'Fight of the year' debate changes in one night

Dave Meltzer
Yahoo! Sports

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Just one week ago, lightweights Ben Henderson and Clay Guida had a fight that was called a potential fight of the year at the UFC on Fox event in Anaheim, Calif.

Seven days later, it may not even be in the running. Dan Henderson, no relation to Ben, faced Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in what turned out to be the first full five- round non-title fight in UFC history on Saturday night at the HP Pavilion.

The two entered the arena to face a crowd that figured to be hard to please, considering they followed a Wanderlei Silva vs. Cung Le brawl that tore the house down.

But the delivered one of the greatest matches in UFC history. The fight, which saw both men on the verge of winning multiple times over the course of 25 minutes, ended with Henderson surviving a completely one-sided fifth-round beating to squeak out a 48-47 win on all three judges' cards. Neither fighter was around for the post-fight news conference, as both had to go to the hospital after the bout.

"It was one of the three best mixed martial arts matches of all time," said UFC president Dana White afterward. "It was better than [Forrest] Griffin and [Stephan] Bonnar. Those were two guys battling to get into the UFC. It was a great fight for our first time on Spike."

[ Related: Hendo beats Rua in all-time classic ]

Yahoo! Sports gave Rounds 1 through 3 to Henderson and Rounds 4 and 5 to Rua, with the fifth round scored 10-8 for a 47-47 draw. White said he also scored the final round 10-8 and had the fight a draw, but he added that in a fight like that, he would have been fine with either man winning or a draw decision.

"I thought 'Shogun' was out during the first round," White said. "I didn't think he was going to make it past the first. It went five rounds and he had the most dominant round of the fight."

Over the summer, White made the decision that main events of fight cards without a title match would be moved from three rounds to five. The first of these bouts was held two weeks ago, the Chris Leben vs. Mark Munoz fight in Birmingham, England, but that fight only went two rounds before Munoz won.

Henderson-Rua marked the first time a non-title main event went the five-round distance. While the fight would have been very good if it had ended after three, the decision would not have been in question. The final two rounds not only added to the drama but also led to debate about the decision.

"Yeah, I hit him hard; I should have had him finished there," Henderson said. "The gas tank was running a little low. It started out strong for me. He stayed in there like a champion should and he finished strong."

Henderson felt he was safe in the fifth round as long as Rua didn't finish the fight, feeling he solidly won the first three rounds and could have gotten at least one 10-8 round.

" 'Shogun' came back and dropped Dan in the first round," White said. "It was a war. I thought by the end of the second round Dan Henderson was breathing so hard, I thought it was done, and they went five rounds." Going into the bout, there had been talk that if Henderson won, he would drop back down to 185 pounds to face Anderson Silva in a match that White had attempted to make back in 2009, a rematch of a bout Silva won the year before. But right now Chael Sonnen appears next in line for Silva.

"All I can say is that guy can take a [expletive] punch," Henderson said during his post-fight interview in the Octagon. "I hit him hard. I thought I could finish him in the first or second round. I thought I had the first three rounds easy."

The one fighter at UFC 139 who assured himself of a title match was Urijah Faber, who finished former WEC bantamweight champion Brian Bowles at 1:47 of the second round. Faber will face Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight title at some point in the future.

"Hopefully I have some different judges," Faber said, referring to the decision he dropped to Cruz in their July bout. "I know it was a close fight, and I don't want to raise a stink and say I got robbed in a fight like that. That's not fair to the people who really have gotten robbed in fights. But I don't feel he's a better fighter than I am. I don't think he proved it. "He tried to take me down 11 or 12 times," Faber continued. "I dropped him three times with my hands. I think I did some good things. I think maybe you need more output if you go to a decision. But I don't want to think about going to the decision. I'm looking to finish him. It's for the UFC title. It's a personal vendetta. We're 1-1, a trilogy, it's a fight to find out who the man is for the rest of our lives."

Going in, the co-main event between Silva and Le was the bout that seemed to have the most crowd interest in San Jose. Le (7-2) was the hometown favorite but got something of a mixed reaction. Silva's reaction was louder. There were two distinct crowd bases. There were the San Jose area residents and fans from the days where Strikeforce packed the arena who had seen Le as one of the architects in building the local MMA scene. And there was the traveling UFC fan base, who saw Le as a fighter from a rival company and Silva as a legend of the sport. The loud mixed reaction made for a memorable backdrop to the bout.

[ Related: Miss UFC 139? Get the replay ]

Le knocked Silva (34-11-1, 1 no contest) down early, but Silva came back late in the first round. Silva, who really hasn't been the same fighter since 2006, showed flashes of his former brilliance, particularly in landing a series of devastating knees late that led to a finish from punches on the ground.

White was so impressed by Le and Silva that he gave each man a $70,000 Fight of the Night bonus, as he did with Henderson and Rua, one of the few times he's given two fights the best match bonus.

"It was an awesome fight," White said. "The thing that's so incredible is Cung Le was coming off inactivity, and he came in and fought the war that he fought tonight. I have a lot of respect for him."

Silva knew his back was against the wall, and with a loss, it was likely to be his last fight in the UFC after losing six of his previous eight bouts, although all six losses were against major names.

"We fight in the best event in the world," said Silva, whose jaw was in question after his 27-second KO at the hands of Chris Leben in his last fight but who stayed up after hard punches and kicks throughout Saturday's fight. "I know the responsibility. We have space for only the best guys in the world."

White said he was convinced Silva earned his spot.

"He looked good tonight against a guy who came in to finish him," he said. "The one thing I noted after the first round: His body, his back, and his arms were all bruised up from those kicks. He stayed in there and finished the fight. I'm happy to have him here. He's a guy we respect. Cung Le's a great guy too. Both of these guys are great guys. Cung Le's one of the nicest guys in the business."

When pressed on the other two fights White would consider the best along with Henderson-Rua, he couldn't name them.

"I'm just giving myself some leeway," he joked.

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