jon Jones.
"That's all anyone wants to talk about," the top light heavyweight contender said. "Everywhere I go, reporters, fans, they all ask me about him."
He doesn't want it to be this way, mind you. The fighter from Sweden, who trains at San Diego's Alliance MMA, has a major challenge on his hands next week. He'll return home to Stockholm to meet dangerous striker Anthony "Rumble" Johnson in front of an expected crowd of 30,000 on Jan. 24.
But all anyone wants to discuss is the UFC light heavyweight champion, the man whom Gustafsson nearly defeated in 2013. The man he'll likely rematch if he defeats Johnson. The man who can't keep himself out of the news.
Gustafsson and Alliance teammate and fellow light heavyweight Phil Davis, who also fights on the Stockholm card, had lunch with reporters Tuesday following a training session at Freddie Roach's famed Wild Card boxing gym in Hollywood, and the topic du jour was the controversial champ.
Davis, likewise, is incredulous that Jones hasn't been punished for the transgression.
LAS VEGAS — As he sat in his place Saturday at the UFC 182 postfight news conference, Daniel Cormier nearly lost control.
He was asked his feelings on one of the most disappointing moments of his professional career — his loss to bitter rival Jon Jones in the evening’s main event at the MGM Grand — and all the other heartbreaks came rushing forward.
Cormier has experienced everything from athletic letdowns in his career — he finished fourth in freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Olympics — to unimaginable personal anguish when he lost his infant daughter in an auto accident.
"I've had to rebuild myself a number of times like people can't even imagine," Cormier said in a cracking voice. ”And, this is no different. This is not going to ruin me.”
The fighter known as “DC” then paused to regain his composure and vowed to pick himself back off the mat yet again.
“One way or the other, I’m going to stand across the cage from [Jones] again,” Cormier said. “And I believe, just as I did tonight, I’ll take the fight to him again.”
In the height of his disappointment, Cormier proved to be every bit the astute analyst fans have come to expect, even when he was his own subject.
Mixed martial arts news often seemed more bad than good in 2014. From drug test failures to fights canceled by injury to complaints about oversaturation to legal issues, the sport was shrouded in negativity.
But that didn’t stop truly memorable highlights from happening. From transcendent fighters to thrilling fights that will be remembered for years to come, 2014 also had a fair share of standouts. So let’s take a look at the best the year had to offer.
Fighter of the Year: Robbie Lawler. It’s rare that a fighter claims this award if he or she lost a fight over the course of the year. But then, 2014 wasn’t an ordinary 12-month period and Lawler isn’t an ordinary fighter. Lawler dropped a razor-thin decision to Johny Hendricks at UFC 171 in March. Then he returned two months later to finish Jake Ellenberger at UFC 173. In July, he bested Matt Brown in a grueling five-round bout in San Jose. On Dec. 6, Lawler capped his year by avenging his loss to Hendricks and claiming the UFC welterweight title. In a year in which so many of the sport’s biggest names fought only once or twice, Lawler’s accomplishments truly stood out.
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Lyoto Machida is one of mixed martial arts' most respected figures, a former UFC light heavyweight champion who has always conducted himself with an understated dignity not usually associated with a bombastic sport.
He debuted in the UFC in 2007 and has competed in the Octagon 18 times, been in five title fights, and if his fight isn’t the evening’s main event, then he’s at least in the co-feature bout.
By the time he finally hangs ‘em up, Machida could very well end up in the UFC Hall of Fame.
C.B. Dollaway, meanwhile, has also had a lengthy run in the UFC. Since appearing on Season 7 of "The Ultimate Fighter," the former Arizona State wrestler has stepped into the Octagon on 14 occasions.
But while Machida’s career has been about bright lights and high stakes, Dollaway has been a grinder who has had to slowly work his way through the ranks. Saturday night marks the Tempe, Ariz., middleweight’s first UFC main event. The winner of four out of his past five matchups, Dollaway (15-5) takes his biggest step up in competition, when he meets Machida (21-5) in the main event of UFC Fight Night 58 in Barueri, Brazil.
The rebel who bucks the system has long been a popular archetype in combat sports. The fighter who kicks ass, takes names and thumbs his nose at authority will always draw the sort of fans who live vicariously through their antihero.
But when the fighter stops kicking ass, things can take an ugly turn.
Such was the case this week for UFC lightweight Nate Diaz. Coming off a self-imposed, year-long exile in protest of his pay rate, the Stockton, Calif., native had a train wreck of a return, one that was capped with a one-sided decision loss to Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on FOX 13 in Phoenix.
Diaz first raised eyebrows Wednesday, when he missed a public workout session, although that's not unprecedented for either Nate or older brother Nick.
Thursday, Nate vented his frustrations in an interview with MMAFighting.com. He ripped on the UFC's recent signing of former pro wrestler CM Punk ("[Expletive] him and [expletive] his situation") and the UFC's announcement of an apparel deal with Reebok, which will replace independent fighter sponsorships ("They're going to make us all look the same, like we're in a cult").
LAS VEGAS — Most fighters pretend they never hear any criticism. As they tell it, they stay off Twitter, don't go to mixed martial arts websites, and don't even know message board forums exist.
Consider this one of the many ways Anthony Pettis isn't like most fighters.
The UFC lightweight champion was sidelined for the past 15 months. In part, this was because he spent several months filming the current season of "The Ultimate Fighter." But mostly, it was due to a knee injury, exacerbated in the Aug. 2013 fight in which he defeated Benson Henderson for the belt.
Pettis heard every last comment labeling him injury-prone and questioning whether he'd ever truly live up to his vast potential. Which made his second-round finish over former longtime Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez on Saturday night at UFC 181 all the more sweet.
"The best way is to prove them wrong," Pettis said at the post-fight news conference at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. "For me, I was injured, so I couldn't really prove myself or fight. I had to be quiet and just let them talk. Tonight, I was able to prove everybody wrong."
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LAS VEGAS — Through the lowest of lows, Cat Zingano never took her focus off the welfare of her son, Brayden.
The undefeated UFC women's bantamweight contender had her fortune take a tumble in the summer of 2013, when a bad knee injury caused her to pull out of a coaching slot alongside Ronda Rousey on "The Ultimate Fighter," as well as the title shot at Rousey's belt which went with it.
Then things got considerably worse in January, when the 32-year-old's husband, Mauricio, committed suicide.
But no matter how bleak it seemed to get, Zingano was determined to show her 7-year-old child that a human being can persevere, no matter what life might throw his or her way.
"When life is going to present you with tons of problems — really hard ones, some less hard, some debilitating — it's what you do about them that matters," Zingano told reporters at a recent UFC media event. "I really want him to see. I want to make a good example."
While Zingano knows she's got a motor that won't stop, she can't quite pinpoint when it gets turned on.
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LAS VEGAS — The strategy Nick Diaz should employ when he meets Anderson Silva in a highly anticipated superfight at UFC 183 on Jan. 31 in Las Vegas seems obvious to armchair observers: Attack Silva's left leg, which was so hideously broken last year, and do so early and often.
It might seem like a no-brainer to the layman. But then, that's what separates the people outside the Octagon from the elite level-competitors on the inside.
Diaz, the former Strikeforce welterweight champion, told reporters at a recent UFC news conference that he's not going to focus on Silva's leg, because doing so could throw him off his all-around game plan.
"When someone tells you a fighter's injured and they tell you to go after an injury, it really throws you off," Diaz said. "It would be sad to lose a fight on account of, you're trying to concentrate on capitalizing on someone's weakness when it comes to injury and something like that, [rather than fighting] your fight without worrying about something like that."
The pride of Stockton, Calif., was just getting warmed up.
Ask Diaz about any subject, and you're going to get a blunt answer.