Dan Henderson never did get his Olympic medal, but his side job turned into a great way to make a living -- if you don't mind squaring off with your opponent inside a steel cage.
Henderson, who was in Winnipeg yesterday as part of the Ultimate Cage Wars X-Factor card at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, represented the United States in Greco Roman wrestling at the 1992 and '96 Olympic Games, finishing 10th and 12th respectively.
While his Olympic dream burned on, Henderson was introduced to the world of Mixed Martial Arts in 1997 as he pursued a spot on the 2000 Olympic team.
"I started fighting basically to support my wrestling and supplement my income," said Henderson, who posed for pictures with his Pride championship belt and signed autographs for more than two hours yesterday. "When I got into it, I didn't really have any goals in MMA. It's been my living. Since I started, I never had a real job.
"I enjoy it. It pays the bills."
The 2000 Olympic goal wasn't realized, though Henderson -- who was the last man to hold the welterweight and middleweight titles in the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championship -- may be on the verge of a career breakthrough.
After losing a five-round decision to Quinton (Rampage) Jackson in his last fight, Henderson is preparing to take on Anderson (The Spider) Silva for the UFC welterweight title on Mar. 1 in Columbus, Ohio.
With a victory in that bout, Henderson will be due for a huge payday.
"He's tough," said Henderson. "Good on his feet, not bad on the ground. He's pretty well-rounded fighter."
As for his light heavyweight unification bout with Jackson, Henderson nearly pulled off the upset.
"I thought I had done enough, but that's why we have the judges," said Henderson. "I just know it was a close fight."
Not to mention an important fight.
Henderson showed he can battle with one of the best in the business and after a 10-year hiatus from the UFC, the man from Southern California might just have what it takes to become a bona fide star.
"It almost seemed like a debut," said Henderson. "Most people weren't watching 10 years ago."
But they're definitely watching now.
Henderson isn't the least bit surprised how much the sport has grown during the past decade.
"I always knew that it would. It was just a matter of getting people to watch it," he said. "You see it the first time and then they're hooked. The sport kind of sells itself. It was just a matter of time."
FIGHT RESULTS: In the main event, Jason (Dooms) Day defeated Ron Faircloth with a second-round technical knockout; Jordan Mein scored a first-round TKO over Winnipegger Kevin (Mongoose) Manderson: Chris Lee earned a first-round TKO over Chris Burns; Simon Marini defeated Brett Portieous in a unanimous decision; Ferrid Kehder defeated Mike Neufeld; Greg Compton defeated Tim Tamaki in the second round with a rear naked choke; Rory McDonell forced Jean-Marc Lalonde to submit with a triangle choke in the first round; Markhaile Wedterburn stopped Dave D. Lorenzi with a rear naked choke in the 1st round; and, Bill Boland scored a TKO over Wilf Betz.