This Saturday night the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California plays host to UFC 139: Shogun vs. Henderson much to the delight of fans both in the crowd and around the world via Pay-Per-View. Light heavyweight funnyman “The American Psycho” Stephan Bonnar (13-7) takes on “Kingsbu” Kyle Kingsbury (11-2). Welterweight stand-outs “Hitman” Martin Kampmann (17-5) and “The Horror” Rick Story (13-4) duke it out to regain relevance. UFC newcomer and former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le (7-1) takes on legendary slugger “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva (33-11-1) in what is a guaranteed firefight. “The California Kid” Urijah Faber (25-5) and Brian Bowles (10-1) look to claim their shot at bantamweight gold in a #1 contendership fight. The main event is a hardcore MMA fan’s dream as PRIDE legend and former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion “Shogun” Mauricio Rua (20-5) takes on the only man to hold the PRIDE welterweight and middleweight belts, “Hendo” Dan Henderson (28-8). The winner will regain traction in the 205lbs. division and given both fighters penchant for slugging, this fight could go down in history as one of the all-time greats.
At First Glance: Dan Henderson only seems to be getting better with age. He’s gone 6-1 in his past seven bouts and has knocked out his last three opponents. He makes his return to the UFC after capturing the Strikeforce 205lbs. division crown from “Feijao” Rafael Cavalcante (11-3) and following that up with a blockbuster knockout of “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-4). Monetary issues with the UFC were squashed when they realized he was the baddest man not on the roster. Dan returns to the UFC fold against “Shogun” who recently rebounded from losing his title by avenging a defeat against Forrest Griffin (18-7) at UFC134: Silva vs. Okami. Rua looked sharp and refocused, knocking Griffin out in less than two minutes. UFC President Dana White proclaimed that Rua is best when he stays active and booked him for a match-up with Henderson a mere three months later. “Shogun” is decidedly a Muay Thai fighter with thrilling kicks and charging combos that, on the right night, can utterly decimate opponents. Dan Henderson is an iron-chinned, Greco-Roman clinch monster with a right hand dubbed “The H-Bomb”. While wildly different, their styles promise action and almost always deliver. The UFC needs to line up another contender behind “Suga” Rashad Evans (16-1-1) and Saturday’s main event will likely determine that man.
In Depth: Deadly striking is synonymous with both “Hendo” and “Shogun’s” fighting styles. This fight could very well be an all stand-up affair, as these days both fighters look to grappling only when it is necessary. “Shogun” can implement a vast array of punches, knees and elbows while mixing in trip takedowns to set up some of the scariest ground-and-pound in MMA history. Henderson, with his extensive Greco-Roman wrestling, can put a fight where he needs it to be. Lately he has preferred to trade fists with any opponent, regardless of their strengths. Dan has never showed fear and will likely charge head first, looping dangerous hooks at Rua, backing him up to the cage and locking in his infamous clinch, before releasing it only to slam Rua with a hard right hand. “Shogun” relies on great lateral movement to stay out of danger and can easily gauge range against wild opponents. Expect Rua to find his range with leg kicks early, while doing his best to avoid the overhand right that has served as Dan’s deathblow in many fights. If Rua sees his leg kicks aren’t being threatened with takedowns, he may be able to score at will. If and when Rua does find his range expect leaping overhand punches and jab-cross combos. If backed up, Henderson will do what he does best: swing hard and fast. This may leave Dan open to Rua’s more technical approach, but neither fighter is safe trading in the pocket. Dan looks to finish early and maintains a “take one to give two” approach in the stand-up. He will likely fire the first shot to make things interesting and test Rua’s mettle. If he likes what he’s seeing, “Hendo” will continue to pour on pressure. His strong sprawl and quick scrambles make him a dangerous foe to shoot on and, as Fedor experienced, he can absolutely maul an opponent if they turtle up on him. If they tie up, both can hold their own and it is where the tables of this fight can turn very quickly.
Wild Card: With both men coming from very different stylistic backgrounds, their clinch work and cardio may become the factors that can change the course of the fight. Rua’s Muay Thai clinch has sent many fighters packing. However, he is up against what is perhaps the genesis of the clinch: Olympic level, Greco-Roman wrestling. Dan is among the very strongest clinch artists around and is rarely bullied in this position. “The Spider” Anderson Silva (31-4) had trouble keeping a hold of “Hendo” and even paid the price for it, losing a whole round to Dan’s smothering top game and relentless ground strikes. If Rua finds himself in a clinch fight with Henderson it is best to strike and release. If he gets too greedy inside the clinch with Dan he could be planted on his back, spending most of the round defending strikes from the bottom. This will be the second non-title, five-round fight the UFC holds. Both men have had unreliable energy during fights as of late. “Shogun’s” withering gas tank usually shows up when he’s fighting from his back or carrying his opponent’s weight – things Dan Henderson is very good at. Dan can go the distance whenever he needs to but tends to fade, especially in the championship rounds. If Rua truly wants to stay out of danger, he will avoid the clinch altogether. Even in top position he may not have the juice to hold Henderson down. For Dan to stay on the fresher side of the fight, he will have to wear down Rua early with smothering tactics or finish him, otherwise rounds four and five will be advantage Rua.
The Verdict: Given the pedigree of both men and their legendary status, this fight will surely be thrilling. Dan will be happy to stalk Rua down until a big punch lands or getting in close and firing off huge bombs until someone falls. If Dan sees an opportunity to put Rua on his back, expect him to keep “Shogun” there until the bell rings. Rua will probably find himself side-shuffling to his right a lot in this fight, doing his best to avoid a blast from Henderson. If “Shogun” can keep off the cage, he will likely be able to land and move away. Both men have solid chins but both men also tend to fade as the fight goes on. If Rua can keep the fight standing, he may win the cardio war, but only slightly. Expect Dan to keep coming forward despite taking a barrage of leg kicks from “Shogun”. Persistence on Dan’s part however will not be enough to outpoint a busier Rua. “Shogun’s” technical strikes and effective in-out strategy will carry him into the later rounds where he will gain the confidence to land more frequently. Rua via Split Decision