This Sunday (March 23, 2014), former Pride FC and Strikeforce champion, Dan Henderson, will rematch former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight strap-hanger, Mauricio Rua, in UFC Fight Night 38 from Nelio Dias Gymnasium in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil.
It's lasted well over a decade, but "Hendo's" illustrious mixed martial arts (MMA) career may be coming to an end.
Currently riding a three-fight losing streak, time is running out for the 43 year old. In addition, his most recent loss to the surging Vitor Belfort came via knockout, the first of his legendary career. In fact, since being brought over from Strikeforce, the former Olympian is just 1-3 inside the Octagon.
However, that one win was pretty special.
At UFC 139 back in 2011, Henderson took on "Shogun" Rua in a brutal, five-round main event, the first of its kind. The fight was an instant classic, winning multiple "_____ of the Year" awards and showing that both men still had something to offer. Little more than two years later, "Hollywood" will now look to recapture some of that magic.
But, can he also pull off the win over the dangerous Brazilian?
Let's find out:
Henderson -- who has finished 13 opponents via knockout across the years -- is almost entirely a striker at this point in his career. Once he realized the power his right hand carried and the acclaim that came with it, Henderson decided to focus solely on knocking out his opponents.
It also helps that his chin is legendarily tough.
To earn the knockout, Henderson relies on his overhand right, a punch the fans have affectionately dubbed the "H-bomb." At this point, it's well known that Henderson's game plan is to incessantly throw his overhand and hope for the best, but that hasn't stopped plenty of elite fighters from getting hit by it.
Though he does set it up, the main reason Henderson's overhand lands is that he really believes in it. Henderson does not get discouraged by a miss -- he'll just keep throwing. Of course, this does leave him at risk of counters, such as the uppercut Vitor Belfort shot into his jaw, but if it lands, the fight is over more often than not.
Luckily for the Team Quest co-founder, his faith is not misplaced: The "H-bomb" lands hard.
The reason for this is Henderson's almost completely sideways stance and his weight distribution. Henderson stands very heavy on his back leg, which makes his lead hand strikes pretty weak. However, it also allows him to throw his entire body behind his right, so much so that he becomes very off-balance when he misses.
The most frequent set up Henderson uses for his overhand is the inside leg kick. As he throws the kick, his right is holstered and ready to fire. If the kick lands, Henderson knows that his opponent is in range. His inside leg kick also helps him stagger his opponent's movement, keeping him in that range. Additionally, the leg kick serves as a decent distraction from the oncoming punch, even if his opponent knows that it's one of Henderson's favorite combinations.
Discussing the "H-bomb" without mentioning his infamous knockout of Michael Bisping would be absurd, as it is the best, and most volatile, example of Henderson's inside leg kick to overhand combo. Bisping made it easier for "Dangerous" Dan by constantly circling to Henderson's right, directly into the punch. After Henderson's overhand landed, he put an exclamation mark on the finish with an unnecessary diving knockout punch.
As I mentioned before, Henderson's punches from his left hand greatly suffer due to his stance. For the most part, he just throws jabs, hoping to lead his opponent into the follow up right hand. These jabs aren't especially fast or powerful, but they do help "Hendo" establish his range. Although, Henderson did manage to drop Rashad Evans with a jab when "Suga" ran into it face-first.
The other way Henderson can use his left hand effectively is following a big right hand. Since his right hand leaves him with his weight on his left foot, he often resets his stance with a left hook. Henderson has the option of maintaining this balance and throwing effective strikes from either hand, but he normally chooses to try to land a big hook instead.
Outside of his overhand, Henderson's right hand is still effective. He usually relies on the straight right when in close with his opponent, just because it's a tighter punch. If he notices his opponent trying to duck under his overhand, he'll switch to an uppercut.
For all of his success, Henderson is a flawed striker. His lack of a kicking game leaves him open to rangier fighters, such as Machida, who easily out-pointed Henderson at range. Additionally, his lack of variation can lead to him being countered.
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. This background makes him one of the most credentialed wrestlers to ever fight in UFC.
That said, he rarely seeks to initiate grappling exchanges and his wrestling ability declines as he grows tired.
Even though it's been more than 10 years since Henderson competed as Greco-Roman wrestler, his skills in the clinch remain strong. Henderson uses the cage well, pressuring his opponent into it until he secures a good position. If he manages to get double underhooks, it's very difficult to prevent his takedown. In addition, his over-under clinch takedowns are crafty.
Once he's on top of his opponent, Henderson's ridiculous power once again comes into play. His ability to throw his weight behind punches is not restricted to boxing, as he does the same thing while on top of his opponent. If Henderson manages to create space, he is sure to do damage.
Plus, Henderson really lives to dive into his opponents' guards with a huge right hand, which is a very dangerous strike.
In general, it's important to create space before trying to land the knockout blow. But, for some fighters -- like "Hendo" -- this isn't always necessary. When Henderson fought the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, the two had a back-and-forth fight that ended suddenly.
Near the end of the first round, Emelianenko caught Henderson with a combination, causing the American to fall to the floor. As "The Last Emperor" quickly rushed him with punches, Henderson secured an underhook, escaped out the back door, and landed in turtle. From there, he immediately jumped into an uppercut, shooting his whole body into the punch.
Henderson's takedown defense is based almost entirely on his conditioning. When he is fresh, he's strong in the clinch, sprawls on his opponents shots, and is generally hell to drag and keep on the mat. However, as he fatigues, it becomes easier and easier for his opponent to control him.
The best, and most recent, example of the two sides of Henderson's takedown defense is his fight with Jake Shields. In the first round, Shields was repeatedly stuffed, and "Hollywood" punished him with hard shots. However, Henderson blew his wad trying to finish, and Shields soundly out-wrestled him for the remaining four rounds with little difficulty.
After 40 matches and nearly 17 years of pro competition, a fighter's style and preferences become clear. For Henderson, he has demonstrated that he has little intention of submitting his opponent ... he just wants to knock them out.
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.
It's hard to draw conclusions based on so little evidence, but Henderson has been grappling for years, so his game could be more advanced. Or, he could have ignored that part of his training for all this time.
Henderson may have been submitted three times, but two of those submissions were to the Nogueira brothers, who are excellent grapplers. The final loss was to Anderson Silva, who -- in addition to being a solid jiu-jitsu fighter -- rocked Henderson with a head kick and punches before locking in the rear-naked choke.
One aspect of jiu-jitsu that "Hendo" does well is defend himself from poor positions. He could do a better job preventing his opponent from getting positions like mount, but once he's stuck there, he defends himself well. The reason for this is that Henderson does not panic under fire, which opens up submission attempts. Instead, he relaxes, absorbs shots, and slowly waits for an opportunity to get back to guard.
If he must, he'll just wait out the clock.
Henderson has put on his submission defense ability numerous times. Even when the Nogueira brothers tapped him way back in Pride FC, Henderson inched out of many attempts before he was caught. More recently, Henderson evaded the heel hooks of both Rousimar Palhares and "Shogun" Rua, two accomplished leg lock grapplers. Again, Henderson remained relaxed, calmly spinning out of their grips.
Best Chance For Success
Much can be learned from the first fight for both fighters. In Henderson's case, he should recognize just how difficult it is to finish Rua, and how much it sucks to get tired and eat Rua's punches for the final two rounds. Once again, this is a five round fight, meaning it is vital that Henderson paces himself this time.
While Henderson was fresh, he was quicker and stronger than Rua, able to both land more often and out-muscle the Brazilian in the clinch. As the fight went on, Rua slowly evened these advantages as "Hendo" did his damnedest to knockout the Brazilian. Though he hurt him multiple times, he failed to finish, and Rua paid him back in full.
This time around, Henderson should refrain from unleashing on "Shogun" so often. Henderson has the ability to hurt him, but it seems that Rua is too physically and mentally tough to finish via brute force. Instead, Henderson should take Rua down after he hurts him.
That's not too say he should avoid trying to finish or point fight, but Henderson should let Rua exhaust himself after getting hurt. If Henderson forces Rua to continually tire himself, he may eventually get to the point where Rua is too fatigued to keep defending himself. That's the best chance Henderson has at guaranteeing himself a win while maintaining a chance at a finish.
Although in the end, Henderson will probably scoff at the idea of a game plan and slug it out with his talented foe.
He's old school like that.
Can Henderson upset Rua or will the Brazilian even up the score?