History in the Making: Dan Henderson becomes the first and only Pride welterweight champion

While in Pride Fighting Championships (Pride FC) Dan Henderson tried his hand at heavyweight. But Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira submitted him out of that weight class.

He then made a run at 205-pounds where "Big Nog's" twin -- the smaller Antonio Rogerio Nogueira -- ushered "Hendo" out of that division in similar fashion.

So when Pride FC announced their welterweight division at 183-pounds, Henderson must have thought, "Hey? Why not?'

So when the grand prix to crown the first champion started at Pride's Bushido 9 card, "Hendo" was a more than willing participant. And he laid to waste the men he faced.

Before the Team Quest wrestler takes on Fedor Emelianenko at Strikeforce: "Fedor vs. Henderson," we'll take a look at his amazing run during that tournament which culminated in becoming the first and only welterweight champion for the storied Japanese organization.

It started at Bushido 9 where "Dangerous Dan" fought found himself inside the Pride ring twice in one night.

The first time he faced off against Ryo Chonan -- a man who nine months prior had submitted Anderson Silva in stunning fashion with a flying scissors heel hook -- quite literally the greatest submission ever.

It took "Hendo" less than 30 seconds to convince the referee to stop the fight.

His patented bomb-like right hand caught "The Pirahna" once. And then again. The second time, the Japanese fighter crumbled to the mat and the heavy handed wrestler forced the referee's hand by landing several more unanswered rights to Chonan's skull.

And just like that, "Dangerous Dan" had advanced to semi-finals.

Eight fights later, the American was back inside the ring. This time standing opposite him was was Akihiro Gono. Another Japanese fighter -- this one known for his flamboyant and entertaining entrances -- who had only lost one fight in nearly four years.

That loss? Mauricio Rua.

So suffice to say, this wasn't going to be a cakewalk for the "Hendo."

The American got caught control early on and used the position to grind against his opponent, landing short punches and generally just wearing down the Japanese fighter.

Despite crying foul on two highly suspect "heatbutts," Gono was getting controlled in the early half of the first round.

When they got back to their feet -- after an undeserved yellow card to Henderson -- the American utilized his superior boxing to make Gono realize that this fight was just as dangerous on the feet as it was on the mat.

The point is never made more clear than when a left dropped the Japanese fighter to the mat. Again, he found himself on his back with "Dangerous Dan" on top of him.

A few minutes later, the American got back to his feet perhaps feeling his best chance at a quicker victory was through his cement-like fists.

Gono -- an accomplished kickboxer -- was able to land several kicks but nothing that caused "Dangerous Dan" to change his gameplan. He kept pressing forward, that right hand ever present.

With only minutes remaining in the first round, Henderson crowded his opponent into the corner and unleashed. Punch after punch until one found its mark perfectly on Gono's jaw.

The Japanese fighter slumped down -- not completely unconscious but in no position to defend himself. All "Hendo" had to do was shove Gono's body to the mat and land a couple more punches to force the bout's end.

The two victories earned Henderson a three month reprieve which by today's standards seems abysmally short. After fighting a couple of bouts on September 25, he stepped back inside the Pride FC ring on New Year's Eve 2005 to face the other finalist Murilo Bustamante.

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) expert was no stranger to 185-pounds or Dan Henderson. He was a former UFC middleweight champ and had faced "Hendo" in an alternate bout during the 205-pound grand prix in two years prior.

That fight ended in a controversial referee stoppage. But because Bustamante was filling in for an injured Ricardo Arona, a rematch didn't seem to make much sense.

Sensical? No. Desired? Absolutely. 

Henderson had historically had trouble with BJJ practitioners. The aforementioned losses to both of the Nogueira brothers punctuated a loss to Arona.

In their eagerly anticipated match-up, Henderson sought to prove that he was a world class mixed martial artist and that no single discipline could best him.

The fight was uneventful. Bustamante would get takedowns but Henderson would be back on his feet too quick for the Brazilian to land any damage. The former UFC champ even had "Dangerous Dan" in full mount and allowed the American to stand back up.

Neither fighter got their opponent in real danger. It was a human chess game, their fists as rooks and their wills as bishops.

After 15 minutes, in a split decision, Henderson finally won his first title in the MMA game. He decimated two Japanese stalwarts and bested a very game Bustamante.

Once he won that title, he went on to knock out Wanderlei Silva to become the second person to win straps in two different weight classes -- behind Randy Couture -- and the first to do it simultaneously. 

Make no mistake about it: Dan Henderson is a legend in the sport. In almost 15 years in the sport, he only carries eight losses on his back.

The already mentioned losses to the Nogueira brothers and losses to Wanderlei Silva, Ricardo Arona, Kazuo Misaki, Quinton Jackson, Anderson Silva and his most recent loss to Jake Shields.

That is pretty much a who's who in the MMA field.

Will he add the greatest heavyweight fight so far, Fedor Emelianenko, to his list?

We will find out on Saturday.

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