Dan Henderson was on shaky legs and had been dropped twice earlier in the fight, but he still had his right hand — and that was enough.
The finish came at the 1:31 mark of the round, when Henderson landed his patented right hand after getting Rua, aka “Shogun,” to drop his arms to defend a takedown. The victory ends a three-fight skid for Henderson, who will turn 44 in August.
“You know, this one probably means more than most,” said Henderson, on the win. “Shogun is such a big part of mixed martial arts; such a talented, tough fighter.
“Especially after the year I had, coming off that, I wanted to make sure I got a win.”
As much as the fight was a testament to Henderson’s knockout power, his chin more than proved itself as well.
The fight had shades of the first meeting between the two, which was considered by many to be the fight of the year in 2011. That five-rounder featured several momentum changes, with Henderson ultimately earning a unanimous decision.
Heavy exchanges were once again a theme in the rematch. Coming off the first knockout loss of his 17-year career to Vitor Belfort in November, Henderson was nearly finished in the first and second rounds by punches.
Henderson hurt Rua (22-9) with a short left hook on the inside in the first round, but ate a counter left by Rua moments later that knocked him down. Referee Herb Dean was on the action as Rua moved into Henderson’s guard and landed hammerfists. The bell might have been the only thing that saved Henderson from a first-round stoppage.
Rua appeared to be on the verge of a knockout again in the following round when he dropped Henderson with a right uppercut. Henderson eventually got Dean to stand the fight back up by tying up Rua from the bottom, but still appeared unbalanced on his feet. With all momentum clearly in Rua’s favor, Henderson shot on a weak double leg early in the third and then connected with the right hand. The blow caused Rua to flip completely over backwards. He attempted to recover by turtling on a single leg, but a few hammerfists from Henderson rendered him defenseless.
“He definitely dinged me,” Henderson said. “He rung my bell a tad in the first round and again in the second. I just decided to be patient, but think I was a little too patient in the first two rounds. I wasn’t very offensive.
“In the third round, I think we decided to get after it.”
Henderson gets his hand raised for the first time since that initial bout against Rua in November 2011. He was scheduled to fight Jon Jones for the title the following year, but withdrew due to knee injury. Rua falls to 1-3 in his last four fights.