Dan Henderson vs. Murilo "Ninja" Rua
This is a great fight and is a good example of how awesome and practical Pride’s judging system was. The Pride judges judge the entire fight and not who won each round. This is the way a fight should be judged.
In this fight, one fighter barely wins the first two rounds, and the other fighter dominates the third round. Who do you believe deserves the decision victory? This is a key difference between Pride Fighting and the UFC. The fight took place at Pride 17 with over 53,000 in attendance.
Dan Henderson is one of the most respected fighters in MMA both for his fighting ability and his sportsmanship. He was an Olympic wrestler and was undefeated in MMA (winning a Rings tournament) before being invited to Pride. His first Pride fight was a close loss against Wanderlei Silva where he did remarkably well. From that point forward he had a reputation as a top fighter. He is from Apple Valley California. His trademark move is a big right hand, and he doesn’t try to disguise it at all. You know it’s coming.
Dan Henderson has one of my favorite quotes in MMA where he said during a Pride interview something to the effect “I don’t make it personal against the other fighter. I treat it like we are just professionals doing a job. Just knowing that I can compete at a high level makes me feel good.” That is a great attitude. Henderson was already 31 coming into this fight but was still to peak in his career. He looks young though and this fight was early in his MMA career.
Murilo “Ninja” Rua is from Curitiba Brazil and is a member of the great Chute Box academy along with Wanderlei Silva. He’s only 21 going into this fight and people thought he had a lot of potential to be a superstar fighter at the time. He was invited to Pride after going 5-0 in the World Meca Vale-Tudo Championships in Brazil (Vale-Tudo is extreme…). He is known for having great endurance and doesn’t seem to get tired. Also having Wanderlei Silva as a training partner will elevate any fighter’s game. This fight took place before Ninja’s brother Shogun Rua began fighting in MMA.
Henderson looks relaxed as they announce his name in the corner. During the staredown, Ninja looks right at Henderson, but not in an angry challenging way. Henderson looks down or at Ninja’s chest most of the time, avoiding eye contact. That should not be interpreted as a sign of fear, it is just not Henderson’s style to make a fight personal. Ninja does show a nice gesture of sportsmanship by putting out his glove in a respectful way. Henderson nods and they touch gloves and go back to their corners.
The fight begins and they almost immediately start swinging and then get into the clinch. This is Greco-Roman wrestling technique, and Henderson has the edge from his experience. Henderson executes a beautiful body to body throw and gets side mount. Ninja quickly gets back to his feet but takes two knees to the head while getting up. Henderson then tries a standing guillotine choke while pulling guard. This is a very fast paced beginning.
Ninja gets the takedown while still being in a headlock. The fight slows down and the ref centers the fighter in the ring so they can have more room to work. This is a great rule.
Ninja gets side control but Henderson does a good job keeping his arm out to block any knees to the head. Ninja then gets full mount. Henderson just holds on tight keeping Ninja close and avoids any damage. Ninja goes back to side mount and throws one good knee to the head. He throws more knees and some of them land.
Henderson can’t do much, but he does throw a couple of knees from the bottom, one of them clips Ninja in the head. This is great aspect of a fight that isn’t allowed in UFC. It makes Ninja be more careful in the side mount.
Henderson is unable to get out from the bottom. Just as the round ends, Ninja stands up. The bell rings and then a second later Ninja throws a soccer kick to Henderson’s head. This was clearly a dirty cheap shot. I tend to be lenient on these things if it is really close, but this was a blatant cheap shop. Glad that Henderson was okay, but it did stun him. The ref did nothing.
In any case, Ninja won the 1st round because he maintained better position. But note that he didn’t really try to finish the fight and it wasn’t that exciting with Ninja merely securing and holding a more dominant position. This is all you need to do to win a fight in the UFC. Just win the rounds by maintaining better position. But this is Pride Fighting.
The round begins and Henderson throws a big right hand while Ninja throws a left high kick. Both do not land. They get in a clinch and Henderson tries a high knee. Ninja catches it and gets a crisp takedown into side mount.
Again the fight slows down. Ninja is just maintaining position. Henderson tries a nice roll into a leg lock that doesn’t work. Ninja gets one knee to the head then throws tons of elbows to Henderson’s body. That has to hurt. Still, no attempt to finish the fight by Ninja is being made. He’s just maintaining dominant position.
Ninja does finally stand up and attempt a soccer kick that doesn’t land. Henderson gets back up and into the sprawl, then gets a takedown. The crowd reacts and is decidedly in favor of Henderson. The crowd probably did not approve of Ninja’s boring fighting style.
Ninja pretty quickly gets back to his feet while eating a knee, and then gets a takedown. Only a few people clap in the crowd. The round ends with Ninja on top.
Ninja barely won this round by securing better position for a longer period of time. But there wasn’t much action. That’s Ninja’s responsibility for lack of action.
Both fighters do not look fresh, but not exhausted. They touch gloves.Henderson backs up, and then connects with his big right hand. That is his trademark punch. This was probably the turning point in the fight. Henderson gets in the clinch but then gets kneed in the nuts at least 4 times by Ninja. This probably was intentional by Ninja but not as blatant as the soccer kick earlier.
Ninja receives a yellow card, and rightfully so. I support the yellow card in this situation, also because of the cheap shot at the end of the first round.
The fight is stopped so Henderson can recover. He gathers himself and is ready to go in less than 5 minutes. The ref makes the fighters touch gloves before continuing.
The fighters quickly get into the Greco-roman clinch again, which is Henderson’s strength, and he executes a hip turn takedown into side mount. Ninja gets up quickly again but takes a big knee to the head in the process.
Henderson is really turning it on now. He must be pissed about getting hit in the nuts. Ninja looks tired and he’s just trying to hang on until the end of the round.
They get back in the clinch and Henderson secures another beautiful throw. Again Ninja quickly gets up but eats two knees to the head. One of them was when he was in North-South position.
You can hear Henderson’s corner yelling for him to get some distance and unleash a flurry. Henderson lands a knee to the face and then starts unloading with punches. At least 9 punches land in that flurry by Henderson, 4 of them cleanly. Ninja is rocked and wobbling, but he’s able to stay on his feet by rolling well with the punches. Ninja throws no counter punches.
The crowd is going nuts. This is a courageous burst of energy from Henderson. But both fighters are very tired. Henderson gets the underarm clinch and pushes Ninja in the corner.
Ninja’s face looks dazed and tired. He’s bleeding in his mouth and you can tell he’s still rocked from that flurry.
The ref breaks up and centers the fighters. Nice rule. Henderson does a gorgeous right-low kick-punch combo that nails Ninja. Ninja looks in trouble, but Henderson tries a takedown and Ninja defends it and counters with a knee to the body.
Ninja then gets a double leg takedown but Henderson instantly reverses and gets on top. During this, Bas Rutten the announcer, is like “oh…” in a disappointed way, you can tell he wants Henderson to win, which is cool.
Henderson has North-South position with Ninja on his back. You can cause extreme damage with knees from this position. Curiously, Henderson only threw one knee and that was after Ninja rolled to his stomach, but it lands cleanly. Quickly Ninja gets back to his feet.
Ninja is good at escaping from the bottom and getting to his feet. He’s done it at least 4 times in this fight. He then immediately tries a double leg takedown.
(The announcer Stephen Quadros is saying Henderson should throw knees, like he’s cheering him on. He and Bas were the best announcing duo for Pride.)
Ninja is able to secure a double leg takedown. He appears to be recovered from getting rocked earlier. Ninja then settles into his dominant position on top and starts elbowing Henderson’s body. This struggle continues for the final minute until the bell rings ending the fight.
Ninja stands up and immediately begins celebrating like he won. Like it was obvious that he won… Both announcers agree that Ninja probably still won the fight.
This is the issue with this fight. Ninja did not rock Henderson at all during this fight, but he maintained dominant position on top for the majority of the time, especially the first two rounds. No effort was made by Ninja to really finish the fight at any time here. There were a few knees to the head that landed in the 1st round and that was about it.
Henderson on the other hand, definitely rocked Ninja in the 3rd round. He landed over 12 big punches and knees in the 3rd round and Ninja was visibly dazed and wobbly. It looked like if a couple more punches landed in that flurry by Henderson Ninja would have fell down.
If this was UFC or boxing, Ninja would have won this fight by default just because he won the first two rounds, regardless of how bad he got rocked in the 3rd round.
But this is PRIDE FIGHTING. They judge the entire fight, and not who won each round. This is one aspect of why Pride fighting rules were so awesome. When it goes to a decision, the favor goes to the fighter who was closest to actually finishing the fight.
In light of these rules, Dan Henderson won the split decision victory here. He deserved to win based on the proper way to judge a fight. Thank you Pride for having a cool judging system.
This is a huge complaint I have with the UFC. It happens all too often where a fighter wins the earlier rounds and then just gets a takedown and hangs out on top in the later rounds to victory. There’s no yellow card to really motivate the fighter to end the fight either. Of course the other fighter can win by finishing the fight, but in some cases the other fighter is clearly outmatched by the guy who’s winning in points, but not outmatched enough to be TKO’s or submitted. This makes for some boring fights.
It is not exciting to see a fighter coast to victory by simply maintaining a dominant position. Although from a fighter’s point of view, a win is a win, and I fully understand that. In fact in my wrestling days, I was guilty of doing this in matches. I would secure a lead in points and then just hang on to a victory instead of trying to pin the guy. I guess I considered it riskier and more effort to me to try to finish the match with a pin compared to coasting. Same thing with some MMA fighters. I understand now that was not what makes a great, exciting fighter.
This is why a lot of people didn’t like Ricardo Arona, despite his respectable record in Pride. He would always coast to victory instead of trying to finish a fight. It was unexciting. Ninja was doing this in this fight.
The “boring” fighters do seem to achieve some success in MMA if they win consistently though. Arona made plenty of money. There are other examples of successful “boring” fighters, but these fighters will never be fan favorites.
Anyway, a Pride fight is one of the ultimate tests of manhood, and they really got it right by not allowing fighters to coast to victory. By judging the entire fight and not by who won each round, it is the most fair and proper way to judge a fight. When the fight is based on who won each round it takes the incentive out of both fighters to keep going at maximum effort in later rounds.
At only 21 years old at the time of this fight, Murilo Ninja Rua was considered to have a lot of potential to become a super star fighter. He went on to fight in many more Pride fights, but just never panned out as an elite fighter. Four months after this fight, he fought an absolute war with Mario Sperry, and it was probably his best performance ever. I hope Ninja made plenty of money from his Pride career.
About two and half years after this fight, Ninja’s younger brother Shogun was achieving success in Pride and overshadowed Ninja in the Light Heavyweight class. Ninja moved up to compete in the Heavyweight class and this proved to be a fateful decision. His fight against Sergei Kharitonov effectively ruined his career and it is one of the most graphic knockouts in MMA history. Ninja was in the hospital for 3 days afterward and suffered minor brain damage. I am deeply saddened by this and never want to see any fighter suffer permanent injuries while fighting. I have nothing but respect for Murilo “Ninja” Rua.
After this fight Dan Henderson went on to become one of the top five greatest fighters of his era. He went on to become the Pride Light Heavyweight and Middleweight Champion and also had a successful transition to the UFC after Pride collapsed. He has fought almost all of the big names in MMA during his career, including heavyweight guys. He’s definitely an MMA Hall of Famer. He also seems like a cool, laid back person in his interviews. Henderson is well known as showing respect and good sportsmanship in the sport of MMA, something that is not always seen by other fighters. He obviously has a good work ethic to achieve so much success in MMA. As of 2013, he is still competing against top talent in the UFC. I know he has made good money during his MMA career, and I hope the money lasts him a lifetime.
Dan Henderson and Murilo “Ninja” Rua, thank you for fighting in Pride.