On Nov. 19, 2011, at the HP Pavillion, we witnessed one of the greatest fights ever to take place in the UFC and all of mixed martial arts.
Within the confines of the Octagon that stood upright in San Jose, Calif. that Saturday evening were two fighters: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Dan Henderson.
Shogun was fresh off getting his revenge on Forrest Griffin for the drubbing the Brazilian got in his UFC debut, while “Hendo” was riding a wave re-entering the UFC and on the tail end of knocking out the census all-time greatest heavyweight fighter in Fedor Emelianenko.
The stage was set for an epic slugfest, and that's exactly what MMA fans got. Back and forth went Rua and Henderson, the American fighter getting the better of his foe for the better part of the fight. It was something that you and your friends – provided you watched that fight and many before it – likely tout as the best fight you've seen in your cage-fight-loving existence.
And if you were there – as MMAWeekly was, sitting cageside and providing live updates on all the happenings that night – you experienced a sense of excitement difficult to contain. We know this because reporters from every news outlet, from the small-time blog that was forced to sit backstage to main stream newspaper that was sitting at the helm of press row, were every so often turning to one another and saying, “This fight is [expletive] nuts!”
Henderson walked away that night with a unanimous decision, not to mention a face full of bruises, bumps and cuts. The memory of the fight left some to think that it should have been left alone with no possibility of rematch, encasing it in the trophy room of banner fights that have no equal.
But the rematch did happen, and it, like the first fight, was glorious.
Henderson, unlike the first go-around in San Jose, was on the receiving end of a beating for nearly two rounds in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. He got his shots in, true, but two knockdowns secured 10-9 rounds for Rua through the first 10 minutes.
But then something happened; something much like the first fight that caused everyone within an MMA atmosphere's circumference to say “Wow, is this happening?!”
That nasty right hand that Henderson keeps stored away for good keeping reared its ugly face, ironically making Shogun's face ugly as a result of its impact. He broke Shogun's nose on the way to giving the Brazilian only the second loss of his career due to strikes. It was an epic moment in MMA history, and now all of us have it etched in our cerebrums, courtesy of Henderson and his nuclear right hand.
Because of this moment, fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief, lifting the weight of a lackluster rematch that wouldn't live up to the first encounter. What five rounds provided in November 2011, one punch came close to matching, if not matched on Sunday night. It's these moments that get remembered for years to come, regardless of the length of time they took to occur.Twenty-five minutes versus a single moment: it doesn't matter because you'll remember both for a long time.
Sure, UFC Fight Night 38′s main event won't go down as the greatest fight of all time, but why does that matter? Henderson and Rua already gave that to the MMA faithful two-and-a-half years ago. What matters here instead is memories, and those have been secured thanks to two fights that went down thousands of miles apart by the same athletes.
No one got the 25 minutes of slugging that UFC 139 brought on, but they got to see a come-from-behind win that happened in an instant and no one saw coming – Shogun included. Just a few hammer fists to the head later and it was all over, with Henderson raising his arms in victory, Rua falling to his back from the blows he sustained, and you with the lifelong memory of this fight ending the way it did.
This is fighting. This is why we watch.
(Follow @Erik_Fontanez on Twitter)