Everyone loves a good sequel, but if you really want to get the crowd going, make a trilogy.
The rubber match has long been a hallmark in combat sports. It unofficially represents the swan song of a particular rivalry. The finality of anything sports-related always has a profound impact on fans because more is at stake. It’s athletic competition at the highest level with a side of popcorn and Coca-Cola. We love our drama as much as we love our sports.
The surreptitious glee we get from seeing a roman numeral attached to the end of a marquee fight is conspicuous. Look at the monumental buzz generated by historic rivalries like Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture and B.J. Penn vs. Matt Hughes.
But timing is everything.
The rubber match is better served when both fighters are still in their prime. We’re not interested in turning over 20th century stones to see Billy “The Kid” McDonnen vs. Henry “Razor” Sharp. A trilogy is only good as long as it matters, which brings us to Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night 77 main event.
MMA legends Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson will close the book on a rivalry that began nearly a decade ago in Japan’s now defunct MMA promotion, Pride Fighting Championships. Henderson won the first fight by unanimous decision, and Belfort avenged the loss seven years later in the UFC with a first-round knockout.
Now the two are slated to do battle once more in a fight that has generated anemic buzz. Henderson is now a 45-year-old fighter with a shoddy chin and the same old bag of tricks, while the 38-year-old Belfort hasn’t looked the same since Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) was banned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Perhaps the only difference is that Belfort is still competing at a high level. The only losses he has incurred in the last eight years have been to UFC champions Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Chris Weidman. Henderson, on the other hand, is 2-5 in his last seven fights in the UFC. Albeit, the losses did come to former champions and ranked opposition, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see Henderson’s rapid decline.
He is clinging to life in a sputtering career dependent on whether or not he lands his equalizer of a right hand.
This is obviously a trilogy past its expiration date. It would have been interesting to see how things would have unfolded if this fight happened a few leap years ago, but fights rarely come together in a timely manner. When speaking with Fox Sports’ Damon Martin, Henderson claimed this fight was a personal request:
“Actually, and I never do, but this is a fight I had asked for. I told Dana [White] and Lorenzo [Fertitta] it’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to fight in the States. The whole USADA [United States Anti-Doping Agency] was just starting and I wasn’t quite sure about it and I wanted to fight him in the States. But they gave me the fight and said it had to be in Brazil so here we go.”
For as long as it lasts, this should still be an entertaining fight. Belfort will attempt to sprint to the finish line with reckless punching flurries, and Henderson will keep his shoulder cocked back and look to unload old faithful.
All it takes is one punch from either of these two legends to turn out the lights, and we’ll all be watching for that reason only.