Henderson isn't Hollywood, but it doesn't matter

Kevin Iole

LONDON – One of Dan Henderson's many nicknames is “Hollywood,” but the Pride light heavyweight champion is about as Hollywood as a 20-year-old pickup truck. With ears that look like chewed-up dog toys and a nose flatter than the plains of Kansas, it would be hard to mistake him for, say, a stock broker.

For sure, he's not going to be cast in a leading man's role any time soon.

But during the last decade, Henderson has been a leading man in the mixed martial arts fight game.

He faces UFC champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 75 on Saturday at the O2 Arena in the first Pride-UFC title unification bout ever, a match which UFC president Dana White says may be the most significant in MMA history.

If Henderson were an actor, he'd clearly be the strong silent type. He doesn't have a lot to say, especially if it's got to do with how he's going to approach a fight.

"Oh, you'll see on Saturday," he said at least a half a dozen times at a pre-fight news conference on Thursday, beaming impishly, to various inquiries about his impressions of Jackson and his fight strategy.

Secrecy-obsessed Vice President Dick Cheney would love this guy. Good luck getting more than name, rank and serial number out of him.

But Henderson is the kind of a guy who stirs passion in those who love combat sports, because there are two guarantees every time he's on a card: He's going to come to fight and he'll fight anyone in the house.

He's proven that in a glittering 10-year career, which includes significant wins over stars such as heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, light heavyweights Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort and middleweights Murilo Bustamante and Ryo Chonan.

Henderson shrugs when his string of big wins is recounted or when the fact that he's the only man to hold two major MMA title belts simultaneously is mentioned.

In addition to his light heavyweight crown, he's also the Pride middleweight champion and White says it's a possibility Henderson will fight in another of these Pride-UFC unification matches.

"I'm a fighter and it's my job to fight whoever's out there," Henderson said. "No big deal." As big as this fight may be in the MMA world, it would pale in comparison to the one which could be made should Henderson get past Jackson on Saturday.

Given that Henderson already has a win over Nogueira, one of the three best heavyweights in the world who, I might add, weighed 241 pounds in his last outing, it would hardly be a stretch to consider that Henderson could win the UFC heavyweight belt.

He's a long-time friend of UFC champion Randy Couture. The pair formed Team Quest and trained together for many years. If anyone knows Couture's strengths and weaknesses, it's Henderson.

White has Couture's next title defense slated for Super Bowl weekend in February. Pitting a guy who holds titles in two weight classes against a friend in a bid for a third would be the kind of over-the-top storyline that could send pay-per-view sales spiraling. "I wouldn't be opposed to that," Henderson said.

White, though, isn't particularly thrilled by the idea. He's not keen on having someone win his heavyweight belt and then surrender it to go back fighting middleweights. He conceded it would be an amazing accomplishment, but said it's not realistic in the current UFC, which is brimming with quality heavyweights.

"I don't know what good that does anybody if he holds three titles," White said. "He's not going to defend them. To beat Randy Couture and then not defend it, I don't know, because the next guy coming would be 265.

"There are a lot of bad dudes in the heavyweight division. Maybe he could have tried that a year ago, but I wouldn't recommend it right now."

But Henderson is as bad a dude as there is in the game. He's a two-time Olympic wrestler, having represented the U.S. in 1992 and 1996, but he's at least as well known in MMA for his standup.

He won the Pride belt in Las Vegas in February by outslugging Silva, Pride's most prominent slugger.

And he concedes that Saturday's bout with Jackson will similarly be a hands-first shootout.

"I'd say there's a pretty good possibility of that," Henderson says in his easy, understated style.

If it concerns him to be in a shootout with a guy who won his belt by knocking cold the hottest striker in the game, it's not readily apparent.

Henderson is hardly the type to get excited. His first MMA fight came on June 15, 1997, in Brazil at the Brazil Open. At the end of the night, an angry crowd began to rush the cage to protest a stoppage, when Henderson defeated Crezio de Souza.

Some began to pelt the cage with whatever they could find to throw. Others began to move toward it to take matters into their own hands.

"It was a little crazy and I wasn't sure if they were coming after me or the ref," Henderson said. "We were lucky it was a 10-foot cage. But I was also pretty sure they were upset with the ref, not me, so I wasn't too concerned. You never know what's going to happen, but I was assuming they wanted him more than they wanted me."

That experience, if nothing else, taught him that no situation is hopeless. He got out safely and lived to fight another day.

And that's why, despite the fact he's going to be the smaller man, like he will on Saturday against Jackson, he's never willing to concede an inch.

"I'm bigger in here," he says, thumping his chest. "And that's the only place where size really matters."

More UFC 75: Kevin Iole says Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is ready to roll.