Monday, March 12, 2007

Double Damage: The Tale of Dan Henderson

By Damian Sarcuni

One point that mixed martial arts fans love is that MMA is a very young sport. We are living in a time period that will be remembered as MMA's golden age, when the first records were set and the first legends were made. Yet as young as MMA may seem in the long run, most of the men whose names we see at the top of the rankings are fighting veterans who are no strangers to combat or competition.

It is little wonder then, that Dan Henderson has his name written alongside the greatest mixed martial artists ever to step into the ring. From the very start of his fighting career, Henderson has challenged and beaten the best MMA fighters from around the world. Yet this American's accomplishments have only just recently hit their peak, as just a short while ago, Dan Henderson became the first man to ever hold two mixed martial arts titles in two different weight classes simultaneously.

A member of the legendary Team Quest, Henderson has fought and found success at various weight classes in several MMA promotions, but the home base for his career has been in Japan's PRIDE FC organization. It is there that Henderson (or "Hendo" as he is referred to for short) has found his greatest successes, becoming known for his dangerous right hand that holds some serious knockout power. Yet Henderson is also a wrestling champion, and his path to becoming one of the most complete fighters in MMA today is the crux of our story.

Chapter 1 – Not So Humble Beginning

Dan Henderson originally hails from Apple Valley, California. He was born August 24th, 1970 and began his first combat training when he began wrestling at the mere age of 5. Even at that early age, it was clear Henderson was destined to be a fighter. "Apart from roofing for six weeks in the summer of 89, I've relied on my ability to beat people up to earn a living" he writes. Henderson continued all the way into high school competition where he became a two time California state placer. He then continued in college at Arizona State University and there he immediately began to work on expanding his career to the International level, competing at the 1993 NCAA wrestling championships as well as the 1992 and 1996 summer Olympics in Greco-Roman competition. Yet despite these accomplishments, Henderson still fell on financial hard times. "Unfortunately as the number one ranked wrestler in the country I only made $650/month." He says.

After relocating to Oregon one year later, Dan started lacking direction in his career. Fortunately, Dan happened to befriend one of the must influential men in his career and all MMA, Randy "the natural" Couture. Randy invited Dan to join the Real American Wrestling team (RAW). Debuting in the UFC himself that same year, Couture felt that Henderson could also find success in mixed martial arts. Taking Randy's suggestion, Henderson began to cross train in wrestling and muay Thai kickboxing.

The suggestion paid off in spades. "I got a call to fight in the Brazil Open, a Vale Tudo fight in Brazil. None of us had ever trained anything but wrestling and I only had two weeks to prepare but the winner got $12,000. Easy decision. Fortunately I won and began my career as a professional fighter" says Henderson. Just one month after Couture shocked the world by winning a UFC mixed martial arts tournament, Dan Henderson mirrored his friend's accomplishment by winning the tournament, defeating Eric Smith (who managed to best famous fighter Jose Landi-Jons during the tournament) with a guillotine choke in a mere 30 seconds. This set the standard for the seemingly insurmountable challenges and uncanny success Henderson would throughout his entire career. Henderson continued to train MMA for a year and debuted in the UFC in May of 1998.

At the UFC 17 – Redemption tournament, Henderson took on two very famous names in MMA history: Allan Goes and Carlos Newton. While both men were noted for their submission abilities, Henderson was able to convincingly best both men and win decision victories in both of these fights. After just one year in the MMA game and with a mere 4 fights under his belt, Dan "Hollywood" Henderson (a name he publicly disagrees with) was already a 2 time tournament champion.

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