Don't ever underestimate Dan Henderson.
The 41-year-old former Pride and Strikeforce champion continues to defy the odds that age stacks up against a guy. He's lost just once in the last four years. He moved up to heavyweight and knocked out Fedor Emelianenko. His most recent fight, a unanimous decision win over former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua last November, was the fight of the year.
So when Henderson stepped to the front of the line of challengers for current champ Jon Jones's belt, who was the fool who said "Hendo" is less equipped to give "Bones" trouble than was recently vanquished Rashad Evans? Who made the imprudent proclamation that neither Hendo nor any other light heavy "can touch Jon Jones"?
That fool was I.
My excuse: Jones has a way of making you do what you don't want to do. The wunderkind champion turned aggressive tough guys like Rashad and "Rampage" Jackson into immobilized statue versions of themselves. In my case, the 24-year-old's wondrous invulnerability made me take Old Man Dan lightly.
I recognize the folly of that, but even now that the UFC has made official the fight everyone knew was coming -- Jones vs. Henderson was announced a week ago, slated for Sept. 1 in Las Vegas -- I have to admit that I'm still firmly convinced that Jones will walk out of the cage that night in possession of the championship belt. I still think "Bones" will overwhelm "Hendo." I really do.
But given all that Henderson has done and still is doing in mixed martial arts, I feel compelled to give voice to those who have written to me to make a case for Henderson. So let's dip into the mailbag ...
You wrote that Dan Henderson lacks the skill set that Rashad Evans possesses to give Jon Jones trouble. That made me pause to consider whether my eyes were playing tricks on me. So I read that part of your story again, and while scratching my head, all I could think was: What?? Henderson's striking abilities are outlandish. "Hendo" has fists created from cinder blocks, a chin to match, and his accuracy is pinpoint. Not to mention he's a Greco-Roman wrestling Hall of Famer. Dan is more potent than Rashad and he possesses more experience.--Nelson, Lancaster City, Pa.
To say Henderson doesn't have anything to offer does not reflect what he is capable of. Honestly, if anyone can pull off an upset and beat Jones, it's Hendo. He's beaten middleweights, light heavyweights and heavyweights. Granted, he's 41 and maybe a bit slower, but if that H-Bomb lands, it's goodnight Bones!--Herb, Sunapee, N.H.
I don't believe I ever said Henderson has nothing to offer, Herb. I merely questioned whether any light heavyweight has what it takes to give Jones trouble, and I stand by that, even while recognizing that Henderson is as dangerous a fighter as he's faced. I do agree with you and Nelson about Henderson's punching power, but I have my doubts that Hendo will get close enough to land a difference-making shot. Unless he listens to this next reader/strategist:
Sure, Rashad is younger than Dan, quicker than Dan and has a better gas tank. And he might be a better wrestler. But Rashad, like "Rampage" before him, fought a fight that played right into Jones' strengths. Henderson isn't going to do that. Dan is going to move forward, which I believe is the way to beat Jones. If you make him fight defensively, you have a shot.--Trevor, London, Ontario
That's clearly the strategy for fighting Jones. Henderson has said so himself. But c'mon, Trevor, don't you remember Rashad saying the same thing before last month's fight? And so did Rampage before he took his shot. A couple of other ex-champs, Lyoto Machida and "Shogun" Rua, also likely had "put pressure on him" in their game plans. Then each one of these guys stepped into the cage with Jones, and that airbus wingspan kept them all at a safe distance. Maybe Henderson will do what those before him could not. Maybe his grit, will and experience will get him within striking distance. I hope so, because I'd like to see a competitive fight. But I'm not expecting that to happen. I'm not expecting the fight to end well for Hendo.
I mean, Jones is so good that I did the unimaginable a couple of weeks ago and moved him past Anderson Silva into the No. 1 spot in the SI.com pound-for-pound rankings. Which, naturally, prompted e-mails.
Remarkably, not every correspondent was outraged. Sure, I received long missives listing the career accomplishments of "The Spider," which of course dwarf Jones' resume. (To which I say, once again: A pound-for-pound ranking is not a lifetime achievement award. It is a subjective assessment of the here and now.) I heard from those who believe Jones doesn't warrant the top spot after beating a long line of fighters who are not his equal as physical specimens. (My counter: If you can make weight, you can compete in the division.) I even had someone accuse me of making the rankings while smoking crack.
However, I also received some notes of agreement, such as these:
Good call. Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre are my two favorite fighters, but Jon Jones is winning me over so fast it's not funny. Although "The Spider" has longevity on his side, I think you summed it up best by saying this is not a lifetime achievement award.--Scott, Charlotte, N.C.
Jones has been the most impressive fighter in the world over the last year and a half or so, beating the likes of Shogun, Rampage, Machida and Evans. Over that same span, Silva has one victory, over Yushin Okami.--Brian, Marysville, Calif.
Oddly enough, reading these two notes written in support of my ranking makes me want to defend Anderson Silva. That's one of the problems with rankings: In making our case, we build up the fighter we believe belongs at the top of the heap, and we point out the warts that mar all of the other candidates. Well, there are no warts on Silva ... or, for that matter, on Georges St-Pierre, either. They're the sport's crème de la crème. I just happen to believe Jon Jones has risen above them. But I certainly wouldn't go as far as this reader:
Why is Anderson Silva scared of Jon Jones? I think Silva's recent declaration that he would not fight at 205 pounds is due to the dominance of Jones and Silva's realization that there is now someone who could be more unconventional than him. After having moved up to light heavyweight to face a pedestrian fighter in James Irvin and the game but predictable Forrest Griffin, and really not having serious competition at 185, why won't "The Spider" move up and prove that he really is the pound-for-pound best in the world?--Tony, Dallas
That Anderson Silva chooses to remain at middleweight is no more an indication that he's scared of Jones than GSP staying at welterweight shows that he's afraid of Silva. And the pound-for-pound issue centers on what fighters do in their weight class, not on whether or not they opt to fight in other divisions. While I'd love to see Jones vs. Silva and Silva vs. St-Pierre -- as well as Jones vs. Junior dos Santos, Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar and any number of other superfights -- I'm not going to hold it against an athlete when he chooses to fight guys his own size. I certainly don't attribute that to fear.
Speaking of which ...
To call Jones pulling guard with 10 seconds left against Rashad Evans anything more than a sissy move is outrageous. I get it: Rashad didn't look like he was even in the fight in the last three rounds. Jones is great. He won convincingly. But pulling guard did not show me his greatness or show respect to BJJ practitioners. If he wasn't afraid, like he says, then why not do it a few rounds earlier or even at the start of the fifth? Face it, that move was [lame].--Hilario, San Benito, Texas
I wasn't offended by Jones pulling guard, though I thought it was odd. Rather than an indication of fear, I saw it more as a sign that Jones can do whatever he wants to whenever he wants to. He's that much in control in the octagon.
Moving on, I have to share the following note I received after I apologized for stating, in my Jones-Evans prefight analysis, that Jones' 84½ inch wingspan, fingertip to fingertip, gave him a 9½-inch advantage over Evans. A reader quickly pointed out to me that I should have cut that advantage in half, since a fighter's true reach is just from his torso to the end of his fist. That logic made sense to me, and I published a brief correction. But since then I've heard from a few other readers, one of whom went into great detail about the variables involved in assessing a reach advantage. At the risk of veering into esoteric mathematical territory, I think this is worth sharing:
You were correct when you stated that Jones would have a 9½-inch reach advantage. That is the proper way to phrase the measurement, because it is the only pure measurement you can give.
Just as fighters don't fight with their arms extended to their sides, neither do they stand with their shoulders parallel to each other with their arms extended directly forward. They stand with one shoulder out in front of their other. So the actual reach is less than 9½ inches but more than the 4¾ inches your reader cited in correcting you. For Jones and Evans, it was probably closer to a 7-inch effective reach advantage. But there is no way to know for sure.
There is a natural variance inherent in the reach measurement. We measure from fingertip to fingertip, yet your fingers aren't extended when you punch. So you could have long fingers and short arms, and that would skew the effective measurement and indicate an advantage that is not real. Likewise, you could have short fingers and long arms and have more of an advantage than the measurement makes it seem.
Then, in some fights, you have the righty vs. lefty variable, which can distort the perceived/actual advantage/disadvantage as well.
You also have to factor in a fighter's natural stance and punching motion. For example, let's assume Shane Carwin and Junior dos Santos have the same fingertip-to-fingertip measurement. But dos Santos extends on his punches much more than Carwin does. Carwin's punches are shorter, much more compact. This variable would also change their effective reach measurements.
There is no way, with different arm lengths and stances, to be 100 percent precise with a reach advantage analysis. So the boxing world, and now MMA, has to settle for the standard fingertip-to-fingertip measurement, and it's up to the spectator to understand the math and the possible variables that factor into the real advantage.--Vincent, Dallas
Thanks, Vincent. I'd show my appreciation by shaking your hand, but I'm not sure I can reach from here.