Dan Henderson's take on 'greatest fight in UFC history' may surprise you

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
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SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 19: (L-R) Dan Henderson punches Mauricio "Shogun" Rua during the UFC 139 event at the HP Pavilion on November 19, 2011 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

It remains, arguably, the greatest fight in UFC history. But when Dan Henderson peeled himself off the mat seconds after the final bell sounded to end his match with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in San Jose on Nov. 19, 2011, he didn't consider that he had just been in a history-making event.

Henderson believed he'd beaten Rua decisively and said Rua had not hurt him during the bout.

The crowd was into it, he knew, but as the bout ended, Henderson wasn't expecting the adulation that the fight would receive. Henderson won a unanimous decision that night, as well as praise for winning perhaps the greatest match in UFC history.

Henderson wasn't expecting all the hoopla because he felt he'd won decisively.

"I felt I pretty much controlled that fight," said Henderson, who will face Rua in a rematch on Sunday in Brazil in a fight card televised on Fox Sports 1.

Even in the fifth round, when Rua spent much of it in mount and was firing away at Henderson in a desperate bid to end the bout, Henderson was unfazed.

He was exhausted in the fifth and didn't have a lot of energy to try to get Rua off of him, but he said Rua didn't have much on those punches.

"Maybe I got a little too excited early on and didn't pick my shots well enough," Henderson told Yahoo Sports in going through a detailed examination of the fight round by round. "I paid for it, being so tired in that fifth round from really trying to finish him and throwing a lot of hard punches during the fight.

"Going into that fifth round, I felt like I was OK. I knew I won the first three rounds, possibly even a 10-8 in the third, so I knew I wouldn't lose a decision. I also knew there was no way he was going to finish me. In my mind, it wasn't nearly as exciting as it was for all the fans who were watching not knowing what was going through my head and me knowing there was no way he was going to finish me."

The bout came at an interesting time in the careers of both men. Henderson, a former Pride and Strikeforce champion, came in with a new UFC contract, having just defeated Fedor Emelianenko in a heavyweight tilt.

Rua was fighting only eight months after taking a devastating beat in a light heavyweight title fight with Jon Jones.

He'd defeated Forrest Griffin in the interim, but plenty of questions remained about how much he had left.

"That was a very important fight in the division at that time," UFC president Dana White said. "And they showed that by the way they fought. Those kinds of fights are the reason we all became fight fans in the first place. It was back and forth and each guy got in trouble and got out of trouble.

"They're the moments you live for as a fight fan. Whether you watched it in a bar packed with people or saw it at home on television or were there live, it's one of those fights you'll never forget."

Henderson made it a forgetful night early on for Rua. About a minute into the fight, Henderson caught Rua with a good knee and landed a flurry of punches that left the former light heavyweight champion with a cut by his right eye.

In Round 2, Henderson continually landed his right hand, but the best combination was probably a left hook-right uppercut that rocked Rua.

"The one thing about him in that fight is that he showed a great chin," Henderson said. "I remember thinking I'd hit him with some really good, hard shots, and he took them."

Henderson landed more big shots during the third round than he did in any round during the fight, and he had Rua in deep trouble several times. At one point, a massive right hand by Henderson dropped Rua.

Rua tried to catch Henderson in a heel hook, which failed, but  proved he would be dangerous throughout.

Henderson began the fourth in search of the finish and cracked Rua a number of times. Throughout the bout, Rua had been firing uppercuts at Henderson, clearly having seen something on tape in his preparation that led him to believe it would land.

For most of the first three rounds, he couldn't get it home, but he finally did in the fourth. It appeared to rock Henderson. Henderson returned fire with a right, but Rua came back with a right-left combination and got Henderson down and went into mount.

Rua landed several knees early in the fifth and found himself in the mount position for most of the round. Henderson said he wanted to get up, and managed to get out of the mount a couple of times, but Rua kept getting it back.

Still, Henderson wasn't concerned.

"He did a great job of keeping his position, but those punches honestly didn't have anything on them," Henderson said.

Both are ranked in the light heavyweight top 10, but a loss would be devastating to each man. Rua has lost two of his last three and three of his five bouts since UFC 139.

Henderson, who recently signed a six-fight contract extension with the UFC, is 43 years old now and has lost three in a row.

"Shogun still believes he can get back into the title picture, and that's his goal," White said. "You saw what Vitor Belfort did to Henderson (on Nov. 9, 2013, when he won by first-round knockout), and we'll have to see how Dan reacts to that.

"This is not only a rematch of one of our great fights, but it's a fight that carries a huge amount of significance. The result of this fight is going to matter."

Henderson blamed a momentary hesitation during his fight with Belfort on the knockout, though he said he wishes referee Dan Miragliotta had given him a chance to survive that Belfort barrage.

But Henderson insisted the loss to Belfort won't have a residual impact on him as he takes on Rua on Sunday.

"I'm good, man, and I'm just ready to fight," he said. "I feel like I have a lot of good fights still left in me, and I'm anxious to prove that on [Sunday]."