Michael DiSanto breaks down UFC 139's main event between Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Dan Henderson...
In July 2009, I wrote the following words:
"He might not admit it publicly, but Dan Henderson knows that he is in the twilight of his illustrious fighting career.
The former two-division PRIDE champion is just a few short weeks from his 39th birthday, an age that basically qualifies him for the 4:30 p.m. senior citizen dinner discounts in the UFC chow line. He remains one of the fiercest competitors in the game, as evidenced by his hard-fought, split decision win over former 185-lb champion Rich Franklin back in January. His days at the top are numbered, however.
Nobody knows when Hendo will finally succumb to Father Time. His effort against Franklin suggests that he is no less spry today than he was when he scored a dramatic knockout win over Wanderlei Silva to become the first man to ever simultaneously hold titles in two PRIDE weight divisions. No matter, Father Time is going to rear his ugly head in Hendo’s corner sooner rather than later.
When it happens, it will be an overnight phenomenon, not a gradual slide. The fighter who happens to be standing opposite him on that fateful night should be able to score a career-defining win."
Hendo was preparing to face top UFC middleweight Michael Bisping at the time. Many thought that Bisping would use the former two-time US Olympian as a stepping stone to future greatness. Instead, Hendo was in top form, scoring one of the most jaw-dropping knockouts of the year.
Fast forward the clock 28 months. Hendo is now 41 years young. But he appears to be at the absolute peak of his career. In fact, the former champion won three of four fights since annihilating Bisping and temporarily leaving the UFC, including three in a row that culminated in a career-defining knockout win over heavyweight great Fedor Emelianenko.
On Saturday night, Hendo makes his UFC return after 28 months away. He will face Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to determine where he stands in the 205-pound pecking order. Champion Jon Jones is set to defend his title against Lyoto Machida on December 10. After that, it is anyone’s guess. Rashad Evans appears to be a frontrunner for “next in line” status. But the winner of Hendo-Shogun can certainly jump to the front of the line with the right performance.
If Shogun wants to succeed where so many others have recently failed, then he needs to stay true to his Chute Boxe Academy ways and turn this thing into an all-out brawl.
Shogun is anything but a measured, tactical standup fighter. I’ll concede that he was precisely that in his two bouts with Lyoto Machida, but that was an aberration for the former champion. He is, and likely always will be, at his best when he employs a berserker style because it is part of his fighting DNA.
That latter part is the big key to victory for Shogun. The Brazilian is a pressure-first fighter. Hendo is used to being the stalker, not the stalked. He has never truly seemed comfortable when forced to engage in a real slugfest.
Shogun, on the other hand, thrives during apparent chaos. It is like second nature to him, after growing up as a fighter in the vaunted Chute Boxe Academy’s full-speed sparring sessions. The world slows down to Shogun during those moments. He is never out of control, calmly attacking and defending during what seem to be frenzied moments to everyone else. He has to stay mindful of Hendo’s right hand because he has enough stopping power in that punch to knockout Shogun or anyone else. Beyond that strike, Shogun enjoys a healthy advantage on the feet, but that one strike could be the difference in this bout.
Hendo’s entire game revolves around landing his big right hand. That is a shame because this guy is one of the best wrestlers in the history of the sport. And wrestling is one of the best tools to use when trying to win a fight.
Hendo would be well served to remember that takedowns are what won him the closely contested battle with Rich Franklin in his penultimate UFC bout before his 28-month hiatus. Takedowns, or the threat of takedowns, were a major reason why Shogun got dominated by Jones and defeated in his first bout with Forrest Griffin. Hendo is a much better wrestler than Jones or Griffin, so there is little reason to think that he will struggle to control Shogun if he relies on his wrestling game.
Focusing on takedowns may seem counterintuitive because Shogun is a submission wizard. Some might mistakenly believe that he would be comfortable fighting on his back against Hendo. No chance. Henderson’s submission defense is nothing less than stellar, until he gets winded, so he should be able to control Shogun on the ground and hammer away with some of that patented Team Quest ground and pound without much worry, until late in the fight.
Yet, Hendo almost always eschews his wrestling skills in favor of a stalk and bomb strategy. He does that in basically every fight. The former multiple-division PRIDE champion has a bad habit of loading up with his always-coiled right hand and throwing little else. He should disguise it with jabs, lead left hooks and leg kicks--anything to make Shogun momentarily forget about his deadliest weapon.
But he probably won’t do any of that. He really didn’t do much of that stuff in his last two fights against Fedor and Rafael Cavalcante. He just bombed away with his right hand again and again. Sure, he threw other strikes from time to time, but none were designed to bring the fight to an instant end, and none of them will likely cause Shogun any grief. Hendo doesn’t care. He knows that as soon as he lands his right hand anywhere close to its mark, the fight will be over. Thus, he will stalk and bomb on Saturday night. Trust me.
Conventional wisdom suggests that this is Shogun’s fight to lose. He is the younger, faster, stronger fighter. He is also one of the deadliest standup fighters in the sport, across all divisions. Yet, Hendo appears to have found the Fountain of Youth. His win over Fedor proved that he remains one of the best fighters in the world, pound for pound. My heart, therefore, thinks that Hendo will pull it out.
Then again, if Father Time appears in Hendo’s dressing room prior to the fight, which is going to happen sooner, rather than later, then Shogun might just get that knockout win that he so desperately needs to catapult himself back into title contention.
• 28-8 overall
• 41 years old
• 4-1 in last 5 fights; riding 3 straight wins
• 7-3 in last 10
• 46.4% of wins by KO/TKO (13 out of 28)
• 46.4% of wins by decision (13 out of 28)
• 7.2% of wins by submission (2 out of 28)
• Former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion
• Former PRIDE Middleweight Champion (205 lbs)
• Former PRIDE Welterweight Champion (183 lbs)
• Former PRIDE Welterweight Grand Prix Champion
• Only man to simultaneously hold titles in two weight classes in a major promotion (PRIDE Middleweight and Welterweight)
• UFC Fight of the Night against Anderson Silva
• UFC Knockout of the Night against Michael Bisping
• 8-6 against current or former champions
• Current layoff is 142 days
• Longest career layoff is 357 days
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
• 20-5 professional record
• 29 years old (turns 30 on November 25)
• 3-2 in last 5 fights
• 7-3 in last 10 fights
• 6-4 against current or former UFC champions
• 85.0% of wins by KO/TKO (17 out of 20)
• 10.0% of wins by decision (2 out of 20)
• 5.0% of wins by submission (1 out of 20)
• Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
• Former PRIDE Middleweight (205 lb) Grand Prix Champion
• Knockout of the Night twice (Machida and Liddell)
• Fight of the Night against Mark Coleman
• Current layoff is 114 days
• Longest UFC or PRIDE layoff is 483 days