Tomorrow night, Strikeforce returns to network TV for another installment of CBS Saturday Night Fights. At the top of the card is a name long familiar to MMA fans, even during the so-called "dark days" of the sport--Dan Henderson. Henderson has been competing in the sport since 1997, following his second stint representing the United States in the Olympics as a Greco-Roman wrestler.
That same year saw the debut of Randy Couture at UFC 13. I mention Couture to illustrate how egregiously overlooked Henderson has been. Over the 13 years both men have been competing in MMA, Henderson has unquestionably amassed a more impressive record than the beloved "Captain America". He holds wins over Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera, Babalu Sobral, Wanderlei Silva, Rich Franklin and Vitor Belfort. That goes without mentioning his winning the 1998 UFC Middleweight Tournament, the 1999 RINGS King of Kings Tournament, and the 2005 PRIDE Welterweight (183lb.) Grand Prix. If Couture and BJ Penn are lauded for winning major championships in different weight classes, Henderson must be more so for holding a major title in two different weight classes at the same time (the PRIDE welterweight and middleweight titles).
People often cite age as a factor in the adoration of Randy Couture. But Henderson is no spring chicken himself; he turns 40 this year. At a time when 90% of athletes' careers are over, Henderson is a top-10 fighter in one division and maybe #2 in another.
The most obvious reason for the lack of reverence sent Hendo's way is that he spent the better part of a decade in Japan. That, however, was where the most competition and money was at the time; to hold that against him would be foolish. Henderson simply hasn't had the long-term American audience Couture enjoyed for ten years.
His epic knockout of Michael Bisping at the landmark UFC 100, preceeded by a spot coaching The Ultimate Fighter, went a long way toward connecting the American audience to Hendo's legacy. But it will be some time around 10:20 pm tomorrow night when Dan Henderson's battered, rearranged, snaggle-toothed face appears on CBS, marking the over-due culmination of a long journey to American recognition of one of the sport's all-time greats.