SAN JOSE, CALIF. – It was a fight years in the making, and it was worth the wait.
Former Pride legends Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua slugged it out Saturday in the main event of UFC 139 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., with both men surviving barrages from each other.
And in the end, it may go down as the greatest fight in the history of the sport.
“That was like our Ali-Frazier. That was just incredible,” UFC president Dana White said at the post-fight press conference. White said he scored the fight a draw.
It was a five-round non-title fight, just the second the UFC has held. White decided earlier this year to make non-title main events five rounds, the same as title fights are.
The judges each saw the fight 48-47, with all three giving Henderson the first three rounds and the last two to Rua. Somewhat surprisingly, there were no 10-8 rounds given – though arguments could be made for one for Henderson early and one for Rua late.
Henderson, who vacated his Strikeforce light heavyweight title to return to the UFC, and Rua, a former UFC light heavyweight champ, both fought in Pride at the same time – but never got the chance to face each other.
“I thought I could finish him the first two or three rounds, but he finished the fight strong,” Henderson told Joe Rogan after the fight. “But I thought I won the first three easily.”
Henderson opened up strong, landing big bombs that bloodied Rua in the first round. As Rua got defensive, Henderson looked for a takedown, but ate some shots in the process.
In the second, 90 seconds in, Henderson landed a big right and moved in quickly for more shots, but Rua took the punishment and continued to look for ways to counter.
In the third, Henderson again landed some big uppercuts and began measuring his shots with Rua against the fence. Rua clinched up and tried to move the fight to the ground, but Henderson shrugged it off and dropped him. After landing big shots on the ground, Henderson looked as if he couldn’t believe the fight wasn’t stopped by referee Josh Rosenthal. Rua survived, though, looking for a heel hook at the end of Henderson’s onslaught, and moments later even got Henderson down.
Henderson’s offensive barrage in the third seemed to take all that was left in his gas tank, and Rua took advantage in the fourth and fifth rounds. Though Rua’s face was severely swollen and cut, he was bringing the most offensive in the last 10 minutes of the fight. Halfway through the fourth round, Rua landed a huge uppercut that sent one of Henderson’s teeth flying out of the cage. And in the fifth, Rua got full mount on Henderson just a minute in, and dominated the round on top.
But it was too little, too late.
Henderson said he believes he should have a shot at Jon Jones‘ light heavyweight title.
“He can take a punch – he’s got a hard head,” Henderson said. “I thought I was going to finish him. He is some kind of tough. … I tried to finish him – he just tired me out. I thought I was one or two punches away. I thought I had him. I want the 205-pound title and think I should be next in line for a shot.”
Rua now has lost two of his last three after losing his belt to Jones in March.
“This was certainly a great fight,” Rua said. “I can’t believe it went five rounds. I don’t know how the judges scored the last round. It could have been or should have been a 10-8 round. But that doesn’t take anything away from Dan Henderson. He is a legend and those are the type of fights that create a legacy. … I want a rematch and I think this would be another great battle and one the fans would definitely want to see.”