Dan Henderson’s TKO of Shogun Rua came suddenly and explosively. It was a vintage H-Bomb saving a fight Henderson was losing after the first two rounds. It was the kind of devastating power that has been responsible for the destruction of fighters in three different weight classes during Henderson’s legendary career.
In a reversal of their first fight, Rua came out fast and dropped Henderson in each of the first two rounds. Henderson changed it with one clean punch. It was another special fight that deserves a closer look at how it got to that punch.
To start the fight, Rua held his hands up high protecting his face and opened with leg kicks. Two minutes into the fight and Rua had landed more leg kicks than punches. He employed a very defensive style and did an excellent job of blocking Henderson’s first few right hands.
Even though they had spent five rounds in octagon against each other they spent those early moments getting a sense of each other’s timing. Brian Stann informed the viewers that Henderson was planning on starting out slower to pace himself due to the heat and high humidity.
Since their last fight Rua had spent some time training with Freddie Roach. We did not see much of that in his fight with Chael Sonnen but he did showcase it in his TKO win over James Te Huna. As Stann pointed out, Rua really utilized excellent movement to create superior striking angles. In the first half of the opening round he was fighting very technical. Along with the defensive improvement he used a lot of fakes and feints.
With two minutes left in the round already Rua’s hands were creeping down from his face. He popped them back up quickly when Henderson feinted or threw a punch. They just started a little lower than when the round began.
Through the first 4:15 seconds of the fight the most significant strikes had been Rua’s leg kicks. They each had landed a couple of glancing strikes to the head but nothing solid.
Then five seconds later Henderson caught Rua with a glancing left hook that staggered him while he was off balance. He did not go all the way down but he was close. He staggered up and back against the cage using it for support. Rua was not hurt but stumbled to avoid the strikes.
Henderson came in and landed a glancing right upper cut. Followed by a knee that Rua blocked. Both strikes were nasty and the uppercut just missed. After the knee block both fighters threw right hooks that missed. Henderson was slightly more off balance and Rua came back quickly with a left hook that sent Henderson down. Rua followed him to the ground and started landing right hands.
Henderson survived the round but just barely. It ended with Rua in the mount ready to rain down damage. The crowd was so loud that you could not hear the horn and some people thought the fight had ended when referee Herb Dean was waving his arms at the end. It was just to signal the end of the round as the fighters had not heard the horn either.
The round illustrated the excitement of these two fighters. It was a very innocuous low action round for the first 4:45 of it. Then the last forty five seconds had more action and drama than some three round fights.
To start the second round Rua came out with a stiff jab and Henderson seemed more cautious. Rua went right back to the leg kicks. Normally this is dangerous against a wrestler but Henderson likes to get his takedowns from the clinch and was not looking to catch or check the early kicks.
An overhand right from Rua landed and brought them into a clinch. Rua had Henderson pressed up against the cage. This actually benefited Henderson as Stann pointed out allowing him to recover. Henderson broke off the clinch.
After a few exchanges Rua caught Henderson with a lead right uppercut that again had him in trouble. Henderson went down to the ground and Rua followed. There was a lot of time left in the round. Henderson did a good job of getting Rua into his guard quickly and negated the damage he received. They spent a little over two minutes on the ground before Dean stood them back up.
Henderson did a great job of recovering and not getting hurt worse on the ground. Rua landed some shots but nothing clean or solid. It seemed like a missed opportunity for him. Henderson was hurt but did a better job on the ground of staying out of danger.
They finished the round on their feet with neither landing anything of consequence.
Going into the third Rua was easily up two rounds and seemed to be in control of the fight. The leg kicks were starting to slow Henderson down. Rua’s timing was sharper as he had the two knockdowns of the fight thus far.
To start the third round Jon Anik informed the viewers that Henderson’s corner thought that Rua was beginning to drop his left hand. They wanted him to look for the overhand right counter. On cue Rua threw a jab and Stann noted that he returned it to his thigh before bringing it back up.
Henderson brought the big overhand right but agains missed. Then another jab from Rua that was a little short and he brought back again at thigh level.
They both miss on big punches and exchange jabs. Then a few more from Rua before Henderson tried the overhand right counter and missed again.
Moments later as Rua was throwing his own overhand right Henderson ducked under and went for the takedown. He did not get it as Rua did a good job of keeping his balance and backing up. They scrambled for a moment. As they broke apart Henderson threw Rua with his left arm directly into a right uppercut.
Rua somersaulted backward like he was Rick Flair. Henderson blasted him with another right hand that completed the destruction of Rua’s nose, as he came out of the somersault. Then Henderson landed several hammer fists as Rua clung to his legs. Dean came in ending the fight.
Henderson showed that with his durability, heart and huge right hand he can comeback from serious danger and win any fight.
It was not the classic in the sense of the first fight but it was a special one between these two legendary warriors.
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