Former two-division PRIDE FC champion, Dan Henderson, takes on former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight kingpin Rashad Evans this Saturday night (June 15, 2013) in the main event of the UFC 161 pay-per-view (PPV), scheduled for MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
It has been half a decade since the last time "Hendo" fought for a UFC title.
The mixed martial arts (MMA) legend always seems to have the shot in his grasp, but just as quickly, it slips away. Neither a thunderous knockout of brash Brit Michael Bisping, nor a "Fight of the Year" decision victory over Mauricio Rua, managed to get Henderson back into the cage with the champ.
However, with a win over "Suga" Rashad Evans, Henderson is back on track for a title shot. Does "Hollywood" still have what it takes to take out another former titleholder?
Let's take a closer look.
Early in Henderson's career, he was a wrestler winning decisions over most of his opponents. Then, he joined PRIDE FC and began to develop some power. Fast forward to today's MMA scene, and "Hendo" is one of the most feared knockout artists in the world.
His most effective (and infamous) punch is his overhand right.
Henderson is able to use his overhand with devastating power and has terrorized some of the best fighters in the world with it. The reason Henderson is able to land it so frequently is because of his dedication to the punch.
"Hendo" never stops throwing it and his timing is often spot on.
One of Henderson's favorite ways to set up his overhand is the inside leg kick. Henderson's inside leg kick accomplishes two things: it lets him know his opponent is close enough to punch and prevents his opponent from getting out of the way. If his opponent's leg is lifted off the canvas, then he can't use his footwork to retreat away from the right hand.
The most famous example of this technique is Henderson's brutal knockout of Michael Bisping. "The Count" was circling into "Hendo's" right hand already, so when the overhand landed, it was especially devastating. A flying punch further sealed the deal and became one of the greatest highlights in MMA history.
Henderson's left hand isn't nearly as devastating as his right. However, his left hook packs some power on the rare occasion he squares his stance up, usually after he throws the right. For the most part, Henderson uses his jab to cover up his overhand.
Henderson possess very dangerous close range striking as well. As he gets closer to his opponent, he'll tighten up his overhand into a straight right, which is nearly as devastating. Additionally, he likes to sling uppercuts through his opponent's guard if he tries to cover up.
Despite Henderson's knockout victories over elite compeition, he has holes in his defense. Henderson is a brawler at heart, so he commonly takes brutal shots in order to land his own. Thanks to his cast iron chin, he still hasn't been knocked out after fifteen years, but it can lose him decisions.
Additionally, "Hollywood" has no answer if his opponent has a excellent kicking game. As shown in his last fight against Machida, Henderson didn't adapt at all to Machida's movement and kicks, and ended up losing a dull split decision.
Henderson was a Greco-Roman Olympic wrestler in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, and won a gold medal in the Pan American Championships in 2000. Despite his credentials, Henderson's wrestling has been hot and cold, depending on his conditioning.
Like all Greco-Roman wrestlers, Henderson is a beast from the clinch. Greatly aided by the ability to pressure his opponent into the cage, "Hendo" is able to tire his opponent until he secures a good position. Once he gets double underhooks, Henderson's takedowns are very difficult to stop.
Additonally, Henderson's throws from the over-under clinch are very good. He's able to control his opponent's posture and momentum, and almost always wins the clinch battle.
From the top position, "Hendo" drops brutal ground and pound. Just like in the stand up, Henderson is a master of putting all his weight behind his punches and dives onto his foe with punches. Assuming he can create space, few guys are as nasty with their ground and pound as Henderson.
Henderson's most impressive accomplishment involving ground striking is his knockout victory over Fedor Emelianenko. "The Last Emperor" had just dropped Henderson, but "Hendo" countered by slipping out the back door and landing in the turtle. From this position, Henderson literally jumped into an uppercut that caused the Russian to slump on the mat.
Two follow up shots were all the ref needed to see to stop the fight.
Henderson's takedown defense is incredibly unpredictable. At times, Henderson is able to stop and reverse all of his opponent's takedown attempts, even implementing his own takedowns. However, fatigue completely eliminates Henderson's defensive abilities.
Examples of this include his fights with "Shogun" Rua and Jake Shields. In the first three rounds of his fight with Rua, Henderson was able to manhandle the Brazilian. However, in the final two rounds, Rua took him down at will, often from the clinch, Henderson's specialty.
Henderson was simply too tired to resist.
Against Shields, Henderson spent most of the first round bouncing Shields' skull like a basketball. Then, a reversal from Shields landed him in top position, where he spent the rest of the round. Entering the third, Shields was able to dominate the rest of the fight with takedowns and top control.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Henderson has never been a submission specialist, with only a single victory coming via submission in his second pro fight. Additionally, he has been submitted in three of his nine losses.
The only jiu-jitsu based move I've ever seen "Hendo" go for is the guillotine choke. He finished Eric Smith with one in 1997, and attempted it on both "Shogun" and Shields. Henderson's guillotine isn't extremely technical, he just relies on his tight squeeze.
Despite Henderson's three submission losses, he is an incredibly difficult man to submit. Two of these losses are armbar defeats to the Nogueira brothers. There is no shame in these losses, as "Minotauro" is a heavyweight, and both are black belts. His final submission loss is to Anderson Silva, where he was seriously rocked before falling into the rear naked choke.
Henderson's defensive jiu-jitsu is impressive for two reasons. The first is that Henderson is able to defend from terrible positions incredibly well. Jake Shields, a very skilled black belt, had Henderson mounted for the majority of four rounds and couldn't lock up anything. Similarly, Rua failed to mount any significant submission attempts with his time in the mount.
Additionally, the Nogueira brothers were forced to work extremely hard for their submission victories over Henderson. He repeatedly inched out of their attacks and even managed to defeat "Big Nog" via split decision in their first fight after resisting a number of submission assaults.
The other thing Henderson does very well is fight out of leg locks. "Hendo" has won decisions over Rua and Palhares, two of the most dangerous leg lock specialists in the UFC. Both men had Henderson in dangerous positions, but he was able to endure long enough to spin out.
Henderson is famous for his iron chin. In 38 pro fights, "Hollywood" has yet to be knocked out. What makes this even more special is the fact that Henderson has made a career out of fighting light heavyweights and heavyweights, who hit harder than anyone else.
In addition to his physical toughness, Henderson's ability to endure punishment is second to none. Against "Shogun," he was brutalized for the majority of the final two rounds. Most fighters would fold and wait for the stoppage. "Hendo," on the other hand, simply waited it out and won a close decision.
Every legend has something they'll be remembered by. For Henderson, it's his iron will and dynamite overhand right.
Best chance for success
Rashad Evans is a similar fighter to Henderson. The biggest difference is speed, but Henderson makes up for it with a huge power and durability advantage.
In order to land his big punches, Henderson would be smart to look for a clinch early and often. Once he can control Evans, work him to the cage and land small punches. The second he senses an opportunity, he should step away and release a flurry of heavy punches. Evans' chin has long been suspect, and Henderson is certainly capable of cracking it.
Henderson should also seek to counter most of "Suga's" combinations with at least one punch of his own. Evans' head movement disappears the second he starts throwing heat, making it much easier to land punches on him. Therefore, Henderson should be willing to eat a punch or two in order to land his own.
The biggest advantage Henderson has in this fight is mental. Evans seemed disinterested in his last fight. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who's been defeated by lesser fighters than Evans, was able to win a narrow decision victory simply by being persistent. Despite his old age, Henderson has always been motivated and should look to take advantage of any laziness on Evans' part.
Does Henderson have what it takes to get back in the mix, or will Evans prove he's still a top-level fighter?