UFC all-timer: Henderson wins 25-minute classic against Rua at UFC 139

Steve Cofield

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Dan Henderson has put on some amazing shows over the years, but Saturday night may have been his best.

In a all-time classic fight, Henderson stumbled to the finish line, but he did so much heavy damage over the first three rounds that he earned a unanimous decision victory, 48-47 on all scorecards, over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the main event of UFC 139 at the HP Pavilion.

During the post-fight interview in the Octagon, UFC analyst Joe Rogan said the bout was one of the greatest MMA fights in history. UFC president said it was one of the top three fights he'd ever seen. It just might have been.

"I hit him on hard. Cut him a few times. I should've had him finished there, but the gas tank got me. He stayed in there with a great heart like a champion should," Henderson, who was being held up by one of his cornerman, told Rogan.

Both fighters escaped terrible predicaments and landed shots that would've finish most opponents at light heavyweight. They both held on and survived in those situations.{ysp:more}

It was a tale of two fights. Henderson (29-8, 6-3 UFC) had Rua in trouble in each of the first three rounds. His jackhammer right hands nearly closed Rua's left eye after just 15 minutes. Henderson outlanded Rua 106-66 over the first three.

"That guy can take an [expletive] punch. I hit him hard tonight. I tried to finish him the first three rounds," said Henderson.

That's when the championship rounds arrived. Earlier this year, the UFC decided to make all main events, title and non-title fights, five rounds.

Henderson, 41, spent so much energy trying to pound out Rua that he was exhausted in the fourth and fifth. Rua almost took him out in the fourth. Henderson stumbled around the cage over the final 90 seconds of the round with his hands down by his sides.

In the fifth, Rua scored a takedown with 4:25 left in the fight and Henderson never got back up. Rua mounted Henderson several times. He outlanded Henderson 84-19 down the stretch.

Cagewriter scored the final round 10-8 for Rua, but none of the judges did. If they had, their scores would have matched the 47-47 we had as the final outcome.

The fight opened on a blistering pace. Henderson dropped Rua with a punch just over two minutes in. That was the first sign of a cut next to Rua's left eye. He bounced back in the final 80 seconds by bouncing a right off the top of Henderson's head that dropped the old guy.

Henderson pressed the attack in the second. Both fighters landed good shots, but Henderson produced the heavier blows.

Rua (20-6, 4-4 UFC) came out for the third with his eye slowly closing. Henderson put together a brilliant inside leg kick-right hand combination that dropped Rua again with 3:23 left in the round. Henderson went ballistic with elbows and punches on top of the Brazilian. Rua rolled to his side to cover up and the fight was seconds away from being stopped by referee Josh Rosenthal. He didn't step in and it was absolutely the correct decision.

Rua actually mounted a bit of a comeback in the final 33 seconds as he hurt a weary Henderson with a nice combination. Henderson said afterwards he thought he'd jumped out to a safe lead.

"I knew I had the first three rounds easily. I thought I even had one of the rounds 10-8," said Henderson.

Both fighters came out for the fourth taking deep breaths. Rua scored two momentary takedowns and Henderson drove through a big double leg takedown of his own with 3:46 left. With just over two minutes left, Henderson actually dropped his hands from sheer exhaustion. That's when Rua landed his best punch of the fight, a brutal uppercut that put Henderson on rubber legs. The veteran was out on his feet, he stumbled backwards and ate several more big shots.

Rua could've pushed Henderson to the ground without much resistance, but he was simply too tired to press forward over the next 45 seconds. He scored a takedown with 36 seconds left, mounted Henderson and took his back, but ran out of time as he looked for a choke.

The fifth round was an absolute whitewash for Rua. He took Henderson down 35 seconds into the round, mounted him three times and attempted a total of 97 strikes.

According to FightMetric, Rua outlanded Henderson 79-8 in the final round. For the entire fight, Rua outlanded Henderson 191-113. He also made good on 5-of-10 takedowns.

"I was confident before the decision was announced. I would have been very surprised if that decision did not go my way. If I didn't think I had the fight won, I would have tried to get on my feet that last round. He did do a good job of staying on top. He tucked his head in nice," said Henderson.

Henderson said his next fight should be for the UFC title.
"I want the 205-pound title and think I should be next in line for a shot."

White said Henderson is a candidate for a title shot at both middleweight and light heavyweight. He won't force Henderson into one or the other. It'll be up to the fighter and what opportunity presents itself first.