The spring of 2007 was riddled with plenty of mystery and intrigue among hardcore mixed martial arts' fans. Pride's second to last event, Pride 33, had went off spectacularly at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 24th, and Dan Henderson became the first fighter in the history of the sport to hold two crowns simultaneously across two weight classes after one-punching Wanderlei Silva in the main event of the evening. On the surface, everything seemed to be going smoothly.
In the previous year however, we found out that the foundation had crumbled. After accusations that the promotion was a front headed by the yakuza in June of 2006, Fuji Network terminated Pride's television contract in Japan, effectively putting the promotion on ice. While Pride forged ahead as scheduled, it was only a month after Pride 33 took place that Zuffa swept in and bought out the struggling promotion.
As expected, anxious excitement and rampant speculation filled the mixed martial arts forums over the summer. The chance for fans to see fantasy UFC vs. Pride match-ups fueled debates about which promotion's roster was superior. The arguing became so tiring and daunting over the last half decade that I'm almost positive the war created droves of curmudgeons who are now wreaking havoc on society in other capacities. Casualties of war, I suppose.
We've seen many of Pride's best succeed and fail inside the Octagon since those debates began. Some have failed miserably while others simply came up short. Both Dan Henderson and Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua fit into that category. Henderson lost both title unification bouts in his first two bouts under the UFC banner, and Rua was choked out by Forrest Griffin in his debut in a shocking upset. Both men are now considered major players at the apex of the division.
Time seems to have changed any faulty perceptions about the two men. Dan Henderson, at 41 years of age, has rattled off three straight wins, including a TKO victory over the legendary Pride heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko. Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua bounced back from his debut loss, beat both Chuck Liddell and Mark Coleman, then stunned fans by defeating Lyoto Machida at UFC 113 to win the UFC light heavyweight crown.
Those feats have defied a path of logic we thought was being paved right in front of us. Dan Henderson is far from his athletic prime, yet he's been crushing his opposition with a stale, one-dimensional style that relies completely on a cocked right hand. Rua's knees will be on display at the Mayo Clinic as medical marvels years down the road, right next to the knees of Pavel Bure. How is it that both of these men have found success despite overcoming the odds against them?
Who cares. This is a fight that's happening at a time in which both men are still relevant at the top of their division. This isn't Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva years after their primes had passed. The intrigue hasn't completely faded away just yet. Sure, Dan Henderson ten years younger would be ideal. but it's difficult to ignore the fact that this perceived old man has wrecked everyone put in front of him as of late.
The same can be said for Rua. He's only faltered when pitted against a youthful phenom in Jon Jones, who many believe will reign atop the division for years to come. He solved the puzzle of Lyoto Machida... twice, and he avenged his loss to Forrest Griffin in emphatic fashion in his most recent performance at UFC 134 in August. All of this while dealing with crippled knees that will probably shorten his career.
If we really think about it, it's miraculous that we can even mutter these two names in the same sentence with any sense that they will actually fight one another. It was possible in Pride as Henderson fought at 205 lbs. before stepping down to 185 lbs. to fight in the Pride welterweight grand prix. Rua and Henderson passed each other on different levels of a two-tiered bridge, separated by twenty pounds. But they never met one another inside the Pride ring. That fantasy showdown has been saved for November 19th at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California, and it will undoubtedly bring nostalgic feelings back to the fans who worshiped Pride.