UFC Middleweight Title Fight
This is a match I have personally been waiting for and advocating for years. Believe me, I am excited that it is finally here. If you leave Henderson’s teammate Matt “The Law” Lindland out of the equation (and sadly the UFC seems to have done just that, which to me is the sport’s loss), Anderson Silva versus Dan Henderson is the greatest middleweight fight that MMA has to offer or could produce at this moment in time. Expectation-wise this ranks up there with the first match of Fedor Emelianenko and Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira (Pride 25) or the second clash between Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes (UFC 65).
There is a scene at the beginning of the all-time classic boxing film “Raging Bull” (1980) between Jake LaMotta (played brilliantly by Robert De Niro) and his brother Joey (executed by everybody’s favorite firecracker Joe Pesci) that goes like this:
Jake: “No matter how big I get, no matter who I fight, no matter what I do, I ain’t never gonna fight Joe Louis.”
Joey: “That’s right, he's a heavyweight, you're a middleweight. We know that.”
Jake: “I ain’t never gonna get a chance to fight the best there is. And you know somethin’? I'm better than them, and I ain’t never gonna get a chance.”
Joey: “You’re crazy to even think about something like that. I mean he’s a [expletive] heavyweight and you’re a middleweight. It’s impossible. It’ll never happen. So, why go crazy thinking about it? It’s not normal.”
Jake: “Do me a favor, I want you to hit me in the face…”
…And so forth…
Ladies and gentleman, I present to you, “Dangerous” Dan Henderson…
I have said countless times that I felt Dan should stay at 185 (pounds). I used to watch him in Pride fight guys who cut to 205, while even when Dan bulked up he would rarely weigh more than 195-200. I was happy when Pride decided to create a third weight division, their “welterweight” category (183 pounds) seemingly for Hendo and Murilo Bustamante (and Paolo Filho, Dean Lister, etc) to campaign closer to their real fighting weight.
But part of the problem when a fighter has already started his career at a higher weight class, which to everyone but him he may be slightly undersized for, is that (possible) machismo and even “pride” (there’s that word again) may prevent them from scaling downward, even though it might be the wise thing to do (Kazushi Sakuraba comes to mind…but this preview is not about him…or the great Matt Lindland). It seems that some fighters feel moving south to a smaller division is a capitulation, sort of a “Gosh, I couldn’t hang with the big boys”. To me a fighter should not entertain such ideals. By doing so they create an even bigger burden than they will already face in MMA competition.
But “Defiant” Dan Henderson seems to almost be an exception to this in that he HAS beaten some of the best fighters in the world in open-weight competition. But he has also lost a few times in the ‘big fish’ category along the way too. Long story short, I feel he will win more consistently if he just stays at middleweight.
‘On paper’, Henderson appears to have a lot more titles and bigger name wins than the UFC champion (Anderson Silva) does (just go to Sherdog.com’s Fight Finder for the entire laundry list/novel about WHO he has faced). I’ll just brush on a few highlights:
Dan has decisioned (current UFC interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira) and light-heavyweight Renato “Babalu” Sobral, both who carried significant weight advantages over him, in one night to win the 1999 RINGS King of Kings 32-man tournament, and later the once feared Vitor Belfort in a single match in Pride. But a career peak for Henderson had to be his rematch with Wanderlei Silva in Las Vegas in February 2007. This time it was for Wandy’s Pride middleweight title and Dan scored a crushing knockout at 2:08 of round three, making him a belt holder in two different weight divisions (he had already won the Pride welterweight championship with a decision over former UFC middleweight champ Murilo Bustamante). Even on the rare occasion that he lost by the judges’ verdict he could be impressive - like Henderson was in his first battle with Wanderlei (he had Silva in big trouble in the opening round) and his recent challenge of UFC light-heavyweight king Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
This kind of hard fought, real life resume can be intimidating to a perspective opponent…unless you are UFC middleweight titlist Anderson “The Spider” Silva. Besides the UFC and the Cage Rage belts, Anderson does not have the kind of championship bling bling that Hendo has. What he does have however is momentum inside the Octagon. Not only has he never lost a fight since he touched down in Zuffa territory (in June of 2006), but he’s never gone the distance and never seen the third round there either. Four of his five UFC appearances have been athletically charged Muay Thai clinics. The exception to that laser beam M.O. was his triangle choke win over jiu-jitsu whiz Travis Lutter (in Silva’s first title defense).
“The Spider” captured the title in his second UFC fight with an overpowering performance on October 14, 2006 against then poster boy Rich Franklin and hasn’t looked back. Another UFC high point was his first round smashup of seven-time King of Pancrase Nate Marquardt in July 2007. It was Marquardt’s first loss in over four years and the first time he’d ever been stopped with strikes.
Speed is the one element in the fight game that is the hardest to deal with and/or train for. And it’s Anderson Silva’s strong suit while standing. He has such a deep bag of tricks that people have not even seen yet. That in itself can cause even the most experienced veteran to be concerned or even privately doubtful of their chances for survival. But then there is Dan Henderson who, if he wasn’t psyched out in the staredown with Wanderlei Silva back in December 9th of 2000, won’t be intimidated on March 1st 2008.
So what will happen when these two icons clash? What is the gameplan?
To a large degree Silva has been dominant in the clinch using Muay Thai neck wrestling and knees strikes to the face, along with his arsenal of kicks and punches. To me Silva’s plan should be to use movement and snap his right jab (he’s a southpaw) all night long. He should use his long-range weapons combined with his natural athleticism to keep the match upright and gain a decision. I seriously doubt that he will KO Henderson and I think he may even know that himself.
Henderson, in an entirely different way, also has one of the greatest clinch games in the sport, no doubt honed by his years competing in Greco-Roman wrestling and then training with Lindland and Randy Couture (the three icons constituted Team Quest Fight Club). Henderson has such a sneaky and explosive style that suddenly everyone finds themselves inside his tentacles and then soon eating a painful cuisine of dirty boxing. He needs to rough Anderson up on the inside.
The ground is an iffy position for both men. I can’t envision Anderson getting top position due to Henderson’s strength and wrestling abilities. But Dan has to be constantly wary of a variety of submissions from Silva when the Brazilian is on his back. And of course Silva knows that Dan can hurt people in the guard with punches as well. Because of all this the match may be contended more while these two are on their feet.
Who do I pick? At first my gut said Henderson but then I saw Anderson in Miami when I was working on the EliteXC “Street Certified” show and as a result my instincts were questioned, even altered. I honestly think both men have a shot here and predict a high quality, ultra-competitive and quite possibly classic match. The absolute key to winning this fight is WHO can impose their will on the other.
I know it is being billed as a UFC and Pride unification bout but come on; it seems pretty safe to say that Pride (Fighting Championships) is no longer. It’s not like since the Fertittas “purchased” Pride on March 27, 2007, that the three Pride champions, Fedor Emelianenko, Henderson and Takanori Gomi, have “defended” their Pride titles. This is a battle of arguably (Lindland excluded) the two best middleweights in the sport, both recognized champions in their own right. And the winner will be in a position to “defend” the UFC middleweight championship.