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 ...
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:
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
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:
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:
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 ...
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:
Thanks, Vincent. I'd show my appreciation by shaking your hand, but I'm not sure I can reach from here.