Dan Henderson sat over his New York strip steak, looking at the hearty slab of protein in anticipation of enjoying two things: the taste, of course, and the fact that it’s on someone else’s dime.
The look on his face was one that described satisfaction. Maybe it was the fact that it was prepared exactly to order. Or maybe it was because Zuffa was picking up the bill.
“Gotta stick it to Dana [White] somehow,” joked Henderson, adding that the only reason he picked the plate was because it was the most expensive thing on the menu.
The table laughed and Henderson clarified that his relationship with the UFC president isn’t bad. The two don’t text each other as often as they used to, the fighter said, but all is well between them. If White has something to say, he reaches out, and the same goes for “Hendo.”
One could analyze why Henderson and White don’t casually communicate with each other as much as they used to. From Henderson’s departure for Strikeforce before Zuffa purchased the now-defunct MMA promotion to White’s focus on his younger champions, the list of potential reasons goes on and on.
At 42 years old, Hendo doesn’t come off as someone who worries about that stuff. Instead, the fighter from Temecula, Calif. stays focused on the fight in front of him and how many he has left.
“It’ll be a couple years,” Henderson said when asked how much longer he thinks he’ll compete in MMA. “I want to make sure my gym’s doing well. Then I could relax and focus on coaching guys and some other little things.
“I suppose I’d have a little more time with my backhoe.”
By the time Henderson has his next fight, a match with Rashad Evans to headline UFC 161, the former two-division Pride champion will celebrate his 16th year as a professional MMA fighter. Exactly 16 years, to be exact, dating back to his debut on June 15, 1997.
Hendo didn’t necessarily plan on fighting this long. According to one of his coaches, Henderson’s retirement could have come around the time the fighter left the UFC in favor of Strikeforce. In 2008, Gustavo Pugliese was brought on to Henderson’s team as a striking coach with the intension of helping him for just a few more matches.
“When I first started training him, he said maybe three more fights,” Pugliese recalled. “10 fights later, look where he is.”
Henderson said the thing that keeps him going is that he loves the sport. As he gets older, he said, it gets harder, but at the same time easier because he’s more experienced. He added that he still feels good and capable of beating people, so why not get paid to do it?
It’s no secret that Henderson is approaching the end of his career as a fighter. Naturally, time is working against his pursuit of championship belts, pay-per-view cuts and other imaginable items sought by MMA’s best. But the competitor in him, beyond all else, makes for a mentally tough athlete that leaves little doubt from his camp’s perspective.
“Of course he is approaching the end, but not as fast as people may think he is,” Pugliese said. “He has an abnormal mind strength, which is the reason why he is still competitive aside from his skills. He still has goals to accomplish in the sport so he will delay the retirement until he has fulfilled them.”
In Henderson’s mind, time on the backhoe will have to wait. His UFC 161 fight with Evans is the only thing he’s keeping his eyes on, while retirement plans get buried by wrestling drills and sparring sessions.
Beyond the delectable New York strip steak he devoured over lunch, the only thing Henderson tastes is a victory over Evans this Saturday in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
“Honestly, I haven’t thought about what’s going to happen if I lose because it doesn’t seem like it would even happen to me,” Henderson said. “I’m just focusing on what I’m going to do and when I visualize that, it’s never losing.”
Check out Dan Henderson’s first professional fight against Crezio de Souza in Brazil