Two of the most dangerous light heavyweight veterans in the world will meet for the first time this Saturday night (Feb. 23, 2013) as former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson takes on former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida in the co-main event of UFC 157.
Henderson had been granted a title shot following his incredible run in 2011 which saw him knock out Rafael Cavalcante and Fedor Emelianenko before beating Mauricio Rua in one of the greatest fights in MMA history. All that good will evaporated when he was injured and failed to tell UFC in time for a suitable replacement, forcing the first UFC pay-per-view to be cancelled. Now, he's trying to get back in the good graces of the UFC and win that title shot again.
Lyoto Machida has had an up and down run, winning the title, losing the title and losing a shot at the belt against Jon Jones, although he gave the champion one of the better runs for his money. He's since knocked out Ryan Bader violently, but after failing to step up on short notice to fight Jones, he also entered Dana White's dog house. All will be forgiven if he rises to the occasion this weekend.
Will Henderson connect with an "H-Bomb" on Machida's skull? Can Machida be elusive enough avoid punishment while dishing out his own? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 29-8 overall, 6-2 in the UFC
Key Wins: Mauricio Rua (UFC 139), Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson), Michael Bisping (UFC 100)
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 fights.
He bounced back with three consecutive victories in the UFC, including the 2009 "Knockout of the Year" against Michael Bisping, but instead 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.
He returned to UFC for a fight against Mauricio Rua and delivered with one of the greatest fights of all time, dishing out serious punishment before slowing down in the later rounds to eek out a decision. "Hendo" sat out a year waiting for a title shot against Jon Jones, but injured his knee just weeks before the title shot and has been sidelined since. He finally returns to the Octagon against Machida this weekend.
How he gets it done: Henderson has a few solid methods to getting the job done. First, obviously, 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 Machida to sleep, too. Machida will be looking for the right hand, as every opponent Henderson has ever faced in the last four 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 Machida. 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.
Don't be surprised to see him attempt a few takedowns as well, but it will all be trying to create openings for the right hand. No single fighter's game centers around a particular attack as Dan Henderson's does with his sledgehammer for a right. If that lands, no matter how elusive Machida is being, the course of the fight could easily be altered.
Record: 18-3 overall, 19-3 in the UFC
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 140), Mauricio Rua (UFC 113)
How he got here: At one point in his career, Machida looked unbeatable. His unorthodox fighting style, mixing Shotokan karate with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling and even some Sumo, baffled his opposition and fight experts alike. "The Dragon" rode an impeccable 16-fight win streak all the way to the UFC title, crushing everyone in his way including former UFC champions BJ Penn, Rich Franklin, Tito Ortiz and eventually Rashad Evans.
It only took one perfectly timed right hook to the temple to bring the hype crashing down. Machida's aura of invincibility was left in Montreal at the hands of "Shogun" and he wants it back badly. The now ex-champ came out of the gate gun-shy against "Rampage" Jackson in his last bout at UFC 123 and finally exploded forward with a burst of harnessed energy in the third round to nearly finish the fight but it wasn't enough to sway the judges.
Machida got back on track in a big way at UFC 129, scoring one of the most incredible knockouts in UFC history with a jumping front kick to Randy Couture's face. It earned him a title shot against Jon Jones and while Machida won the first round on many scorecards, he was finished via technical submission in the second.
After sitting out several months, "The Dragon" returned to action and absolutely crushed Ryan Bader with a beautifully timed right hand that put "Darth" to sleep in the second round. Now, after turning down a short notice fight against Jon Jones, Machida is hoping to earn a title shot he can actually have a full training camp for by defeating Henderson.
How he gets it done: Machida needs to be patient, poised and ready to strike with a hard counter at any moment. Henderson is extremely powerful and loves to aggressively stalk his opponents, trying to create opportunities with forward pressure and punch set-ups. Machida has a very powerful straight left hand but perhaps his sneakiest attack is his counter knee to the body, which he throws as his opponent comes in towards him before side-stepping to safety.
"The Dragon" needs to avoid the clinch as Henderson is extremely strong there and he doesn't want to be stuck in one place for very long. That's just inviting trouble against such a heavy hitter. Look for Machida to keep his distance and try to counter Henderson's aggression. He's absolutely tooled fighters with similar styles to Henderson like Thiago Silva in the past and if Henderson just steps forward looking for the knockout, he could walk right into a big counter hook or straight shot.
If all else fails, Machida actually has some sneaky trip takedowns in his arsenal and from his recent performances, Henderson isn't the best when he's been put on his back. Don't be surprised one bit if Machida tries to dump Henderson on the ground and try to control him there, especially in the second or third round similar to what Shogun was able to do.