November 7, 2015

"Ageless Wonders" Henderson and Belfort Meet In Trilogy Fight at UFC Fight Night 77

By Adam Martin

When the UFC announced that veterans Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort would clash in a trilogy fight in the main event of UFC Fight Night 77, I wasn’t really sure what to think.

My initial thoughts were, why is the UFC booking this fight again? After all, the pair met just two years ago at UFC Fight Night 32, and the result was definitive, with Belfort knocking Henderson out with a brutal head kick in the first round. Sure, Henderson had bested Belfort by decision in a 2006 PRIDE match, but this was much more definitive, and it seemed like a given that Belfort was a far better fighter at this point of both fighters’ careers.

After all, Henderson is 45, and he was 43 when Belfort knocked him out. Belfort is 38 now, but he was (only) 36 then, and it was his third-straight win by head kick knockout, while the KO of Hendo was Henderson’s third-straight loss. Both men were on completely different trajectories, and it seemed like a foregone conclusion at that point that if, for whatever reason, they did meet again, Belfort would knock Hendo out yet again.

But then a funny thing happened. Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) was banned, and both Belfort and Hendo lost their right to use it. For Belfort, a guy who has been caught for performance-enhancing drugs in the past, losing TRT really hurt him. He lost a year-and-a-half of his career while leveling down to the rest of the playing field, and when he did return to the Octagon at UFC 187, he got absolutely destroyed by UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman. Sure, that’s Weidman, but still, Belfort got battered, looking the worst he had since, well, before he started taking TRT.

Hendo also lost his use of TRT, but for Hendo it wasn’t such a shock to his system because he had fought without it at UFC 161, when he lost a split decision to Rashad Evans. He was not allowed to use TRT in that fight, but he was back on it when he knocked out Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. However, he lost it once again and got destroyed by Daniel Cormier and Gegard Mousasi in his next two fights, leading many to believe his career was over.

But then Henderson fought Tim Boetsch, a very tough middleweight known for his durability, and Henderson was the underdog. Only he didn’t follow the script, knocking Boetsch out in the first round in his best performance in a long time. It made you think that, although TRT no doubt helped him, maybe Henderson really is just that good of a fighter, one whose violent right hand could fell any foe in the world on any given night.

So when this trilogy fight was announced, I was a bit confused, because we saw what happened in the last fight, and with Belfort losing to Weidman by knockout and Hendo knocking out Boetsch, you’d think the UFC would match Belfort up with another middleweight coming off of a loss and Henderson with a middleweight coming off of a win. Plus both guys are very old, and both have been knocked out in brutal fashion in recent years, so I thought that maybe the UFC shouldn’t have booked this fight. But then I started thinking about the fight, and the more I looked at it, the more I liked it.

You see, although Belfort and Hendo are controversial figures for a number of reasons (but mainly because of their use of TRT) the truth is both men are ageless wonders of the sport, two freak athletes who have defied the odds to stay at the highest level of the sport for nearly 20 years. For a brutal combat sport like MMA, that’s unheard of. But not for these two.

Think about it. Belfort first fought at UFC 12 back in 1997. That’s right, 1997! And although he’s made a few stops around the world since then, most of his fights came in the UFC or a Zuffa-owned property (like PRIDE or Strikeforce), and the fact that, in 2015, he’s still headlining cards is just amazing. The same goes for Hendo, who made his UFC debut at UFC 17 in 1998 and who has fought the best of the best ever since then in the UFC, PRIDE, and Strikeforce. TRT or not, the longevity of both of these men has been nothing short of incredible, and that's why both men should be considered ageless wonders of the sport.

I know a lot of people don’t like Belfort, and there are a lot of people who don’t like Hendo either. Both men are flawed fighters with checkered pasts, but here’s the fact: They are two of the most accomplished fighters in the history of the sport, and at their advanced ages, they both don’t have much time left. I’m still not convinced this is the best matchmaking the UFC could have came up with, but I will watch the fight and hope it’s a good one, because it might be the last time we see both men compete in the eight-sided cage that made them household names for the last two decades – and who knows how much more.

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UFC Fight Night 77: Belfort vs. Henderson 3 takes place on November 7, 2015 at Auditório Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, Brazil.



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