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Window closing on Dan Henderson as he continues hunt for UFC light heavyweight title

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Dan Henderson laughs softly and answers a familiar question, "Oh yeah, I feel great. Fine."

Then, the 42-year-old perpetual contender sighs. It's as if every fall and every kick and every punch sting a bit more now.

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Dan Henderson answers questions from a fan during an expo. (Getty)

Since defeating Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 139 on Nov. 19, 2011, in what many regard as the greatest fight in UFC history, Henderson has been on the sidelines.

He waited for a title shot for what seemed like ages. And when he was finally days away from getting a crack at Jon Jones' light heavyweight belt at UFC 151, he injured a knee and had to pull out.

It will be a year, three months and four days between trips to the Octagon for Henderson.

Henderson is only eight years away from qualifying for an AARP card, but says he doesn't have battle fatigue. He's been fighting professionally for almost 16 years and had been wrestling for years before that.

He's probably taken tens of thousands of spills in his life. What's another one or 100?

"Hey," he added wearily, "I feel as good as you ever feel going into a fight. In this business, there's always something going on. It's never perfect. You just deal with it and get out there and fight."

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That mentality is just one reason Henderson is one of the most popular fighters in the brief history of mixed martial arts.

He'll fight Lyoto Machida on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 157 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., with the likelihood of a title shot at stake.

He's the epitome of a fighter. He's not into pretense or being a celebrity. He's a T-shirt and jeans guy with a lethal right hand and a thirst for combat.

Henderson's style is as subtle as a kick to the face. He's going to go after Machida, close the distance and try to land that booming right hand. If he has the opportunity, he'll grab Machida around the waist and fling him to the canvas.

"The key thing is really getting up on him and pressuring him and making him fight," Henderson said. "Nothing too fancy. Just get out there and get after it."

If he wins, he'll likely fight for the title, though that's no guarantee. But it could set up a tricky situation if the man across the cage from him is his long-time friend, Chael Sonnen.

Sonnen will fight Jones on April 27 in Newark for the belt. Though Jones will be a prohibitive favorite, Henderson insisted that those taking Sonnen lightly may be shocked.

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The irony of it, from the way Henderson sees it, is that Sonnen will be a bigger risk to Jones at UFC 159 than if Jones had accepted Sonnen as a late replacement at UFC 151. Jones, though, chose not to fight on just eight days' notice, leading to the only canceled card in UFC history.

"Chael absolutely has a good shot to beat him," Henderson said. "I don't think he had much of a chance before, when he had just a week's notice. Now that he's going to be in shape and ready, he has a good chance.

"Their wrestling is not on the same level. Yeah, Jones was a wrestler, but Chael's a whole different level we're talking about. And Chael has some of the best MMA wrestling. Jones hasn't really used his wrestling that much, mainly to avoid takedowns. I'll be rooting for Chael, and I think he could win it. I wouldn't be shocked if he did."

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Dan Henderson looks on during a press conference. (MMAWeekly)

But if Sonnen won, that'd likely pit the friends against each other for the title. Though that's a decision they don't have to make now, UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva don't have to worry, either: If Sonnen is the champion, Henderson wouldn't hesitate to fight his friend.

And, he said, it wouldn't be that hard.

"It might be a little weird, but look, we grew up in kind of a different competitive atmosphere than most fighters do," he said. "We've been wrestling against people we train with and have competed against our friends for a long time. As wrestlers, we're wired a little differently."

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Sonnen had much the same stance. If he beats Jones, there would be no issue on his end making the first defense of the belt against the guy who helped raise him in MMA.

"Dan is one of my idols," Sonnen said via email. "He has taught me a lot. But if there's one thing I learned from him, above all else, it's anyone, anywhere, anytime."

If anything defines the long and successful career of Dan Henderson, it's those three words: Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.

Somehow you get the feeling that after the fighting is over with on Saturday, it's going to be Machida who will be the one feeling like he's in his 40s.

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