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Dan Henderson's fighting spirit is as strong as ever

At 41, the Temecula fighter is on top of his game as he prepares to face Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua on Saturday night in the main event of a UFC card in San Jose.

November 18, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Dan Henderson connects against Mike Bisping during their UFC 100 heavyweight bout during which Henderson would score a knockout.
Dan Henderson connects against Mike Bisping during their UFC 100 heavyweight… (Jon Kopaloff / Getty Images )

Dan Henderson's distinguished career as a mixed martial arts fighter should be setting like the sun at age 41.

Instead, the Temecula fighter has put together perhaps his most impressive year yet, winning the Strikeforce light-heavyweight championship, scoring a technical knockout against Fedor Emelianenko in July and earning a return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Saturday night, Henderson (28-8) will try to improve to 4-0 in the last 12 months when he takes on former UFC light-heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (20-5) in the main event of a pay-per-view card at HP Pavilion in San Jose.

"I am not going to worry about my next fight as far as getting a title shot," Henderson said. "I need to win this fight and then the rest will take care of itself."

UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta told The Times that the Henderson-Rua winner will be next in line behind former champion Rashad Evans to fight champion Jon Jones in 2012.

Evans will fight Phil Davis on Jan. 28 in the next scheduled "UFC on Fox" event. Should Evans lose, the Henderson-Rua winner will face Jones instead.

Henderson lost in two previous UFC title matches, by decision to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in a light-heavyweight bout in September 2007, and by submission to middleweight champion Anderson Silva six months later.

A contract dispute after a sensational knockout of Michael Bisping at UFC 100 in 2009 sent Henderson to Strikeforce, where this year he won the title against the massive Rafael Cavalcante on March 5.

Now comes another difficult test in Rua, 29, who is predicting he will be the first to stop Henderson.

The bout in San Jose replaces the heavyweight championship match between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos, which was moved up to be part of the first UFC prime-time card on Fox last Saturday in Anaheim. Dos Santos won by technical knockout 64 seconds into the fight.

The San Jose card also includes a middleweight fight between Cung Le and Wanderlei Silva and a bout between Urijah Faber and Brian Bowles.

Rua avenged a 2007 loss to Forrest Griffin by knockout in August after losing his UFC light-heavyweight belt to Jones in March.

Henderson isn't ready to acknowledge his age.

"I think I can put a game plan together to beat anyone out there. I am aggressive throughout and always trying to finish a fight. One thing I have not accomplished is winning the UFC title," Henderson said.

"I am going to try to outstrike Shogun. I am going to try to beat him in every aspect of MMA. I guess I could get knocked out like anyone can get knocked out, but I've been lucky enough not to get hit on the button yet. Him saying he's going to be the first man to knock me out, good luck to him."

Rua said he's pleased the veteran combatants are finally crossing paths.

"This is a great fight," Rua said. "I watch that 2001 fight between my brother [Murilo 'Ninja' Rua] and Henderson a number of times. It was a very competitive fight [Henderson won in a split decision]. My brother was one of the people that helped me a lot during my strategy planning for his fight against Dan."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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