Tonight (July 30, 2011), two of the greatest legends in the history of mixed martial arts (MMA) and former Pride FC champions will wage war in the main event of Strikeforce: "Fedor vs. Henderson."
Former consensus pound-for-pound greatest fighter in the world Fedor Emelianenko will battle two-time Pride FC champion and current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson in a three-round, non-title fight at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Emelianenko, 34, is coming off consecutive losses for the first time ever. His career is at a crossroads. And many are calling for him to retire if he makes it three straight. He is in desperate need of a victory.
Henderson, meanwhile, has surged back to become the Strikeforce 205-pound champion after initially stumbling out of the gate against Jake Shields in his promotional debut. His legacy is secure, but a victory over the Russian dynamo would be the biggest feather in his cap yet.
Does "The Last Emperor" have one last reign in him? Can "Hendo" land his vicious right hand "H-Bomb" and shock the world? Which legend will stand on top of the heap when tomorrow night's main event is all over?
Record: 31-3 (1 No Contest) overall, 1-2 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Twice -- Pride Shockwave 2004, Pride 25), Mirko Filipovic (Pride Final Conflict 2005), Tim Sylvia (Affliction: Banned)
Key Losses: Fabricio Werdum (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum), Antonio Silva (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva)
How he got here: Well, since I don't have room to write a novel, we'll go with the condensed version. Originally starting out as a Russian combat sambo champion, Emelianenko made the transition to MMA and the legend was born.
He got his start with the Japanese promotion, Rings, exiting with a six-fight win streak before signing with Pride FC. After a terrific start, which included victories over Semmy Schilt and Heith Herring, he was awarded a title shot against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, then considered the best heavyweight in the world.
Emelianenko would defeat Nogueira, fighting in the Brazilian's legendary guard and beating him from there, to the surprise of everyone. Emelianenko would win 13 more times consecutively in Pride FC, mixing in a no contest with Nogueira before the promotion went under.
After a quick run in Affliction, which included back-to-back first round stoppages of former UFC heavyweight champions, Emelianenko would sign his current deal with Strikeforce, and that's where his problems began.
The wily Russian had a bit of trouble with Brett Rogers before blasting the then-undefeated American with a second round knockout. In his next fight, though, he would bite off more than he could chew, diving into Fabricio Werdum's guard and being submitted with a triangle choke in barely a minute. It was his first loss in 10 years, the the only legitimate one. He would follow it up against the bigger, stronger Antonio Silva and would again fall short, getting grounded and pounded badly in round two, which forced a doctor stoppage.
Emelianenko's career could very well be on the line when he steps into the cage with Dan Henderson tomorrow night.
How he gets it done: Emelianenko is bigger, stronger, faster, can take a punch better and is more well-versed on the ground than Henderson.
The key is actually using those advantages.
If Emelianenko actually cares about preserving his legacy, the smartest plan of action would be to utilize his speed in the stand up, find great angles and blast Henderson with his hooks after securing an advantageous position standing.
The other major possibility would be to put the American on his back. Henderson isn't exactly known for his guard play and Emelianenko is by far the superior grappler once the fight hits the canvas. A submission is a serious possibility for Emelianenko if he can put "Hendo" down.
Standing and trading power strikes probably isn't the worst scenario either as both men have similar power while, on paper, Emelianenko's chin is stronger. If "The Last Emperor" just wants to throw bombs until someone goes down, the odds are likely in his favor.
Record: 27-8 overall, 2-1 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: Michael Bisping (UFC 100), Rafael Cavalcante (Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson), Wanderlei Silva (Pride 33)
Key Losses: Jake Shields (Strikeforce: Nashville), Anderson Silva (UFC 82), Quinton Jackson (UFC 75)
How he got here: Dan Henderson started out as a Greco Roman wrestler, competing twice in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympic games for the United States. After finishing his wrestling career, he began training in MMA in 1997.
The first four events Henderson competed at were single night tournaments, and he won them all, winning nine fights overall in four nights. Those victories built a reputation and he was immediately sent to Pride FC against powerhouse Wanderlei Silva, losing a unanimous decision.
Henderson would have an up and down career in Pride, never really stringing together a huge run of victories until the inaugural Pride FC welterweight (185-pound) Grand Prix. He would knockout consecutive opponents on one night to make it to the finals where he would win the title 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.
After three consecutive victories in the UFC, including the 2009 knockout of the year against Michael Bisping, he left the promotion and signed a very large deal with Strikeforce. Henderson would lose his first Strikeforce bout, a unanimous decision 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 at 40 years old.
He gladly accepted a fight against Emelianenko at heavyweight to further challenge himself.
How he gets it done: Henderson's primary weapon is his atomic right hand, and everyone knows it.
The key for him is trying to disguise methods of attack to set up the right hand, finding new ways to initiate, new angles to attack from to still be able to land that big bomb.
Against Bisping, he faked a kick, ducked under and threw it as a massive overhand right. Against Sobral, it was a short right hand along the fence and against Feijao it was a lunging right hand directly on the chin followed by ground and pound featuring, you guessed it, repeated right hands to the side of the head.
He has to be unpredictable with his predictability this evening, if you get what I'm saying.
If Henderson wants to mix up his striking with grappling, the wisest plan of action would be to work the clinch. He's got a very strong upper body game because of his years in Greco Roman wrestling. This could leave open the possibility to work his dirty boxing along the fence and maybe try to wear down the Russian.
The key, though, as it always is when Henderson fights, is landing that killer right hand. Even Emelianenko isn't immune to being knocked out with that cinderblock if hit right on the button.
Fight "X-Factor:" The major "X-Factor" for this fight is this: Does Emelianenko want to win badly enough to utilize a gameplan?
He's got the statistical advantage nearly everywhere, but his odds of winning the fight go through the roof if he gets the fight on the ground.
If Emelianenko continues to stand and brawl with everyone, it could actually come back and bite him against Henderson. All it takes is one huge right hand and he could be stumbling aimlessly down Queer Street.
Bottom line: This is an epic battle of two legends. Henderson is fighting the last fight on his contract and Emelianenko may very well retire with a third consecutive loss. The career implications for both men are at DEFCON 1. The odds are incredibly high that this turns into a wild, exciting, slugfest that will have the fans screaming for more when it's done.
Do NOT miss this one!
Who will come out on top in the Strikeforce: "Fedor vs. Henderson" main event tomorrow night? Tell us in the comments below!