SAN JOSE, Calif. – An exhausted Dan Henderson and a brutalized Mauricio "Shogun" Rua combined for a five-round classic in one of the best matches in UFC history Saturday night at the HP Pavilion, with Henderson winning 48-47 on all three judges cards.
Henderson (29-8) won the first three rounds of a fight that was an incredible back-and-forth battle. Rua (20-6) won the fourth round and won the fifth in such a convincing manner that it seemed the round could only be scored 10-8, which would have ended the fight as a 47-47 draw.
But all three judges scored the fifth round 10-9, leaving Henderson with a 48-47 across-the-board decision.
"All I can say is that guy can take a [expletive] punch," Henderson said moments after the fight. "I hit him hard. I thought I couild finish him in the first or second round. I thought I had the first three rounds easy."
The fight saw both men in position to finish the other several times. Rua had his left eye busted up and was seemingly hanging on by only a thread several times in the early rounds.
Henderson dropped Rua in the first round and had him busted up and nearly finished. But Rua came back with a knockdown late in the round and had Henderson in trouble as well.
Nobody came close to finishing in the second round as both were tired from the high-paced first. The third round went back-and-forth, with Henderson scoring another knockdown and nearly finishing Rua. Rua came back later in the round with an ankle lock attempt that wasn't dangerous, but Henderson's escape brought the crowd to its feet. At the end of the round, Rua took Henderson down and unloaded with punches from back position.
The fourth round saw Rua get a couple of early takedowns, but Henderson, seemingly running on fumes, got a takedown and tried to rest while keeping Rua down. When Rua got up, he picked Henderson apart with punches, although Henderson got in a strong counterpunch.
Late in the round, Rua was on top in the mount throwing punches and Henderson looked like he may not make it to the fifth. But Rua went for a choke and failed, leaving an opening for Henderson to escape and reverse to top position as the round ended.
The fifth round was a one-sided beating by Rua, who took Henderson down and pounded on him the entire round, frequently from the mount position.
Before the match started, it was hard to believe that anything would steal the show from the semifinal bout, in which Wanderlei Silva (34-11-1, 1 no contest) saved his UFC career with a second-round stoppage over local favorite Cung Le (7-2).
[ Related: Silva scored memorable finish of Le ]
Le knocked Silva down early and had him in trouble in the first part of the opening round, but Silva came back strong at the end of the round.
Both men took a lot of hard shots. Le's style, which requires speed and great conditioning, worked against him at 39, with a 17-month layoff and much time spent on movie sets. He did not have the speed or the kicking game that he showed in his prior fights with Scott Smith. To be fair, Silva is also past his prime and not the fighter he used to be.
But unlike most bouts with fighters nearing the end of their careers, they stood tall and delivered a war. Silva managed to channel his PRIDE days, throwing vicious knees and punches to put Le down twice late in the second round and finished him with punches on the ground.
The other major California favorite on the show, Urijah Faber (26-5), earned himself another shot at bantamweight champion Dominck Cruz by finishing former WEC champion Brian Bowles (10-2) after knocking him down with a right uppercut and finishing him with a guillotine.
Cruz, who beat Faber by decision on July 2 in Las Vegas, is currently sidelined after surgery for a brokenright hand. Faber had beaten Cruz in their first meeting in 2007.
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- Dan Henderson