After the smoke clears from “Hands of Steel” Scott Smith (16-8) and Tarec Saffiedine’s (10-2) card-opening bout and “Semtex” Paul Daley (24-11-2) and “T-Wood” Tyron Woodley (10-0) square off, Strikeforce will deliver a trio of bouts that have captured the attention of MMA fans worldwide. First, 185ers “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (18-7-1) and Tim Kennedy (14-3) will face each other in a slugger’s duel to climb one step higher on the middleweight ladder. Then, in the co-main event, incumbent champion Marloes Coenen (17-4) will pit her Golden Glory kickboxing and renowned submission skills against “Takedown” Miesha Tate (11-2). Finally, in the evening’s featured attraction, current Strikeforce and former PRIDE 205lbs. champion “Hendo” Dan Henderson (27-8) will face one of the most respected and controversial figures in MMA history, “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-3). After suffering back-to-back one-sided losses, Fedor Emelianenko flirted with retirement and faces falling out of the top ten for the first time in his career should he fail against “Hendo”. Henderson himself is riding a pair of KO wins and is looking at a triumphant and profitable return to the UFC with a win over the Russian Sambo master under his belt.
At First Glance: On paper, this is Emelianenko’s fight to lose. He has fought the majority of his career as a heavyweight and will likely have a weight advantage in the bout as Henderson has only recently returned to the light heavyweight division after a stint at middleweight. He also has a submission game that is world-class, something that Henderson has struggled with in the past. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the bout is that each man, while a mirror image of the other in the stand-up, represents the thing that the other has had the least success defending. Fedor has never been known for his takedown defense, in fact, he has even struggled for position on the mat against pure kickboxers before finding the holes to make his Sambo magic work. Henderson has always had trouble controlling the superior submission fighters he has faced once he gets them to the ground. The style clash itself should make for a very interesting match-up, despite the home weight advantage Fedor will enjoy.
In Depth: These two men have virtually identical stand-up games. They have all the footwork and head movement of a brick wall but each has an overhand right that hits like a ton of the same material. The advantage in reach goes slightly to “The Last Emperor”, but Henderson has the stronger set of whiskers, which means all the world when both men throw bombs and neither man is particularly deft at avoiding them. This poses a serious problem for “The Last Emperor”. He has a puncher’s chance if he gets the one-hit KO, and his ground game is far superior, but Henderson is an Olympic-level Greco-Roman wrestler whose clinch game will give him a safe place to hide and recover should he get rocked. It also means that Fedor won’t likely be able to keep Henderson down if he can get him down to begin with. The result is a match that favors Fedor on paper but points more towards a “Hendo” victory when it’s looked at in a brighter light.
Wild Card: Henderson is riding high at the moment, but Fedor’s value as a draw has been seriously crippled by his recent loses. With no major victories in the past six years, his ability to command the big paydays will go completely down the toilet with a third loss. He needs to defeat Henderson and that is a big motivator that can make all the difference in the world, especially for a fighter as cold and dangerous as Fedor. All it takes is one solid shot that allows him to get Henderson on the ground and in the defensive and a submission victory won’t be far behind, especially given “Hendo’s” recent trend of cracking under pressure.
The Verdict: At the end of the day, Fedor is just not the dominant fighter he once was. While he is certainly dangerous no matter where the fight goes and he has the resilience to weather most any storm, his day is probably past. Years of hand-picked opponents and long stretches between fights have taken their toll and his reputation as the invincible heavyweight king has been shattered. Henderson, by contrast, is back on the rise with his UFC-related troubles far behind him and Strikeforce gold around his waist. As long as “Hendo” keeps his cool and keeps the fight on the feet, it’s his bout to lose. Henderson via KO, Round 2