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MMA Analysis: What's Next for Dan Henderson, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua?

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The absolute best thing about being a fight fan is witnessing those rare moments in the sport when two warriors put forth such and epic battle within the confines of their arena that words fail to accurately relay the message. 

These are those epic wars that leave witnesses awash in a weird mix of exuberance and humility.  The rarity of these fights is what makes the fight came so special.  For every Ali-Frazier, Gatti-Ward, Griffin-Bonnar, Fedor-Big Nog, there are a plethora of fights that all well short of the mark to make them memorable contests.  All of which brings us to the latest inductee into “Greatest Fights” category in this past Saturday’s epic battle between Dan Henderson and “Shogun” Rua at UFC 139.

The encounter between the two legendary fighters seemed like it would have been best suited about seven years earlier in Japan, the fact remains that these two veterans of the sport brought it for five rounds.  Call it a war of attrition, or call it a test of limits between two sadists, but the fact remains that this fight will be talked about for generations in terms of its greatness.  And while Henderson will go down as the official winner of the contest, squeaking by with a decision victory, the very real fact of the matter is that the fight could have gone either way.  Hell, poetic justice would have called for the fight gods to make this bout a draw given that you really hate to see a loser emerge from such an epic contest.

"Every time you come off a fight like that, you're going crazy, but that's without a doubt one of the best fights ever in MMA – without a doubt," UFC President Dana White stated to MMA Junkie. "I have so much respect for both of those guys to dig down that deep in a five-round fight.”

"That was like our Ali-Frazier III. It was unbelievable. It was incredible."

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Yeah, it was that damn good of a fight.  Though, of course, following such a dynamic fight the questions surround both participants are where do Henderson and Rua go from here?

For Henderson, the winner of this epic encounter, a title shot seems like a natural spoil reserved for him.  Not that this is based solely off of his fight with Rua but given the Hall of Fame credentials, and star power, Henderson possesses it would seem that a title shot should be his right.  Granted, this may sting a bit for Rashad Evans who is the current number one contender for the UFC light heavyweight strap but given his inability to stay healthy (though this should not be counted against him) the fact remains that a Jon Jones – Dan Henderson fight would be enormous.  But, the UFC’s light heavyweight picture poses a problem given Evans aforementioned promise shot against Jones.  While I would be in favor of Henderson being moved to the head of the line for a shot at the 205 lbs strap, fair is fair, and for Evans to be forced to wait out his shot again would be wrong.

This leaves the possibility of a return to the middleweight division where Henderson had been a fixture prior to moving up shortly after arriving in Strikeforce.  Henderson has made no secret that he is done with the middleweight division as the cut down to 185 lbs is simply too unenjoyably for the 41 year old.  However, given that current middleweight champion Anderson Silva has effectively cleaned out the division the UFC seems eager to give some new blood to the division.  In fact, White seems especially enamored with the prospect of Henderson dropping down to middleweight for a rematch with Silva.

"We'll talk about it. If [Henderson] doesn't want to fight at 185, I'm not going to tell him, 'You have to fight at 185,’ explained White.  “But I know him. If that fight's available, he'll probably take it."

The future for Rua seems a little bit easier to predict.  The UFC has generally awarded its marquee names “softer” touches following noteworthy performance.  And it’s hard to be more noteworthy than the battle Rua just engaged in.  Rua could be well served in taking on Stephan Bonnar who emerged victorious in his bout at UFC 139.  There is also the prospect of perhaps a Tito Ortiz fight or any other mid-tier light heavyweight on the UFC roster.  Rua has been on a run lately taking on some killers so a much deserved respite should be in order of “Shogun.”