The most significant bout of the weekend in terms of name recognition and relevance will take place on Strikeforce's St. Louis card on Saturday in the form of a light heavyweight showdown between former PRIDE welterweight and middleweight champion Dan Henderson (25-8, 0-1 SF) and UFC veteran Renato Sobral (36-8, 2-1 SF). The bout will serve as Dan Henderson's second bout under the Strikeforce banner after his exit from the UFC following a lengthy negotiation period. Henderson previously defeated Rousimar Palhares, Rich Franklin, and Michael Bisping after his title bout losses to Anderson Silva and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Henderson's spectacular knockout of Bisping created quite the buzz, and Henderson tried to use it as leverage to negotiate a more lucrative contract. Dana White wasn't having it, thus Henderson moved on.
Henderson's debut with Strikeforce didn't go according to plan however. He cut down to 185 pounds to battle Strikeforce champion Jake Shields, who had previously defeated Jason "Mayhem" Miller to obtain the belt. In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Henderson's vaunted wrestling ability was completely ineffective against Shields' grappling prowess, and Shields used his own wrestling ability to take down Henderson repeatedly. Once Shields had eliminated Henderson's threatening one punch power on the feet, it was smooth sailing for him. Interestingly enough, Shields jumped ship after the win and is now in the UFC.
Despite Sobral's loss to Gegard Mousasi at Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg in August of last year, he remains one of the elite light heavyweights fighting outside of the shark tank in the UFC. He was released from the UFC following his win over David Heath at UFC 74. Most fans speculate that it was due to the fact that Sobral held the choke for too long, but Dana White has never confirmed that to be true.
Sobral signed with Affliction, fighting twice under the failed promotion's banner with a decision victory over Mike Whitehead and a submission win over Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. Sobral fought in Strikeforce as well during his stint with Affliction, defeating Bobby Southworth for the Strikeforce light heavyweight crown. Following Affliction's demise, Sobral was pitted against rising superstar Gegard Mousasi in his first title defense with Strikeforce. Mousasi bombed Sobral early, winning the bout in one minute via KO. Sobral bounced back with an impressive showing against Robbie Lawler at Strikeforce: Los Angeles in June.
The victory over Lawler has some major significance in this match-up as Lawler's power punching style somewhat mimics what Dan Henderson has imposed on his own opponents throughout his career. Sobral did a phenomenal job at avoiding Lawler's power shots while mixing it up on the feet to keep Lawler guessing. His footwork looked great as well, and it was the key to keeping Sobral away from Lawler's power.
Footwork will be the key in this match-up as well, and as everyone knows from the Michael Bisping fight -- circling away from Henderson's power is a means to avoiding the hospital. When that doesn't happen, fans get the opportunity to create images within the context of the American Revolution of you succumbing to the "force". Sobral will hope to avoid that ridicule on Saturday night.
In the ground department, Sobral should hold the edge if there is some truth to Henderson's wrestling skills being overrated. While Henderson has incredible credentials in the wrestling department, he has never proved them to be great in the context of mixed martial arts, mainly due to the fact that he implements gameplans that showcase his power over his wrestling. It's great for those casual fans wanting to see fantastic knockouts, but it hasn't served Henderson well in important match-ups.
Sobral's performance against Lawler serves as a premonition as to how this fight will go down. His footwork waas effective in neutralizing Lawler's power, and his use of the front kick kept Lawler at a distance for most of the fight. If he can work a similar gameplan against Henderson, Sobral should edge out Henderson over five rounds. The fact that Henderson makes it obvious as to what his gameplan is by cocking his fist back as if it were a medieval trebuchet waiting to be cut loose is tiring to watch. He does seem to land with it however, and it doesn't matter if his opponent knows it or not.
Sobral is a survivor, and he's been in the ring and cage with some of the absolute best in the world. I think Sobral can win in either department, although the ground game will be a tougher proposition as Henderson isn't the easiest man to take down. Sobral will need some creativity there, but I think he can damage Henderson on the feet en route to a decision victory.