Dan Henderson's days with the UFC are over. For now, anyway. On Monday, the heavyweight signed a four-fight deal with rival organization Strikeforce, sparking a heated response from UFC presidentDana White and continued speculation on the terms of his contract.
Financial terms have not been release, but Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said the deal was comparable to those of other top fighters. Henderson's first fight with the organization will be decided in the coming weeks, but it appears April or May is being targeted for his debut.
SI.com's Josh Gross caught up with the 12-year fight veteran to discuss the latest unfoldings.
SI.com: Why was signing with Strikeforce the way for you go to at this point of your career?
Dan Henderson: I'm definitely happy with pretty much every aspect of the deal, and I think Strikeforce is as well. I think that it was just a combination of everything. Their deal with CBS is great for the sport, and [it provides] exposure for me and the sport. And for me to have an opportunity to bring new fans to the sport is intriguing. It's not all about the money all the time.
SI.com:Money seemed to be such a focus of the negotiations. What else was it about if it wasn't about the money?
Henderson: Like I said, their CBS deal is big. That's most of it. I felt like I deserved a title shot [against Anderson Silva] and didn't get it. There's a number of things that just accumulated up. At the end of the day, I appreciate everything Dana and Lorenzo [Fertitta] and the UFC have done and will do for the sport. I think me going to Strikeforce is good for me and the sport.
SI.com: How much of your decision had to do with ancillary rights and likeness issues, and being able to control those things?
Henderson: Not a whole lot. I've given up a lot of those rights to the UFC in the past. The UFC is accustomed to getting everything they want as far as that goes. I'll tell you, Strikeforce is so much easier to deal with on those types of issues that it's kind of refreshing.
SI.com: You took your time with the decision and really tried to make a deal with the UFC happen. It didn't. When did it occur to you that making a deal with Strikeforce was the way you wanted to go, and how soon after that was everything finished?
Henderson: I was leaning toward Strikeforce for little over a month, five weeks maybe. But either way, I wasn't going to make a rash decision. I'm always a patient guy. I would sit back and wait and make a decision when it's time. I felt like I gave the UFC an opportunity as well. I did not run back and forth between Strikeforce and UFC and say 'They offered me this, can you do better?' That wasn't my intention at all and I didn't do that. I just let the UFC make their offer, and the same with Strikeforce. I didn't play them against each other, just made the best decision for myself.
SI.com: When I spoke with you at the beginning of your free agency you stressed fighting the best, namely Anderson Silva. It doesn't seem like you'll be able to do that now. Why was that no longer the main focus?
Henderson: I enjoy getting paid for what I do, but I also like the challenge of things. That's what drives me to do what I do. Anderson Silva is a big challenge and is somebody I wanted to fight just to be able to beat him. I didn't feel like I fought up to my potential the first time. Who knows what the future may have. I may fight him in the future.
It doesn't seem like he's overly thrilled to be in the UFC now either, or with his deal. Who knows? Otherwise he would have been fighting a little bit more than he has. Strikeforce still offers me quite a few challenges. Jake Shields is pretty much running through 185, and Gegard Mousasi is pretty much running through 205. Fedor is always an option as well.
SI.com: Dana White is insinuating that he pushed you into signing with Strikeforce based on the way he negotiated. And he said if he wanted to sign you, he could have. Do you feel that those are accurate comments?
Henderson: When I started negotiating, and even halfway through, yeah it's absolutely true he could have had me if he really wanted me. But they didn't put the value that I put on myself. They could have stepped up. Obviously, they've stepped up quite a bit more for other fighters in the past. But for whatever reason, they didn't want to step up quite as much for me. I was asking for what I thought was a fair offer. They thought they offered me a fair offer. We were at a sticking point.
So, they could have had me if they stepped up, but they didn't. For him to say he pushed me to Strikeforce, whatever he wants to believe. They called me up Friday trying to get me the same fight (versus Nathan Marquardt) they've been asking me to fight for three months. Maybe that was part of his ploy. I have no idea. I called up Dana this morning so he'd hear from me that I signed with Strikeforce, and to thank him for what he's done.
SI.com: What was his reaction?
Henderson: It was a good conversation. He said congratulations and no hard feelings.
SI.com: Just wanted to give you one more quote that he gave to MMA Fanhouse. I'll give it to you direct: "For the money he wanted, he's not worth it. He's not a big pay-per-view star, he's not a big attraction, and he's not going to sell out arenas. He wants way too much and he doesn't bring anything to the table." Do you have a reaction to that?
Henderson: That's Dana's response. We'll end up seeing if it's true or not in Strikeforce. Pay-per-view-wise, I haven't had the opportunity to prove what I can do being the main event since The Ultimate Fighter. I would say my five fights that I had in the UFC, everyone of them was sold out I believe. I'm sure that I had a little bit to do with that.
SI.com: Do you think too much is made of the UFC losing a fighter to Strikeforce as opposed to Dan Henderson making a decision on his career and where he wants it to go?
Henderson: I hope the UFC still does big things and signs big deals with other networks and pushes the sport to be big. I love the sport and I want the sport to grow. The UFC has done a great job doing that. Everyone around knows that they've done that. That's the bottom line. I still hope the UFC does really well. I still hope Dana will give me tickets to UFC one of these days.
FANHOUSE:Henderson signs deal with Strikeforce
FANHOUSE: White responds to Henderson's new deal