The next generation vs. the last. Speed and improvisation vs. power and experience. However people want to categorize UFC 151’s light heavyweight title fight between champion Jon Jones and challenger Dan Henderson, it always comes down to the same common denominator: it’s going to be a damn good scrap.
On September 1st at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, a collision of legacies will occur in the main event when one of the all-time kings of this sport will enter the Octagon against the absolutely brilliant current prince. In one corner, a two-time Olympian in Greco-Roman wrestling who has won tournaments and titles in every major MMA organization with a career spanning nearly 40 fights over a decade and a half, and success in three weight classes. In the other corner, an unstoppable phenom almost twenty years younger who has redefined what’s possible in the cage in his 11 Octagon outings, including three dominating defenses of the 205-pound belt. A victory for either fighter will easily be one of the greatest accomplishments of their professional careers.
In the lead-up to this momentous matchup, both Henderson and Jones took time out of their busy training schedules to answer questions from the media, along with UFC President Dana White, during a Tuesday teleconference. Many appeared to have lost sight of this impending duel and would rather talk about Jones’ remarkable new sponsorship with Nike or White’s prior announcement that former champion Lyoto Machida is the probable number one contender. Although Nike’s new involvement in MMA and Machida’s future title shot are interesting, a little over a week from now, a former Strikeforce and PRIDE two division champion, and, amazingly enough, UFC 17’s middleweight tournament winner, will be stepping into the Octagon to battle for a belt at 42 years old. And everyone knows he is one H-bomb away from winning it.
“He’s a great wrestler with knockout power with both hands,” says White of Henderson. “He continues to impress no matter how old he gets. He's beaten a who's who in this sport in the last year and a half. Whether Dan Henderson wins or loses he's a Hall of Famer. People thought [Rashad Evans] had Jones' number. People who think that Dan Henderson doesn't have a chance to win this fight are out of their mind. Fans that really know this sport know that Dan Henderson is a true threat to Jon Jones.”
Even “Bones” had to set the record straight that “Hendo” is and always been and always should be the focus of this fight. “He's a monster, he's a lion,” states Jones of the well-traveled and highly decorated Henderson, owner of a 29-8 professional record. “I've talked past Dan Henderson too much this training camp. I kind of regret it. I'm not going to answer any more questions about that.”
For Henderson, with his iron chin and his explosive right hand, a UFC championship belt is about the only thing that has eluded the California native over his stellar career. While most are well into their twilight, Henderson is one fight removed from possibly the greatest MMA fight of all-time in the five round war with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 139. That slugfest marked Henderson’s return to the Octagon following a three fight win streak in Strikeforce, which included him claiming their light heavyweight belt and knocking out Fedor Emelianenko. While defeating Jones has appeared to be too much for those who have come before, Henderson has proven time and time again that given the chance, he can beat any opponent in any weight class at any point in his career.
“I definitely plan on beating him to the punch and putting him on his back in the fight,” asserts Henderson. “It's more about two different styles and more of a chess match. He's a tougher one to figure out than most guys. His body style works well with his fighting style. That's a fun challenge to try and figure out. It's more about the styles than the age. I'm excited about it. It's a fight I've been waiting for and working towards. One of the final things I have left to do is to get that UFC belt and I'm excited for the opportunity.”
Of course, standing in Henderson’s way is the 6’4” frame and 84.5 inch reach of the ever evolving, 25 year old champion Jones. “I think Jon Jones has improved more than anyone I have ever seen in the past two or three years and I think he'll continue to improve as he gets more experience in this sport,” tells Henderson of the daunting champion, who continues to come up with creative and devastating ways to use his physical anomalies, specifically his elbows. The spinning back elbow against Stephan Bonnar to the tomahawk ground and pound elbow against Brandon Vera to, most recently, the standing lead elbow while holding his opponent’s wrist against Rashad Evans at UFC 145.
If the sky's the limit, then “Bones” is polishing his UFC light heavyweight belt on the Moon. It’s difficult to gauge when the “Jon Jones Era” began, but, for the sake of simplicity, let’s start with Jones’ Submission of the Night win over Ryan Bader at UFC 126, which earned him a title shot. From there, Jones finished three UFC champions - Rua, Quinton Jackson, and Machida - to close out the remainder of 2011. This year, Jones won a unanimous decision over a former teammate/friend and now bitter rival Evans at UFC 145. As the current champion takes to the cage dressed head to toe in the finest Nike swag, Jones knows that a true test will be waiting for him and he has not overlooked that one bit.
“It's high risk and high reward,” affirms Jones. “I don't take his age into consideration. He's just as dangerous as all the other guys I fought. He beat Fedor and Fedor is one of my idols. To have Dan Henderson in my win column means the world to me. I don't believe anyone is invincible. I believe I'll hit him in that spot that will make him fall and I'll finish the deal.”
In the headlining bout at UFC 151 on September 1st, the UFC light heavyweight championship is up for grabs between two legend beaters in Henderson and Jones. It’s going to be a battle where chins will be tested, styles will clash, elbows and fists will be thrown with vicious intent, and, most of all, fans will be entertained. No matter the outcome, one of these unparalleled talents will have solidified their place yet again as one of the greatest to ever step foot in the Octagon. That sounds like the best way to characterize this fight.
Jones vs. Henderson: Greatness Calls
"Fans that really know this sport know that Dan Henderson is a true threat to Jon Jones." - Dana White