This Sunday night (March 23, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweights Mauricio Rua and Dan Henderson will face off in the main event of UFC Fight Night 38, airing live on FOX Sports 1 from Ginasio Nelio Dias in Natal, Brazil.
The headlining bout is a rematch of their classic UFC 139 blockbuster, a fight considered to be one of the finest mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts of all-time. Henderson won the 2011 "Fight of the Year"-winning battle by split decision.
Lately, however, it hasn't been the smoothest of roads for the 43-year-old "Hendo." He's lost three straight to top competition, suffering his first-ever striking stoppage loss to a surging Vitor Belfort at UFC Fight Night 32 after dropping decisions to Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida.
After losing two straight to Chael Sonnen and Alexander Gustafsson, Rua recently got back into the win column with an emphatic first round knockout of James Te Huna at UFC Fight Night 33. Still, his UFC tenure has been marred by bouts of extreme inconsistency.
"Shogun" can win two UFC bouts in a row by avenging what may be his most famous loss. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Rua vs. Henderson:
Record: 22-8 overall, 6-6 UFC
Key Wins: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (Pride Total Elimination 2005), Alistair Overeem (Pride Final Conflict 2005, Pride 33), Lyoto Machida (UFC 113), Chuck Liddell (UFC 97), Forrest Griffin (UFC 134)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 128), Lyoto Machida (UFC 104), Forrest Griffin (UFC 76), Chael Sonnen (UFC Fight Night 26)
Keys to Victory: No. 7-ranked "Shogun" recently moved his camp from his hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, to Sao Paulo in an attempt to change up his game. He's always had the skills to be one of the top light heavyweights in the world, but injuries and preparation issues have seemingly held him back.
All of the wars are beginning to slow Rua, but he's still the younger fighter. He also has more momentum, which should be a huge boost.
If "Shogun's" mind is in the right place, he can definitely end this fight early. "Hendo" showed that his iron chin is beginning to decline against Belfort, and Rua could make no bigger statement than to knock out his fellow former Pride titleholder. He's going to have show up in shape to do so.
Despite his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Rua has only one submission on his record. With 19 knockouts, you can bet he'll be looking to engage in a firefight right after the opening bell sounds.
He's going to have to be sharp with his clinch work and takedown defense, as "Hendo" has the wrestling background to control the fight up against the cage. Henderson has also tapped out three times, so even if Rua gets taken down, he may find an opportunity for a choke or leglock from the guard.
But, that's probably not going to happen. Both of these fighters want to prove their striking can outlast the other's, so "Shogun" will be unleashing a high torrent of his dangerous Muay Thai in an attempt to get the job done with authority.
Record: 29-11 overall, 6-5 UFC
Key Wins: Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson), Mauricio Rua (UFC 139), Wanderlei Silva (Pride 33), Vitor Belfort (Pride 32)
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 82), Vitor Belfort (UFC Fight Night 32), Quinton Jackson (UFC 75), Rashad Evans (UFC 161), Lyoto Machida (UFC 157)
Keys to Victory: No. 8-ranked Henderson is going through the roughest patch of his storied career, and that's understandable. He's getting up there in years and still fighting the best the sport has to offer, but all that could be about to change.
Henderson has been using testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT) since around 2006-2007. The Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) and UFC recently banned the controversial therapy, but "Hendo" already had the paperwork filed for his current exemption.
He'll be able to use TRT for his bout against Rua, and that may pay big dividends.
Obviously Henderson's greatest weapon is his thunderous right hand. The former Pride and Strikeforce champion likes to lead with a quick low kick to set up his massive "H-bomb" over the top, and it's worked to the tune of 13 knockouts over his nearly 17-year career. Although his headhunting strategy hasn't exactly been working as of late, that doesn't mean that Henderson will deviate from it.
Despite his Olympic-level Greco-Roman wrestling background, "Hendo" doesn't look for many takedowns in his fights. He instead favors the right, a weapon that's become both his blessing and his curse.
At this point in time, Henderson is a bit too one-dimensional. Rua has seen what he throws and should adjust accordingly. That means Henderson may have to get a bit lucky. Bullying Rua up against the cage and looking for short uppercuts will help him disrupt "Shogun's" rhythm.
Beyond that, his gameplan will be simple. He'll be looking for the homerun shot.
Bottom Line from Brazil: The bottom line for this fight is that it's going to be nearly impossible to replicate the excitement of their initial classic. A lot has changed since that fateful day, but this should still be an entertaining match.
People will be calling for Henderson's retirement should he lose four straight. "Hendo" recently said he wouldn't give up, even without TRT. However, if he loses to Rua, there just won't be too many places for him to go in UFC.
Rua can vault himself back into (or at least close to) the Top 5 in Natal. He'll have the roaring support of the Brazilian crowd behind him.
Both fighters have solid technical skills, but when the cage door is closed, they love to just slug it out. Barring any unforeseen surprises, this fight should be no different.
Pride is on the line in a rematch of possibly the greatest bout in UFC history. Rua has been more than inconsistent, but I think switching his camp will help his focus a ton. "Hendo" has been showing some severe signs of wear and tear in his three straight losses. He's a legendary champion, but I think his time may have finally come. I'm picking Rua to show up motivated and finally win two in a row in UFC.
Final Prediction: Rua def. Henderson via technical knockout