Two of the most historically successful light heavyweights in mixed martial arts (MMA) will finally meet tomorrow night (Nov. 19, 2011) as former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua takes on former two-division Pride FC and Strikeforce champion Dan Henderson in the UFC 139 main event.
"Shogun" Rua bounced back from losing his title by ferociously thumping former champion Forrest Griffin earlier this summer in his rousing return to Brazil. It was the third time he's avenged a loss during his UFC career. And if he wants a chance to avenge the loss to 205-pound division champion Jon Jones, he'll need an impressive showing against "Hendo."
Easier said than done.
Henderson is still bringing it at 41 years old. He destroyed Renato Sobral and Rafael Cavalcante to become the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion earlier this year. And he followed it up with perhaps the biggest performance of his career with a first round knockout of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko. He's looking for one last run at a UFC title, but he's got a dangerous Brazilian currently standing in his way.
Will Rua make Henderson regret signing (again) with the UFC with a big victory? Can Henderson keep Father Time at bay for a final sprint to UFC gold? What is the key to victory for both legendary light heavyweights?
Let's find out:
Record: 20-5 overall, 4-3 in the UFC
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 128), Forrest Griffin (UFC 76)
How he got here: Shogun was a prodigy while competing in Japan for the Pride FC organization. He absolutely smashed everyone in his path, including "Rampage" Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Alistair Overeem, among others, en route to winning the Pride 2005 middleweight grand prix. Seven of his eight victories were by way of knockout.
He finished his Pride FC run with at 12-1 before making his Octagon debut against Griffin. Things didn't go exactly as planned, however, as Rua slowed drastically in the second round and never recovered, losing via rear naked choke right before the final bell in a huge upset.
After getting back on track, Shogun would smash former champion Chuck Liddell, which would earn him a title shot against Lyoto Machida. He would lose a highly controversial decision after five rounds of action. However, afterward he was granted an immediate rematch, which he used to knockout "The Dragon" to become the UFC light heavyweight champion.
The champ would be forced to sit on the sidelines for 10 months while rehabbing a knee injury and was welcomed back to the cage by the rising phenom Jon Jones. Jones battered Rua for two and a half rounds, taking his title in dominating fashion.
Afterward, "Shogun" signed on to fight Griffin in Brazil for UFC 134, where he would knockout the inaugural The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner and UFC champion in the first round. This would be the third of his five career losses that he's avenged. With the quick victory, he had a short turnaround to welcome Henderson back to the UFC this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Standing and trading punches only really makes this fight about as even as it can get. Rua hits incredibly hard, but so does Henderson. Also, with all the surgeries to his knees over the years, Shogun has lost some of that explosion that made him so violent.
One major thing Rua has going for him is his kicks, and they could be the deciding factor in the bout if used properly. The Brazilian should attack Henderson's legs and body with repeated heavy kicks. With every blow he lands, it's one less ounce of power that will be sapped out of the "H-Bomb" that the former Olympian possesses.
In addition, Henderson is not the quickest guy out there so he should be a pretty good target for the kick attacks. If he can get him to slow down even more, it'll also open up more avenues to get inside and do damage with his punches. Rua should try to avoid clinches and takedowns in this fight because he's much better off and more dangerous at the cage center.
Record: 28-8 overall, 5-2 in the UFC
How he got here: Henderson started out as a Greco Roman wrestler, competing twice in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympic games for the United States. He had immediate success after transitioning to MMA
The first four events Henderson competed at were single night tournaments, and he won them all, winning nine fights overall in four nights. Afterward, he would sign with Pride FC, where he would have an up and down career, never really stringing together a huge run of victories. That is until the inaugural Pride FC welterweight (185-pound) Grand Prix. He would knockout consecutive opponents on one night to make it to the finals and then go on to win the tournament with a split decision victory against Murilo Bustamante.
After defeating Vitor Belfort at 205 pounds, he was offered a title shot against Wanderlei Silva, an opportunity to avenge his initial Pride FC loss from six years prior. He would capitalize on the opportunity with an incredible third round knockout to become the Pride FC champion in two weight classes.
Henderson would earn back-to-back title shots in his UFC return, losing to both Anderson Silva and Quinton Jackson, but would put up strong performances in both.
After three consecutive victories in the UFC, including the 2009 "Knockout of the Year" against Michael Bisping, he left the promotion and signed a very large deal with Strikeforce. Henderson would lose his first Strikeforce bout to middleweight champion Jake Shields, but he would follow it up with consecutive knockouts of Renato Sobral and "Feijao" Cavalcante to become the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion. He capped off his Strikeforce career with an incredible knockout of MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko earlier this summer in Chicago.
After that incredible victory, he negotiated a deal with the UFC and stepped in to take on "Shogun" in his third tour with the promotion.
How he gets it done: Henderson has a few solid methods to getting the job done. First, of course, is to land that killer right hand of his. If he can knockout Fedor with it from an uppercut on the ground, he can put Shogun to sleep, too. Obviously, Rua will be looking for the right hand, as every opponent Henderson has ever faced in the last three years has been cautious of it, but they still keep getting tagged.
Henderson, despite his age, does a pretty good job of closing the distance. And, he's still got some explosion in him when he needs it. He could be looking to set up the right hand with a takedown attempt or perhaps just lunging in with a lead left jab.
Another advantage for Henderson would be in the clinch. He did a pretty good job of controlling Emelianenko along the fence and he should be able do be even more powerful along the fence against Rua. If he can keep him pinned down, it'll open up some dirty boxing attacks and he's always capable of throwing a huge right hand on the break.
If all else fails, he could even attempt some Greco takedowns along the fence if he's not winning the striking exchanges.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this fight is very simple. Both men have some of the best finishing instincts in MMA. Seriously, when was the last time you can remember either of these fighters letting an opponent off the hook when they had them hurt? If either man gets rocked, they are likely going to get swarmed and finished very quickly. It may sound cliche, but the outcome of this fight is likely going to come down to who lands a big strike first. Whoever lands that big blow and rocks their opponent is likely going to be able to score a knockout with follow-up strikes.
Bottom line: This is a terrific match up between two MMA legends. Both Henderson and Rua hit incredibly hard and they can also take a punch or two. Henderson's been dropped in his last two fights, but his immediate response afterward has been terrific. He has great recovery -- either shooting for a takedown or grabbing a single leg -- and slipping to safety and he's proven that he might be even more dangerous when he's been hurt. Rua is also one of the most tenacious light heavyweights in the history of the sport, so this bout is almost guaranteed to be exciting. The winner of this bout would also likely be either one fight away from a title shot or he could be a title shot alternate in case of an injury. Keep your eyes peeled for this one.
Who will come out on top at UFC 139? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!