Fans of the former Pride Fighting Championships will be in for a treat this Saturday night, as two MMA Pioneers and Legends collide for the first time. During the height of PRIDE’s popularity in the early 2000’s many fans were calling for this fight to happen, but it never came to fruition.
After Zuffa LLC purchased PRIDE in March of 2007, those dreams went up in smoke. Now, more than 4 years later, fans are finally getting the fight they had been asking for as American Dan “Hollywood” Henderson (‘Dangerous’ is a terrible nickname compared to Hollywood, so I don’t care what Jimmy Lennon Jr. calls him, he’s still Hollywood to me) takes on “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko.
Fedor Emelianenko is returning to the cage on the heels of back-to-back losses; really the first legitimate losses of his otherwise stellar MMA career. Emelianenko is at a bit of a career crossroads here, another loss would surely hurt his drawing power and his career legacy. A win will re-establish him as a proven commodity in the eyes of regular MMA fans and will return some of his reputation as the world’s number-one draw in MMA.
For Henderson it’s another fight. At age 40 Henderson is the reigning, but not defending Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion and will be stepping up in weight (sort of) to take on Emelianenko. Henderson has stated in interviews that he feels he can still compete at the elite level, despite his age, and if there is one thing that Randy Couture has taught us, it’s that elite-level wrestlers can fight well into their 40’s with little physical depreciation.
The fight has a lot of potential for fireworks and is actually an intriguing contrast in styles. Fedor has long been known for his slightly unorthodox striking combinations but irrefutable power, while the overhand right of Henderson is one of the biggest game-changers in the sport. On the ground Fedor has shown himself to be surprisingly adept, using an active, attacking guard to keep his opponent’s on the defensive while always searching for scrambles. On the other hand Henderson is one of the best wrestlers in the Light Heavyweight division and has the ability to take down most opponents if he chooses.
Henderson should be used to fighting bigger guys from the early days in his career, but 30 pounds is a lot to give up against a guy who two fights ago was considered the best Heavyweight fighter in MMA. One of the other big question marks coming into the fight is Emelianenko’s motivation and mental game. No one except for Fedor knows how he is feeling physically and mentally. And unless you think that “it will be decided by God’s will,” means anything at all, he’s not letting the cat out of the bag. What will the Russian’s mindset be like after coming off a beating from Antonio Silva.
The bookmaker’s have had a betting line on this fight up for several weeks and I have been following it closely. As usual, I’m going to plug BestFightOdds.com as an absolute must for anyone serious about betting on Mixed Martial Arts. I am going to discuss the best possible lines that can be found on each fighter. Currently the line sees Emelianenko as a greater than 2-1 favorite. His current line sits at -220 at best. Meaning Fedor’s supporters will need to wager $220 to win $100. A line of -220 equates to the books giving the Russian a 68.75% chance of winning this fight. Conversely the American Henderson is +206 at best odds. Supporters of ‘Hendo’ will win $206 for every $100 wagered, this betting line equates to a 32.7% chance of winning the fight. Once again due to the nature of sports betting and the inherit house advantage for bookmakers, the percentages don’t add up to exactly 100%.
I’m a pretty big fan of Dan Henderson and admittedly not so much a fan of Emelianenko, but I’m going to do my best to ignore that bias and give you some in-depth, quality analysis of the fight and predictions.
Dan “Hollywood” Henderson
Dan Henderson is a 40-year-old fighter from Downey, California. He fights out of the Team Quest gym in Murietta, California. Henderson has fought across several weight classes throughout his career. He has fought as high as Heavyweight and as low as Middleweight (although he was Pride Welterweight Champion, the rules were that the Welterweight limit was 184 pounds.) Henderson has fought in many different MMA organizations from RINGS to PRIDE to the UFC and currently is the reigning Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion. Henderson is a former Olympic wrestler where he competed in 1992 and 1996 in Greco-Roman, although he never medaled. In fights Henderson has chosen to leave his wrestling on the back burner in his past few fights, and has instead continued to employ his plodding stand up style. However, whenever fighting against Henderson, anyone has to be worried about the constant threat of the takedown from Hendo.
Henderson has a career MMA record of 27-8. Of those 27 wins he owns 12 wins by Knockout or TKO, 2 by Submission and 13 by Decision. Of his 8 losses, 5 have come via Decision and 3 via Submission. Henderson’s record is a virtual who’s-who of MMA stars including bouts against Carlos Newton, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva, Ricardo Arona, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Quinton Jackson, Vitor Belfort and Anderson Silva. Although Henderson has a high number of Decision wins, his right-hand has been in demolition mode lately, with all three of his last victories coming by way of brutal KO.
Key Strengths: Excellent Greco-Roman skills and takedowns, Massive one-punch Knockout power in the right hand, Granite Chin, Big Fight Experience
Key Weaknesses: Often relies too much on the overhand right, Slow and Plodding stand up skills, Questionable Submission Defense
Last 3 Fights:
WIN over Rafael Cavalcante via KO (Punches) in Round 3 (0:50) at Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson – March 5, 2011
WIN over Renato Sobral via KO (Punches) in Round 1 (1:53) at Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu 2 – December 4, 2010
LOSS to Jake Shields via Unanimous Decision in 5 Rounds (5:00) at Strikeforce: Nashville – April 17, 2010
Path to Victory: The path to victory is an interesting question for Henderson. He’s definitely not going to submit Fedor, so that can go out the window right away. Antonio Silva was able to takedown and grind away on Fedor, before pounding him out, but Silva outweighed Fedor by nearly 60 pounds come fight night, so it won’t be the same for Henderson.
I think the best chance for Hendo to win the fight is to keep Fedor guessing. During the stand up exchanges, although he may take the worst of it at times, his chin is made of cement (Hendo’s never been Knocked out, despite fighting some huge hitters) and he should be able to withstand the punishment. Always be searching for that overhand right. If he is able to continually move forward, behind his pawing left jab and the threat of the big right hand, he’ll likely have Fedor retreating at times. Mix up some well-timed takedowns halfway through the rounds to earn points and Henderson can easily control the pacing of the fight.
On the ground Henderson has been submitted before, but that was to both Nogueira brothers, each of whom Arm barred him. But being submitted by the Nogueira twins is not a sign of weakness, he was simply caught. It’s likely that on the ground Fedor is much more likely to scramble back to his feet than snatch a submission from the bottom, but nonetheless, Fedor has a very underrated ground game and an active guard, so Henderson will need to be careful not to get careless while Ground and Pounding from the top.
Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko
Fedor Emelianenko is a 34-year-old fighter from Stary Oskol, Russia. He is a certifiable legend in the sport of MMA and is widely considered the greatest MMA fighter of all time. For nearly a decade he was undefeated in over 20 fights. He is a member of the famed Red Devil Sports Club. Fedor is a master Sambo practitioner who also has strong Boxing and Judo skills. Like Henderson Fedor has fought in a plethora of MMA organizations including RINGS, PRIDE FC, Bodog Fight, M-1 Global, Affliction and Strikeforce.
He was a featured attraction in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, however an upset loss to Antonio Silva now has Fedor on the outside looking in of that tournament. Fedor has strong submission from his background in Sambo and Judo as well as strong but unorthodox Boxing skills. He often uses his stand up skills to overwhelm his opponents before moving the fight to the ground to look for a finish against stunned opposition.
Fedor has a career MMA Record of 31-3-1. He owns 8 career victories by form of Knockout or TKO, 16 via Submission and 7 from Decisions. Of his three losses one is from Knockout, one is from TKO via Cut (a questionable Doctor stoppage, which Fedor avenged in savage fashion years later) and a Submission. Most fans consider only two of those losses as legitimate. Unfortunately for Fedor those two losses were in his last two fights.
Key Strengths: Strong but Unorthodox Boxing Skills, Underrated ground and submission skills, Extremely tough to finish
Key Weaknesses: Has been dominated on the ground by larger fighters, Questionable motivation/mental state entering the fight
Last 3 Fights:
LOSS to Antonio Silva via TKO (Dr. Stoppage) in Round 2 (5:00) at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva – February 12, 2011
LOSS to Fabricio Werdum via Submission (Triangle/Armbar) in Round 1 (1:09) at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum – June 26, 2010
Path to Victory: For Fedor to win this fight he’s going to need to stay on the offensive. If he chooses to back up, he’ll have a tough time against Henderson. Fedor has solid counter punching skills and solid power, but against Henderson’s iron-chin I don’t know if that’s enough. Fedor is also going to want to stay away from Henderson. Henderson’s Greco-Roman skills make any clinch or a tie-up turn into a threat of a takedown and while Fedor’s submission skills are underrated, it’s unlikely that he will be able to snatch a submission from the bottom without first hurting Henderson.
It’s going to be about sprawl and brawl for Fedor. He needs to avoid the takedowns at all costs. Henderson isn’t as big as Silva, so he shouldn’t have to worry about being held down as easily as Silva was able to, but if anyone can hold Fedor down for three rounds, I would put Dan Henderson at the top of the list of people able to do it. Fedor should look to overwhelm Henderson standing. Fedor unquestionably has better all-around Boxing skills and Henderson relies a bit too much on that overhand right, so Fedor should try to exploit that, by circling away from the punch and jabbing away to keep the fight ranged. From a distance Fedor should be able to exploit Henderson’s slow footwork and weaker boxing skills and earn points on the scorecards.
Fight Prediction: Well it’s time to finally make a pick on the fight and I’m admittedly torn. I’ll be cheering for Henderson to win, so I’ll get that out of the way first. Both fighters have a great chance to win this fight and the stylistic match up is surely to turn out as a true MMA Chess-match. The stand up battle should be won overall by Fedor, but Hendo’s right hand has been in destruction mode. With Fedor’s last few fights he’s been hit and tagged (he was nearly knocked out by Brett Rogers in the first round of their fight, before coming back to smash him in the second) so an interesting question mark will be can Fedor survive the vaunted Right Hand of Doom?
The battle for a takedown is interesting as Fedor has always proven tough to dominate on the mat. Henderson is unlikely to be submitted on the ground if he has Fedor underneath him, so can Fedor avoid that long enough to avoid getting Decisioned? Size-wise Fedor has never been the largest Heavyweight, but with Henderson stating that he plans to weight only 206 that shouldn’t be a concern for Fedor. Many fans have questioned Henderson’s decision here, but I think it’s probably best for Henderson. He usually doesn’t really cut weight to make 205, so I definitely don’t think he should be putting on weight just for this fight. He doesn’t move very quickly as it is, so the addition of another 20 pounds of weight won’t help that, and I don’t think it will improve his already stellar wrestling skills. Case in point, if Henderson is able to hold Fedor down for three rounds at 220 pounds, I don’t think it’s the weight, I think it’s his wresting abilities, meaning that those 20 pounds are just excess weight.
This is a huge fight for both guys with a lot on the line. For Fedor a loss here is likely the end of a storied career, and is certainly the end of his career as a Headliner. For Henderson a loss means very little. Losing to a Heavyweight and someone widely considered the best fighter of all time will do nothing to Henderson’s reputation or his status in the Light Heavyweight division. A lot of this fight is going to come down to the mental game. Fedor has never really shown me a visceral side in the cage, always seeming more robotic when destructing his opposition in the early 2000’s. So heading into this fight when Fedor says the fight and his future is in God’s Hands, does that mean he isn’t willing to take it into his own hands?
Should Fedor be the favorite? Yes, absolutely. He’s bigger, has more technical boxing and has the ability to escape danger on the ground. Is Henderson a live underdog? Absolutely. The right hand is an absolute game-changer, which keeps Henderson alive in any fight as long as he’s still standing. He’s got the wrestling chops to earn takedowns against Fedor and although Fedor may be able to get back up, it should be enough to drag the fight on and earn points on the judge’s scorecards.
Overall I think this one is destined for a Decision. Like I said the stylistic match up is likely to prove a chess match, which will result in a very paced fight. Expect moments of fireworks but I don’t think there will be a full 15 minutes of action here. The fight is probably closer to 60%-40% or 65%-35% for Fedor so there’s a bit of value here on Henderson. Add in my fan-boyishness and there’s no way I can’t throw money away by taking a shot on Henderson.
My Pick: There will probably be some bumps along the way, but I’ll take Dan Henderson to win via close but ultimately Unanimous Decision. But don’t kid yourselves, I’m going to be cheering for the H-Bomb to land all night.
Lee McGregor is a fan of all combat sports including both Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts. When not catching fights or watching hockey, he can be found as an Author and Editor at his own website MyManCave.ca
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