Danny Henry’s UFC debut changed his life

Last week was a big week in the life of Danny Henry.

It started on Sunday (July 16), when he took a pasting in round one of a lightweight fight against Daniel Teymur only to somehow rally back and grind out a decision win in a thrilling encounter that would later land him a $50,000 ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus. That was his UFC debut, by the way, and a fight he accepted on just three weeks’ notice. Three cheers for Danny Henry.

The next day, the Monday, was his birthday. He turned 29 years of age. Three more cheers for Danny Henry.

By Wednesday he was sat on his mother’s sofa watching his UFC debut back on television for the first time, revisiting the ups and downs, analysing everything he did wrong, and occasionally pinching himself while doing so. How surreal it is, he thought, to be sat on Mum’s sofa watching myself in a UFC Octagon.

It got better, too. The week, that is.

Buoyed by a ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus, more money than he’d ever before seen in his life, Danny Henry spent much of last week looking at properties in and around Edinburgh, Scotland, his home city, and aspired to not just climb the property ladder but, in his words, “jump on it”. He also kissed goodbye to his job as a doorman at Why Not nightclub on George Street, which is where you’d once find him four nights a week, and at this point realised he could now become the very thing he’d always wanted to be: Danny Henry, thirteen fights into his professional MMA career, could finally call himself a full-time fighter.

“That’s four nights a week I’m not going to be out until four o’clock in the morning and then have to get up the next day for work or training,” Henry told Fighters Only editor Michael Owens on the Thursday. “Even just getting to bed at a normal time every night and being able to rest in the mornings will make a massive difference and help me improve.

“I don’t really want to be on the doors anymore. It’s too risky. My profile has grown a little bit and I could get myself in trouble. I’ll still do a managerial role – just float about the venues making sure everyone is all good and people are turning up for their shifts – but I don’t need to stand on the door and take f**king abuse anymore.”

Money gives you certain privileges, one of which, for a Scotsman, is the privilege of not taking f**king abuse from inebriated locals out to pick a scrap on a Friday or Saturday night. Danny Henry has quickly come to understand this. So, too, will he come to understand the magnitude and importance of his win on July 16 in Glasgow. Give it time and he’ll appreciate how fifteen minutes spent in the company of Daniel Teymur, and the $50,000 bonus they received for their efforts, truly changed his life. If he doesn’t, his coach, James Doolan, will be on hand to remind him.

“I’m obviously really happy for him,” said Doolan. “We’d kind of written off UFC Glasgow for Danny because he broke his foot in sparring eight weeks out. He’d been given a ten-week recovery timeframe and we expected him to be out for ten weeks. But when Sean Shelby contacted us, and he hadn’t trained for the best part of seven or eight weeks, he took the plastic shoe thing off his foot and obviously jumped at it.

“We were a wee bit apprehensive about him passing the medical because of his foot. I think he kind of blagged it. He couldn’t kick or run for the three weeks we did have. He had to do all his cardio on a bike. Even in the fight, I think he threw his right leg once. I’m happy for him and it’s paid off.”

 

 

Herein lies the beauty of Danny Henry’s life-changing moment: it wasn’t necessarily meant to be. Injured and without the right kind of preparation, he decided to take a risk, a gamble, and went with it. He saw an opportunity he couldn’t turn down and, rather than wait for a better, more suitable time, simply made do with what he had. He made do with one good leg and a truncated training camp.

“It was three weeks ago (when I got the call),” Henry explained. “I wasn’t even training. I was pretty banged up. I had a pretty unfortunate year with injuries.

“When he was training for his fight with Joe Lauzon, Stevie Ray separated one of my ribs in sparring. I was due to have surgery on my elbow about two or three weeks later, so I was like, ‘Oh well, I’ll rest and then I’ll get my surgery on my elbow and I’ll be able to rest the two of them together. When I come back, I’ll be fit for Glasgow.’ Well, three weeks after my elbow operation I started to come back to light sparring and then I was back two weeks and injured myself again.

“I broke two metatarsals in my foot about eight weeks ago. I was in one of those boots for like five weeks. I trained maybe two weeks in three months and was wearing the boot on and off. I was taking it off because I had to get back to work and make money. I couldn’t afford to take six weeks off work. So I was wearing the boot throughout the day and then going to work at night and just trying to keep my weight off it.

“Then I got the message and they were like, ‘Look, there’s a chance we can get you on at Glasgow. We need you to come to the gym and see what we can do to work around it.’ I went through a wrestling session and I borrowed Stevie Ray’s wrestling boots, strapped it up, and off I went.”

Perhaps, in hindsight, this all-or-nothing, back-to-the-wall approached served Henry well when it came time to face Teymur, an undefeated puncher, in Glasgow. After all, Teymur, like the call from the UFC, was on him in a flash. All over him, in fact. Smothering him, hurting him, busting him up. But then, having weathered this initial storm, Henry settled down and found his groove. He took Teymur out of the opening round for the first time in the Swede’s six-fight MMA career and essentially outlasted him down the stretch, rocking him on multiple occasions. It was, looking back, a nod to Henry’s dogged determination that he got through it. Not that you’d expect anything less from a man prepared to make his UFC debut sans proper training camp and working right leg.

“He’s just got that mental toughness,” said Doolan. “He digs deep. He kind of needed that first round to wake up and settle in. Then he just went. He’s got that in him. He’s a bit like Darren Elkins or even that Justin Gaethje. They’ll get hit and just keep coming and coming.

“I actually wanted him to control the range a wee bit better with the size advantage he had. But when he got caught the first time, he just wanted to get that back. The good thing is, we did plan on getting the guy past the first round because he hadn’t been there before. I thought if he goes into that type of fight, Danny’s got a chance of prevailing. It wasn’t as clean as I wanted it, but, once Danny took over, he proved himself.”

“I’m just a stubborn bastard,” is how Henry himself put it. “That’s all it is. There’s no secret to it. I’m just a miserable, stubborn bastard. If you think you’re going to beat me because you’re winning, I’ll spoil your fun and make it much harder than you think. I’ve always been like that. I’ve always been difficult to put away. I’m really durable.

‘Also, when I was fighting in Johannesburg, South Africa, it was 2,000 metres at altitude. Fighting at this altitude (in Scotland) is a piece of p*ss really. Five rounds over there at featherweight, following a big weight cut to get to feather, separates the men from the boys, I can tell you that.

“I knew I’d be fitter than him (Teymur). He got it late notice, too, but his style, the way he fights, it’s 100% power every time he punches. You can’t maintain that no matter how fit you are. You can’t maintain that ferociousness after the first round. I knew I had him in the second and third.”

Having watched the fight back, Henry found himself conflicted, sat there on his mum’s sofa. On one hand delighted to have put on a bonus-winning show – capturing the hearts of the Glaswegian fans in the process – he was also, on the other hand, disappointed not to have shown more of his skill-set against Teymur. A reputation for brawling might win you fans and bonus cheques, but it won’t, he says, amount to much in the way of longevity. It’s something he wants to put right next time, when injury-free, backed by a proper training camp and less desperate for a life-changing bonus.

On the subject of bonuses, Henry, at first, was oblivious to the fact he’d even secured one when back at the hotel bar after the fight. In fact, it was only when tweets and texts started blowing up his phone that he realised his life was about to change for the better.

“Someone tagged me in a tweet on an MMA website, but I didn’t know if it was legit or not,” he said. “Then my coach messaged me and I knew it was real. I thought, f**k, what a difference this is going to make to my life.

“Honestly, me and my brother were chatting earlier and I was like, ‘Man, just over three weeks ago my life was normal. I wasn’t in the UFC and I had no money. Now, three weeks later, I’ve got my first win and have gone from nothing to getting a win, a ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus and being in a financial position I’ve never had the pleasure of being in before.’ It’s just unreal.”

Anyway, that was last week.

Going forward, Henry hopes to get his foot x-rayed again, if only to put his mind at ease, and then plans to let it heal properly this time and not cut short a recommended ten-week recovery period in order to step inside an Octagon and have a scrap with an undefeated Swede. Been there, done that. He’ll still train, though. Make no mistake about that. At least up until the day that Spain comes calling.

“I was supposed to go to Barcelona for a weekend with my girlfriend at the end of June, but I had to cancel that,” he said. “She was supportive and understood what a big deal it (a UFC debut) was, but I think she doubted it would come off because of my foot.

“Now we’re in a position where we can go to Spain, stay in a five-star hotel, fly British Airways and have a proper break. A nice fucking holiday, not a weekend break.”

A week in Spain, for the triumphant Danny Henry, sounds like a dream. But it won’t beat last week. Chances are, nothing will.