I know far too little about oddsmaking to ever put too much stock in them. Any attempts at matchup prognostication on my part are almost always composed of observations of past bouts, skill assessments and gut feelings.
The odds on the UFC 173 co-main event between Dan Henderson and Daniel Cormier, however, surprisingly appear to resemble the concern myself and many other honest fans and observers have about the contest. Namely, that it isn’t a very fair one for Henderson.
At last glance, Cormier is a heavy, heavy favorite over Henderson. At first, that may sound a bit surprising, especially to ardent admirers of Henderson, such as myself.
How could a former champion like Henderson, who has a vast experience advantage and is coming off a knockout win, be a 8-1 underdog in some places? Well, it may have to do with the fact that, for the sake of his health, Henderson should have probably already retired.
In late March, Henderson knocked out fellow all-time great Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in a thriller. However, before landing the final shot to the nose of the Brazilian, Henderson was getting beaten badly and was knocked down and stiff several times.
Before that Pyrrhic victory, Henderson had lost three straight. Before those losses, “Hendo” beat Rua by decision in a war where he spent much of the last two rounds mounted, and getting blasted in the face by punches.
All in all, Henderson’s third go-around with the UFC (since returning from Strikeforce in 2011) has been an exciting but rough one for the legend. He’s lost more than he’s won, and taken KO-level punishment even in his wins.
Now, just two months after snatching victory from the jaws of violent defeat, Henderson is fighting again. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s rested for two months and is now set to fight Cormier, the red-hot undefeated and rightful No. 1 contender in two divisions.
Fighters have long and arduous training camps, sometimes lasting months. So, that means that Henderson and his battered brain has had virtually no rest time at all since his amazing come-from-behind win over Rua in March.
He’s had no time off from sparring and training, where most injuries happen, and we assume he’s also done all this without the use of the testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) he’s used for years, which helped him remain young but was recently effectively banned.
Add to all this the fact that Henderson is not even a light heavyweight. As a recent episode of the excellent "UFC: Embedded" series showed, Henderson is far underweight as a light heavyweight.
Everyone has known for years that Henderson is a true middleweight, but his bravery and skill have allowed him to fight heavier men quite well.
Seeing Henderson step on a scale this week on "UFC: Embedded" and having it read a meager 196 pounds, however, put his stature in the light heavyweight division into sharp focus. Most light heavyweights, like Daniel Cormier, walk around as giants of men – heavyweights – before cutting 15, 20 or more pounds off in water weight the week of a fight in order to hit the 205-pound weight limit.
At this point in Dan Henderson’s career, where he’s slower than just about everyone he faces, being so undersized is flat-out dangerous. Cormier, of course, is no spring chicken in terms of years, either.
"DC" is, however, the much fresher fighter – having been in fewer wars and not yet tasting defeat in MMA – by KO or any other means. Simply put, this is a set-up fight for Henderson.
With almost every advantage in his favor, Daniel Cormier gets a chance to take out a smaller, slower fighter, who now loses more than he wins and is fighting too soon after taking big punishment in his last bout. Henderson is a big name, a former champion, always exciting and promotes fights well, however.
So, it’s a great showcase for Cormier as he waits in the wings for whoever remains as the light heavyweight champion after Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson rematch.
Sure, Henderson could win the fight.
He’s always got that KO power. But that ability is almost a detriment to him at this point in his career, as it is for Wanderlei Silva. Both men seem to be confusing having a puncher’s chance against anyone in the world with it being safe for them to continue to fight.
Fighters win and get hurt all the time. We’ve seen it for decades.
We’re seeing it with Dan Henderson now. To make the situation more sad, UFC president Dana White recently told reporters that Henderson wouldn’t even necessarily get a title shot should he manage to beat Cormier.
Henderson has repeatedly said that Dana White asked him to fight Cormier, and that he wasn’t initially enthused about doing so but was then convinced by a promise from the promoter that, should he win, he’d get another crack at UFC gold.
So, now we’re left with Dan Henderson, who turns 44 this summer, showing up to UFC 173 simply for the cash and out of pride. Both are perfectly human reasons.
Both, however, have also been the causes of many fighters’ demise.