The Dan Henderson-Mauricio “Shogun” Rua rematch airing on FoxSports1 Sunday night leaves fight fans asking: Why isn’t this war headlining a pay-per view? A better question wonders: why is this battle happening at all?
It’s only natural that the UFC would want to relive the greatest fight in its history. That Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua would agree to a return engagement is not only unnatural, but masochistic and unhealthy and dangerous, as well. Their white-trunks-stained-crimson told viewers as much after the first five-round slugfest.
When the pair first met in November of 2011, one might tritely say they imitated rock-’em-sock-’em robots for twenty-five minutes. Perhaps the children’s toy that better personified the combatants are Weebles, who wobble but do, contrary to the advertising jingle, fall down. Weebles just don’t stay down. They, like Rua and Henderson, resiliently spring back up.
Fans began the first fight knowing both men wielded thunder in their fists–and for Rua, at least, in his legs, as well. Henderson’s recent knockout of Fedor Emelianenko, and Shogun’s similarly stunning conscious-relieving blow to Lyoto Machida had left little doubt about the pairing’s punching power. But by the time the spent the bloodied adversaries had issued postfight congratulations, different parts of their anatomy, notably heart and chin, stood out to onlookers.
The riddle of fighting, an enigma that remains unsolved by those who see the beauty as barbarism, is that a combatant’s greatest triumph generally announces itself during his weakest moment. For Shogun, that paradox arrived during in the middle frame, when Dan Henderson flattened him with an H-bomb and followed his limp body to the ground with hammerfists for good measure. Rua appeared unconscious, but the Brazilian striker somehow not only survived the barrage but ended the round by announcing through his fists that he not only could take a beating but he could dish one out, too. “That guy can take an effing punch,” Rua’s adversary redundantly announced postfight. “I hit him hard.”
Henderson’s apogee similarly coincided with his nadir. In the fifth round, Rua took his turn to dish out leather. He issued ground-and-pound and a guillotine attempt on his fellow former Pride Fighting Championships veteran. Punched out, exhausted, and perhaps frustrated in hitting Rua with his best shots only to see his seemingly defeated opponent repeatedly imitate Jason Vorhees, the former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion had reached his limit. But he survived to the final horn. Fighting’s not about knocking guys down. It’s about getting up.
The judges deemed Dan Henderson the winner in 2011. But it was the type of epic clash that featured no losers. Even the referee, who might have justifiably halted the action in the brutal third round, emerged a winner by showing restraint and saving fans from inevitable counterfactual claims. “I’ll come back stronger next time,” Rua promised then, strangely telling fans: “I’m sorry.”
Neither fighter had anything to apologize for. But both may been sorry to have left so much in the Octagon. Dan Henderson, after enjoying a career year with victories over Fedor Emelianenko and Rafael Cavalcante before defeating Shogun, hasn’t won since. In some ways, Rua’s stock has taken a greater dive. Whereas Henderson lost razor-thin split decisions to Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida before getting knocked out by Vitor Belfort, Shogun, 2-2 since losing to Hendo, looked like a shot-reflexed shell of himself in victory over Brandon Vera and as a punching bag against Alexander Gustaffson.
The same names square off Sunday in Natal, Brazil. The same men don’t. Dan Henderson and Maricio Rua have each other to thank for that.