Contract up, no pressure on Hendo
NOV 07, 2013 7:45p ET
Dan Henderson is 43 years old. He's on a two-fight losing streak. He's fighting the surging Vitor Belfort, who has knocked out two straight opponents in spectacular fashion. And Henderson is on the last fight on his current contract.
If ever there was cause for extra concern as a fighter, this is it. After Saturday's UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson event, he may either be categorized as resurgent or washed up. And heading into free agency, that's a lot of uncertainty to handle. But if Henderson is fazed by it, he's not tipping his hand. Mostly because he believes in his hands, and his wrestling, and all of the other skills and attributes he brings to the rematch of a 2006 fight.
"I don't know if it's extra motivation, but you tend to dig down deeper when you're back is to the wall," he told FOX Sports on Thursday. "So we'll see what happens. But I'm fully confident in my body and how I feel, that I'm going to go out there and do what I have to do."
Henderson said the organization has yet to broach the idea of an extension with him, mostly due to the recent glut of events that they've been focused on promoting -- Saturday's event will be the fourth UFC show in just over four weeks -- but that he's "pretty confident" he'll be staying with the UFC.
So to him, Saturday night is all about repositioning himself, both for a contract and in the hunt for a championship.
"All I know is I'd rather negotiate after a win than two losses," he said.
Henderson did not specifically single out past injuries as a cause for his two-fight losing streak, but alluded to their contribution in passing, noting that he feels better now than he has at any point since injuring his knee in the fall of 2012.
"I can slowly do more and more," he said. "You want to always think you're better off than you are. I've always been a very positive person, and sometimes that's not the best thing to have."
But even if the worst-case scenario happens, if Henderson loses and the UFC no longer wants him, he says he has no plans of leaving the sport. Win or lose he is still going to fight.
In fact, Henderson said that his 16-year career will most likely extend years into the future.
"I'm not taking it fight by fight," he said. "Obviously I take every fight seriously, but as far as retirement goes, it's not on a fight-by-fight basis. I feel good and I know I'm able to compete with the top guys in the sport. I'm thinking it'll be at least two years before I even talk about retiring."
Back when the two fought at PRIDE 32, Henderson won fairly handily, going 5-for-5 in takedowns and out-landing Belfort by a total of 65-25. As a result, he swept the judges scorecards in a lopsided win. That, however, was a very difficult time in Belfort's career, in which he lost five of seven matches.
Ironically, the Henderson loss was also the one where Belfort tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug 4-hydroxytestosterone, a result which has stayed with Belfort as part of the criticism for his testosterone replacement therapy usage.
Henderson, who also uses TRT, hasn't received nearly the criticism that Belfort has, but he has watched from afar as Belfort has rebuilt his career over time. However, in this particular matchup, he feels he has a stylistic advantage due to his ability to keep the fight where he wants it.
"I think [Belfort's rebirth] is great for him," he said. "He's a great fighter, somebody that I've watched for a long time as well. I like to watch him fight. But I'm not a typical guy that you fight. My style is different than his last two opponents, and I think he has trouble with guys like me."
Even though UFC 167 has been designated as the UFC's official 20th anniversary celebration, Saturday's Nov. 9 date is actually closer to the the original Nov. 12, 1993 event. Given that, it's fitting that the two fighters with the longest roots in the promotion -- Belfort debuted at UFC 12 in 1997, Henderson at UFC 17 the next year -- are at the top of the card.
Like that first event, this one doesn't have anything much at stake except for some money and pride, and for Henderson, the opportunity to show that he's still a man that the UFC needs if they are to boast of having the best fighters in the world.
"My goals are the same as they always have been," he said. "Try to be the best guy out there, which would mean getting a belt and having a title shot and winning the belt. Those are the goals. That's what I'm still striving to achieve."