Following back-to-back losses to Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans, it may be time to start saying goodbye to Dan Henderson.

It’s not that “Hendo” doesn’t have anything left in the tank. In fact, Henderson is far from washed up. His last two fights consist of a pair of somewhat debatable decisions, and Henderson just happened to be on the wrong end of both of them. It’s not hard to believe that Henderson could provide us with a few more “H-Bomb” highlights before he truly needs to hang up his gloves. The problem is, unless “Hendo” is going to try to win a UFC title, there’s no point in continuing his career. And after watching Henderson struggle to get his offense going against both Evans and Machida, it doesn’t look like he has what it takes to defeat the very best in the division.

Much like when he rejoined the UFC roster in 2007 after years of competing in Pride with gold around his waist, Henderson made his second return to the Octagon in late 2011 having recently added the Strikeforce light heavyweight belt to his already stacked resume. Former Strikeforce champions Nick Diaz and Jake Shields had already made the trip over to the Octagon and instantly found themselves in title consideration, so it wasn’t surprising to see “Hendo” jump right into the title mix at 205 pounds. After pulling off a decision victory in a “Fight of the Year”-winning battle with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Henderson was eventually awarded his shot at the title, and it looked like “Hendo” would get one more opportunity to win a belt in the only major promotion where he had yet to do so.

Then UFC 151 happened. Henderson was forced from the card with an injury just eight days out from the event, and when UFC champion Jon Jones refused to fight replacement Chael Sonnen on barely a week’s notice, the entire fight card was scrapped. Jones went on to defeat a different replacement fighter, Vitor Belfort, at UFC 152 a few weeks later, and by the time Jones was ready to compete again, Sonnen had effectively talked his way into a light heavyweight title shot, with a season of The Ultimate Fighter to accompany it.

Since Sonnen had somehow found a way to jump past Henderson in line for a title shot, “Hendo” was forced to either take a fight or remain inactive for almost two years and hope he was awarded the next shot at Jones. Henderson elected to take a fight against fellow top contender Machida, and little did he know it, but his UFC title aspirations would come to an end soon after.

Stylistically, Machida is a nightmare match-up for “Hendo” on his best day. Much of Henderson’s offense comes from pressing the action forward and looking to land a big punch or combination, and for a counter-striker on the elite level that Machida resides, it’s an offensive strategy that isn’t too difficult to game-plan for. When the two finally met in the cage, the fight was forgettable to say the least. However, Machida did enough to earn the decision and send Henderson back down the light heavyweight ladder.

Although the loss to Machida set Henderson back a bit, it was “Hendo’s” loss to Rashad Evans last weekend that completely removed him from the light heavyweight title discussion. Evans wasn’t exactly at his best against Henderson, proving to be tentative at times, but Henderson wasn’t any better. For the second straight fight, it seemed like Henderson just couldn’t flip the switch into fight mode, and for the second straight fight, it cost him a decision.

Even in a division devoid of top contenders due to Jones’ dominance, Henderson isn’t even close to getting another shot at UFC gold. It’s going to take at least a few wins before he’s back in the mix. Obviously for an MMA legend like Henderson that is still competing near the top of his game, title shots come easier than they do for a rising star with no marketability, but “Hendo” is still going to have to beat some top-tier competition if he wants a shot at a UFC belt. Considering how hard it was for Henderson to get going against Machida and Evans, it’s safe to say that probably isn’t going to happen.

Henderson was at a major disadvantage in the speed and athleticism departments against Machida and Evans, and it hurt him from time to time when his faster, younger opponents were able to beat him to the punch. Those physical disadvantages are only going to get worse as Henderson continues to get older, and if Henderson starts getting into the cage with younger, hungrier fighters than he’s become accustomed to, he could end up becoming a stepping stone for a rising light heavyweight.

After fighting Machida, Evans and Rua in less than two years, the number of marquee fighters that Henderson hasn’t yet fought at 205 is a small one. There are no more former champions in the mix for Henderson to prove his worth against, just a handful of up-and-coming fighters looking to earn their way into a title fight by taking out a legend like “Hendo.” Unless the UFC decides to throw Henderson into the cage against popular fighters sitting outside of title contention, such as Rich Franklin or Wanderlei Silva, he is going to have to fight a rising star like Glover Teixeira before he’s truly back in the mix at light heavyweight. Such a fight could be rough for the slowly declining veteran.

Usually, the rising young contender over former titleholder scenario is exactly what MMA fans want. In order to make new stars, you have to kill off a couple of old ones, and in theory, Henderson losing to a fighter like Teixeira or Phil Davis would be seen as a passing of the torch moment that everyone could get behind. However, Henderson has taken a ton of damage throughout his MMA career, and it’s probably not worth his health to keep him around long enough for him to start getting finished. Henderson has never been knocked out in almost 40 career bouts, and it would be a shame to see him go the way of Chuck Liddell and let the MMA world watch his chin deteriorate. Even if Henderson was thrown into the cage against one of the top prospects in the division and wins, it would only lead him right back to the likes of Machida and Evans, who both sit above Henderson in the title-shot pecking order. By the time “Hendo” would be able to get back into the No. 1 contender spot he lost last September, he could easily be nearing 45 years of age.

It’s not quite time to say goodbye to Henderson yet, but the time is getting nearer. Although people aren’t calling for him to hang up his gloves, it’s just a matter of time before they do, and if Henderson can reach into his repertoire and put on one last vintage “Hollywood” Henderson performance, it may be enough to call it a day. Imagine if Michael Jordan had never came back to basketball after clinching the 1998 finals over the Utah Jazz. Wouldn’t it be far more enjoyable to think of Jordan retiring at the perfect time—draining a huge shot to win a title—instead of making his ill-fated comeback with the Wizards a few years later? The same rules apply to Henderson.

If he comes out in his next bout and wrecks his next opponent with an “H-Bomb,” it would make for a much better conclusion to a stellar career rather than watching him struggle through a few more fights and having him end up looking like a shell of his former self. Although Henderson hasn’t shown that he’s no longer competitive, he has shown a few signs of decline over his last few fights, and it’s getting tougher to consider him to be a true contender in the UFC. The only thing left for Henderson to accomplish as a fighter is to win a UFC title, but the odds are that “Hendo’s” days fighting for gold are over. If that is in fact the case, then let’s hope Henderson decides to hang up his gloves before he ruins his legacy.

Photo: Dan Henderson (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.