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Ultimate fans meet ultimate fighter

August 01, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Dan "Hendo" Henderson, a world-renowned mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighting Championship contender, was in Hagerstown Saturday to teach a mixed martial arts seminar at Hagerstown Community College.

Fans of the fighter came from as far away as New York and Ohio for an opportunity to learn his techniques or simply to rub shoulders with a UFC star, who also met with fans Saturday night at the Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille at Stone House Square.

The event was organized Mike Curran, owner of the Hagerstown Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy, who said he wanted to spread the word about the sport of mixed martial arts, which combines wrestling, boxing and other combat sports.

"A lot of people have a notion that it's some kind of brutal sport, and it's not," Curran said. The sport is very technical and its participants are some of the best-trained athletes in the world, he said.

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For followers of Ultimate Fighting Championship, Henderson's visit was an exciting opportunity.

"In my memory, he's one of the biggest celebrities to come to town," said Chad Smith, co-owner of Home Team Fitness, who writes a fitness column for The Herald-Mail.

Henderson caught the athletic world's attention during the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics, when he represented the United States in Greco-Roman wrestling, but he gained wider celebrity when he appeared on the Spike TV reality show "The Ultimate Fighter" as the coach for the aspiring fighters on Team US.

A season-long feud with Michael Bisping, the coach for the rival Team UK, came to a head July 11 when the two fought each other at the UFC 100 pay-per-view event and Henderson knocked Bisping out.

Fans at Saturday's event said the knockout was the highlight of the event and could propel Henderson to new heights within UFC.

"I think he's a bona fide superstar now," Smith said.

Another of Henderson's claims to fame is he is the only mixed martial artist to hold titles in two different weight classes at the same time, and some fans held photos of the fighter holding both belts.

Henderson held the middleweight and welterweight belts under the Pride Fighting Championships, a promotion acquired by UFC in 2007.

Tom Svingala, 29, said he traveled from Albany, N.Y., to attend the seminar because he knew Henderson was a thorough teacher.

"It was a great experience," he said. "He went over so many different techniques."

Other fans, such as Nick McCarty, 9, of Hancock, did not participate in the seminar, but came to meet Henderson and get his autograph.

"I just like that I get to see guys like beat each other up," said Nick, who said Henderson was in his top 10 favorite UFC fighters.

His favorite part, he said, was seeing Henderson demonstrate a half guard, a move in which one fighter entangles the other's leg.

Heather Creek, 34, of Hancock, said she was excited to have gotten her photo taken with Henderson.

"He's very personable," she said.

Henderson currently does not hold any UFC titles, but that might change this fall, he said.

Henderson learned Friday he would be pitted against Brazilian fighter Anderson Silva in late October or November.

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