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Dan “Hardball” Henderson in Precarious Position off of UFN 32 Loss

Dan Henderson has been considered an elite mixed martial arts fighter for over a decade.  And last night at UFC Fight Night 32, Vitor Belfort gave him the first knockout loss of his career.

Is it time for Dan Henderson to retire?  Maybe.  It seems unlikely that he will contend for another title at this point, despite recent close fights with Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans.  However, even if he doesn’t need to retire, his precarious contract situation may end up making it a practical reality.

A little history lesson:  Dan Henderson returned to the UFC at UFC 75 as the Pride “Welterweight” (185lbs) and “Middleweight” (205lbs)  champion.  He would lose his first two fights to then champions Quinton Jackson and Anderson Silva.  However, rather than fade off into obscurity, Henderson would score a big win over Rich Franklin at UFC 93, and an even bigger win with his knockout of the century against Michael Bisping at UFC 100.

Henderson was in a great position.  He had three straight wins, and had pulled off the biggest highlight on the biggest pay per view of the promotion’s history.  And better yet, his contract was up, and he had all the leverage on his side.  However, rather than come to terms with the UFC, Henderson and the UFC’s numbers were too far apart.  For the first time in a very long time, a marquee UFC star would leave the promotion for more money elsewhere.

The UFC’s loss would be Strikeforce’s gain.  Strikeforce was still trying to garner an audience with mainstream fight fans, and what better way to accomplish this than sign the guy who nearly killed Michael Bisping.  As an added bonus, Strikeforce didn’t like their middleweight champion, Jake Shields, and this was a perfect opportunity for Strikeforce to get rid of their boring champion, and push Henderson.

It wasn’t meant to be.  Despite a strong first round, Shields would come back in the later rounds and pull off the unthinkable.  Strikeforce lost its gamble, and who knew what was going to happen with Henderson.

Henderson ended up persevering.  He would win the Strikeforce light heavyweight title two fights later by knocking out ‘Feijao’, and then scored the biggest win of his entire career by knocking out Fedor Emelianenko.

Then, as fortune would have it, the UFC bought Strikeforce.  Dan Henderson was immediately given a main event fight owing to his three fight winning streak, and did not disappoint, going to war with Mauricio Rua.  Since then though, it’s been three straight losses for the former Pride and Strikeforce champion.

So, what’s the problem for Henderson you ask?  For better or worse, he has always been about the money.  After his UFC 100 win over Bisping, he played hardball with the UFC, and refused to renew his contract.  Now, coming off three straight losses and at the end of his contract, his stock has never been lower, and it’s not hard to imagine that what Henderson thinks he’s worth is a  lot more than what the UFC thinks he’s worth.

If the numbers are too far apart, will Henderson sign with Bellator?  It’s theoretically possible, but unlikely.  I would wager he will come to terms with the UFC and fight at least one more time, but it would be very interesting to see how that contract ends up being negotiated, especially given Henderson’s history with the promotion.