In 1998, a fresh faced young man by the name of Dan Henderson emerged from the amateur wrestling ranks to try his hand at the underground sport of mixed martial arts. Like so many other amateur wrestlers, he found this new revolution in combat sports intriguing, as it presented him with an opportunity to continue using his wrestling skills while pocketing some money not available on the mats.
At UFC 17, he caught the attention of the combat sports community with victories over Carlos Newton and Allan Goes. He hasn’t been far from the spotlight since.
Having watched him grow from a scrawny wrestler to a full-fledged, elite-level mixed martial artist, we should have known he wouldn’t go down without a fight at UFC 204. He announced beforehand that the world middleweight championship fight against Michael Bispinga��a rematch of arguably Henderson’s biggest victorya��would be his last.
Henderson’s toughness has never been in question, even as his chin has continued to waver in his old age. And like any good warrior, Henderson went out on his shield, putting on an incredible performance in his final hurrah.
Henderson having held the middleweight and light-heavyweight PRIDE FC titles was historic, and will ultimately be what many fans remember him for. But he has left a problematic, if not troublesome legacy. He’ll be remembered for the exciting fights he produced on the back-nine of his career, but there’s much more to him than that.
History may not be kind to a�?Hendo,a�? thanks to him being one of the first fighters to fully embrace Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). Once known for his boring bouts, Henderson seemed to find a second life in his late 30s after a shocking knockout of longtime PRIDE champion Wanderlei Silva. He followed that up with knockouts of Rafael Cavalcante, Renato Sobral, and the unstoppable Fedor Emelianenko at heavyweight. Upon his return to the UFC, knockouts of Mauricio a�?Shoguna�? Rua, Tim Boetsch, and Hector Lombard followed. It was later discovered that Henderson was an early adopter of TRT, before it was banned.
Of course, Henderson was not the only fighter to use TRT. Many fighters took advantage of it, despite the health concerns associated with the therapy. It’s no secret that TRT is not common amongst elite athletes outside of MMA, and that those who require it likely do so because of previous steroid abuse.
The combat sports world vilified Vitor Belfort for his TRT use that resulted in a career resurgence, that saw him acquire victories over Anthony Johnson, Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Henderson. Yet, somehow, Henderson hasn’t received the same reaction. We don’t know how history will treat this era of mixed martial arts, but it may not be kind to those who used TRT.
None of this is to say that Henderson shouldn’t be celebrated.
After the previously mentioned knockout of Bisping at UFC 100, Henderson was up for contract negotiations with the UFC. He wanted more money and a world title shot. When the UFC wouldn’t budge, Henderson did what few before him had: he left the UFC on his own volition for more money elsewhere. It was a brave move from a fighter who has always done what’s best for himself.
Today, as discontent amongst UFC fighters reaches an all-time high, we are seeing more fighters follow Henderson’s lead in looking at Bellator, ONE FC or elsewhere for opportunities to make money and pursue fighting. Henderson’s decisiona��in 2009a��to leave the UFC and sign with Strikeforce was revolutionary at the time, and it set a precedent for the exodus of high-profile fighters we see leaving the UFC for greener pastures today.