This Saturday night (May 24, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweights Daniel Cormier and Dan Henderson will face off in the co-main event of UFC 173, airing live at 10 p.m. EST on pay-per-view (PPV) from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Undefeated at 14-0, No. 4-ranked Cormier comes into the bout off of a first round demolition of late replacement Patrick Cummins at UFC 170, a squash match that materialized after his original opponent Rashad Evans was forced out with a knee injury.
"DC" is looking to cement a shot at championship gold after cutting down to 205 pounds to avoid fighting his good friend and training partner, UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. A win over No. 6-ranked Henderson is supposedly the fight that will propel him to the next level of mixed martial arts (MMA)
However, he'll have to defeat one of the hardest hitters in the game to get there.
Longtime legend Henderson recently snapped a three-fight slide with an impressive come-from-behind knockout win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the main event of UFC Fight Night 38 in late March.
With time running out on the 43-year-old "Hendo's" last run at glory, he must to hand Cormier his first-ever defeat in order to challenge the winner of the upcoming Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson rematch.
That's a tall task. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Cormier vs. Henderson:
Record: 14-0 overall, 3-0 UFC
Key Wins: Roy Nelson (UFC 166), Frank Mir (UFC on FOX 7), Josh Barnett (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier), Antonio Silva (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Yet to find himself in any real danger inside the Octagon, Cormier is quickly becoming one of the most well rounded martial artists on the planet.
Cormier's base lies in his world-class wrestling skills, with his accomplishments including two NJCAA national championships, a host of international medals, and a captain's spot on the 2008 United States Olympic team in freestyle.
But that's not all "DC" brings to the plate. His improving stand-up has been rapidly catching up to his ridiculous mat skills as of late. Training at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) with teammates Velasquez and UFC middleweight contender Luke Rockhold, Cormier benefits from one of the best overall training camps in the game.
Cormier has only made 205 pounds once, so the weight cut could be his worst enemy heading into this bout. He was forced to the hospital after depleting his kidneys prior to the 2008 Games, but he appears to have mastered the cut more effectively this time around.
He should be the much bigger fighter against Henderson, so Cormier will be looking to push "Hendo" up against the cage and beat on him with dirty boxing. Cormier should also hold the edge in speed and technical precision as well.
If he can avoid "Hendo's" vaunted right hand and stick to his gameplan, this is Cormier's fight to lose.
Record: 30-11 overall, 7-5 UFC
Key Wins: Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson), Mauricio Rua (UFC Fight Night 38, 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: Henderson has his work cut out for him here. Rua was largely picking him apart in their awaited rematch only two months ago; now he's got to fight his first bout without testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT) after the NSAC and UFC banned the controversial treatment in late February.
That could translate into some big problems for the 43-year-old Henderson, who was on his way to losing four straight were it not for one massive right hook.
Beyond that, "Hendo" has some strong wrestling skills, but he's grown to rely solely on his right hand. He sets it up with a few combinations that usually begin with a low kick, but overall he may be getting a bit too predictable.
He'll obviously have the big experience advantage on Cormier, but that and pure one-punch knockout power will be the two main feathers in his cap. "Hendo" has to avoid getting smothered in the clinch while avoiding Cormier's high-volume kickboxing, no easy task to be sure.
If he can win a few scrambles and find some room, there's always a chance for Henderson to end any fight with a single shot. He's well known for his iron chin, making it difficult for Cormier to finish this fight.
However, the pressure is on "Hendo" to prove he can still beat the best in the world.
Bottom Line from Las Vegas: The bottom line for this fight is that it provides a clear path to a UFC light heavyweight title shot.
Cormier has already begun his war of worlds with Jones, but he has to get past "Hendo" first. If he's looking past him, there is always the opportunity for another shocking knockout.
But given his vast amount of competition experience, mental training, and improving technical skills, that seems like an unlikely outcome for a fighter of Cormier's caliber.
"DC" believes he can take down any fighter in the game, and Henderson is going to be in trouble if he finds himself slammed to the mat. That's not to take anything away from "Hendo;" he's definitely one of the most well-travelled and toughest veterans out there.
It's going to be very interesting to see how he responds to fighting without TRT. His dose was reportedly a low one, so he could show no ill effects from weaning off the therapy. Even if he does not, beating Cormier will be one of the toughest challenges of his storied career.
Cormier just has so many more ways to win this fight, be it standing or on the ground. "DC" also has the confidence of an undefeated record working in his favor, but Henderson is never afraid to step up to any challenge, and is never rattled.
The odds would tell you "DC" wins this hands-down, but you can never sleep on "Hendo."
We could be witnessing Cormier's ascension to truly elite status, or we even see an unlikely contender finally get his shot at Jones. Either way, the fans win here, so enjoy the fight.
Dan Henderson stands in the way of Daniel Cormier's rise to championship status. Will it be business as usual for "DC," or will lightning strike once again for the aging legend?