Former two-division Pride FC champion, Dan Henderson, rematches former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight champion and Brazilian "Phenom," Vitor Belfort, this Saturday (Nov. 9, 2013) at Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil.
Henderson's last chance at a title shot may be slipping away.
The mixed martial arts (MMA) legend's return to UFC has been far from perfect. After winning one of the greatest battles in Octagon history, Henderson's knee injury derailed his title shot, as well as the entire UFC 151 pay-per-view (PPV) event. After some rehabbing, "Hendo" attempted to rebound against Lyoto Machida; however, despite his best efforts, "The Dragon" escaped with a split decision victory.
This loss didn't send "Hollywood" too far down the ladder, though, as he was matched against another former 205-pound champion, Rashad Evans. Once again, his opponent was the slightest of steps ahead, edging him on the judges scorecards.
Now, in a bizarre match up, Henderson takes on another former champion, Vitor Belfort, in a rematch seven years in the making. At 43 years old, does Henderson have another title run left in him?
Let's find out:
Henderson could be the symbol for elite wrestlers who get into MMA only to find out they hit like a mack truck. Since this discovery, Henderson has devoted most of his career to creating more "H-bomb" victims.
Speaking of the "H-bomb," it's a surefire sign that a punch is especially volatile when it's nicknamed after a nuclear weapon. In "Hendo's" case, it's his overhand right that has inspired such notoriety.
Henderson's overhand is the stuff of legend. His opponents know it's coming, yet so many world class fighters walk right into it. The main reason that Henderson's overhand works so frequently is that he absolutely believes in it. It doesn't matter to "Dangerous" if the previous dozen overhands missed because if this one lands his workday is over early.
The main reason Henderson's overhand is so powerful is his stance. He stands with all of weight on his back foot then throws his entire body onto his lead foot. Henderson puts so much of his body behind the punch that he's often off-balance when he misses.
One of Henderson's favorite ways to set up his overhand is the inside leg kick. Henderson's inside leg kick accomplishes two things: It tells him that his opponent is close enough to punch and prevents him from getting out of the way. If his opponent's leg is lifted off the canvas, then he cannot use his footwork to circle away from the punch.
The most famous example of this technique is Henderson's disturbingly violent knockout of Michael Bisping. "The Count" was circling to Henderson's right side already, so when the overhand landed, Bisping was in for a world of hurt. A flying punch put an exclamation point on the already spectacular finish and it has since became one of the greatest highlights in MMA history.
Because of his stance, Henderson's left hand is not nearly as dangerous as his right. However, his left hook can land with some force when it follows a straight right or overhand.
Henderson's right hand is not just powerful when thrown in an arc. Henderson has a nasty straight right and loves to use the uppercut to counter opponents ducking his overhand. When Henderson is too close to rely on the overhand, he'll rely upon these two punches more.
Despite his success in the realm of knocking out fools, Henderson's striking is rather imperfect. In place of good striking defense, he relies heavily upon his iron chin, which may one day fail him. In addition, his game is so largely boxing centered that he doesn't have a response to fighters that can keep him at range with kicks, a fact Machida capitalized on to win the split decision.
Henderson represented the United States as a Greco-Roman wrestler in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, as well as winning a gold medal in the Pan American Championships in 2000. Despite his credentials, Henderson's wrestling is rather inconsistent, largely because of his conditioning ... or lack thereof.
As is expected of a Greco-Roman wrestler, Henderson is very powerful in the clinch, even if he no longer relies on it. Greatly aided by the ability to pressure his opponent into the cage, "Hendo" is able to tire his opponent until he secures a good position. Once he gets double underhooks, Henderson's takedowns are very difficult to stop.
What's more, Henderson's throws from the over-under clinch are very good. He's able to control his opponent's posture and momentum, which almost always wins the clinch battle. If Henderson is still fresh, he's nearly impossible to out-work inside the clinch.
Henderson's ridiculous power is not constrained solely to his stand up. From the top position, "Hendo" drops brutal ground-and-pound. Just like in the stand up, Henderson is a master at putting all his weight behind his punches, often trying to dive onto his foe with a big right hand.
Most fighters need to create a large amount of space, which Henderson has above, before they can attempt to knockout their opponent with ground strikes.
Not so for "Hollywood."
Against Fedor Emelianenko, Henderson was able to capitalize on a single mistake by "The Last Emperor" that finished the legendary Russian. After Emelianenko dropped Henderson, he pursued him with ground-and-pound, looking for a finish.
Henderson quickly recovered and escaped out the back door, winding up in turtle.
From this position, Henderson literally jumped into an uppercut that caused the Russian to slump on the mat. A couple more shots sealed the deal, but a single violent uppercut landed in a split second gave Henderson the biggest win of his illustrious career.
Henderson's takedown defense is rather enigmatic. When he is energized, Henderson is able to stop and reverse all of his opponent's takedown attempts, even implementing his own takedowns. However, fatigue completely eliminates Henderson's defensive abilities, and at Henderson's age, fighting fatigue gets a little harder with each fight.
Examples of this include his fights with "Shogun" Rua and Jake Shields. In the first three rounds of his fight with Rua, Henderson was able to manhandle the Brazilian with ease. However, in the final ten minutes, Rua took him down at will, often from the clinch, which should be Henderson's specialty.
Henderson was so tired he simply couldn't resist.
The drop in "Hendo's" takedown defense ability as his conditioning worsens was especially apparent versus Jake Shields. Henderson made Shields face plant with his overhand early in the first and easily stopped all of his takedowns. Then, the "American Jiu-Jitsu" fighter managed to turn the tide in the second, landing a takedown and riding Henderson for the rest of the fight.
To be frank, submitting people is hardly Henderson's goal when he enters the Octagon. In thirty-nine career victories, only one has come via an actual submission.
Henderson's had a long career but few submission attempts. In addition to his 1997 guillotine finish in his second professional fight, Henderson recently tried the guillotine on "Shogun" Mauricio Rua. Another example of his jiu-jitsu is in his title fight with Quinton Jackson, Henderson managed to sweep "Rampage" with a kimura.
Despite Henderson's three submission losses, he is an incredibly difficult man to submit. Two of these losses are armbar defeats to the Nogueira brothers. There is no shame in these losses, as "Minotauro" is a Heavyweight, both are black belts and the most recent was in 2005. His final submission loss is to Anderson Silva, in which he was caught by a head kick and punches before falling into the rear-naked choke.
Henderson is able to defend from terrible positions incredibly well. Jake Shields -- a very skilled black belt -- had Henderson mounted for the majority of four rounds and couldn't lock up anything. Similarly, Rua failed to mount any significant submission attempts with his time in the mount. This is largely because "Hendo" rarely panics and gives up submissions. He stays calm and absorbs ground strikes, but waits for a safe opportunity to escape.
In addition, the Nogueira brothers were forced to work extremely hard for their submission victories over Henderson. He repeatedly inched out of their attacks and even managed to defeat "Big Nog" via split decision in their first fight after resisting several submission assaults.
In addition to the Nogueira brothers and their disciples, Henderson has faced other dangerous submission fighters, like Rousimar Palhares and "Shogun." Both men trapped Henderson in heel hooks, but "Hollywood" stayed calm and spun out before any force could be applied.
Best Chance For Success
It might be time to break out the wrestling shoes once more.
In their last fight, at Pride 32 waaaaay back in 2006, Henderson thoroughly out-wrestled Belfort for a clear decision victory. Henderson's wrestling abilities may have declined since then, and now both men are hyped up on synthetic testosterone, but the match up is still similar to the original.
Henderson has to be wary of Belfort's new love of head kicks. Once may be a fluke, but two straight head kick victories is something to watch out for. Luckily, Belfort can't launch kicks if his back is on the fence and/or mat and Henderson's forehead is jammed into Belfort's jaw. Henderson spent the first half of his career seeking out the clinch and he needs to do it again.
Belfort has to be cautious around Henderson's overhand, which should allow opportunities for the clinch. Once "Hendo" gets the clinch, he should focus on tiring out Belfort. Sure, Henderson's cardio may be imperfect, but he fights better tired than Belfort does, not relying on explosiveness alone.
If Henderson can get Belfort to the mat, he needs to cautious with his arm placement because Belfort's armbar is lightning fast. He should also focus on controlling more than doing serious damage ... at least in the early rounds. Standing with Belfort is not an appealing option for most fighters at this point in his career.
Will Belfort avenge his loss to Henderson or can "Hendo" once again prove he is the better man?