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Dan Henderson’s UFC 139 victory over Shogun Rua goes down as all-time classic

Henderson could fight for title in two different divisions, but focus is elsewhere after UFC 139

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Dan Henderson, center, celebrates with teammates after beating Mauricio Rua during a UFC 139 Mixed Martial Arts light heavyweight bout in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Henderson won by unanimous decision.

UFC 139

KSNV coverage of Dan Henderson's win at UFC 139, which Dana White called one of the top three MMA fights of all time, Nov. 19, 2011.

UFC 139

Dan Henderson, top, punches Mauricio Rua during the fourth round of a UFC 139 Mixed Martial Arts light heavyweight bout in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Henderson won by unanimous decision. Launch slideshow »

Dan Henderson speaks on victory over Shogun

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Leading up to their UFC 139 main event bout, Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua continually recalled how fans had begged them to fight for the better part of a decade.

Consider Henderson’s five-round unanimous decision victory (48-47, 48-47, 48-47) over Rua Saturday at the HP Pavilion worth the wait. The post-fight discussion topics illustrated how memorable the bout really was.

Talk of what the 41-year old Henderson’s victory meant to the current landscape of the UFC was kept to a minimum. Energy was instead spent on assigning the bout context within the history of mixed martial arts.

“One of the top three best fights ever in MMA,” UFC President Dana White said. “Without a doubt.”

Henderson blitzed Shogun, 29, early and dominated each of the opening three rounds. Henderson nearly knocked out his opponent multiple times during the stretch. His infamous right hand dropped the former UFC light heavyweight champion on three occasions.

But everything changed in the final 10 minutes. A gassed Henderson survived an onslaught from Shogun in the fourth round. In the fifth round, Shogun took Henderson to the floor early and ground-and-pounded him for five minutes.

Twenty minutes after the match concluded, they were both at the hospital and unable to attend the post-fight press conference. Everyone else, including the other fighters on the card, was ready to speak on the spectacle they created.

“Those guys are just warriors,” Urijah Faber said. “I enjoyed it. It was fun.”

“It was a great fight,” Wanderlei Silva said, “an unbelievable match.”

The fight was so close that many wondered if the decision was correct. A small outcry indicated that Henderson and Rua actually fought to a draw.

Although Henderson easily won three of the five rounds, some felt Rua was dominant enough in the fifth round to earn a 10-8 score.

The argument for the score was that Henderson mounted no offense in the final five minutes. The argument against it was that it never appeared Rua was on the verge of the finishing Henderson.

“It’s one of those tough ones,” White said. “That’s how I scored it. I scored it a draw.”

But the idea of a draw never crossed Henderson’s mind. In a video posted to one of his sponsors’ YouTube accounts, Henderson briefly discussed the fight in his locker room while medical personnel worked on him.

Henderson said Rua was trying to “Rocky Balboa me.” He also said he felt like he had the fight won at the beginning of the fifth round. Henderson opted to ride it out when Rua took him to the ground because he felt confident he was ahead on the judges’ scorecards.

“Had the fight been real close, I probably would have fought to get back on my feet and try to finish it,” Henderson said.

While everyone else tried to rank the performance in terms of greatness, he had one more request on the video — Henderson wants a title shot in his next fight. White said Henderson had earned the right to fight for either the middleweight or light heavyweight belt, but would have to wait for either.

Chael Sonnen is already anointed the next challenger for middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Rashad Evans is expected to face the winner of a UFC 140 light heavyweight championship bout between Jon Jones and Lyoto Machida.

“There are guys already lined up to fight for those titles," White said. “It’s whatever one is available first.”

White wasn’t ready to ponder any more specifically about what was next for Henderson. Unlike other events, post-UFC 139 wasn’t about the future.

The environment was more like a celebration of the way the second ever five-round non-title fight played out. It was an unforgettable moment for mixed martial arts.

“I have so much respect for both of those guys to dig down so deep in a five-round fight,” White said. “That was like our Ali-Frazier III. It was unbelievable. It was incredible.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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