Two distinguished icons of Pride, the UFC and MMA in general will grace the UFC 139: Henderson vs. Rua pay-per-view. Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua represents an epic match up between two of the sport's best who hail from the old bastion.
"Hendo" sported both the welterweight (183-pounds) and middleweight (205-pounds) championship belts in Pride Fighting Championships, contested for gold in the UFC's equivalent weight classes, ventured off to Strikeforce to capture their light-heavyweight title and knock off a heavyweight legend, and is now making a reinvigorated return to the Octagon.
Once considered the all eminent light-heavyweight on earth, "Shogun" Rua mesmerized the combat sports world as the newest Chute Boxe offering who carved through Pride's elite with highlight reel panache. Initially exhibiting signs of the unshakable curse that most overseas fighters are mysteriously plagued with in the states, Rua rebounded well from his unflattering intro.
After the shocking Forrest Griffin upset in his Octagon debut and a sub-par win over Mark Coleman, he accomplished what most thought to be impossible when he booted Lyoto Machida off the 205-pound throne. Then crushed under the wheels of the Jon Jones hype-train, Rua recently avenged the Griffin loss in "old Shogun" fashion to kickstart another rally to the top.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Wielding the scariest right hand in the game and boasting a burly Greco Roman clinch aptitude, Dan Henderson usually has a great influence over the pace of the fight and where it takes place.
This means, to keep Hendo out of the driver's seat, Shogun's mobility and cage motion will be pivotal.
In fact, there seems to a be a concise correlation between Shogun's success and how agile and fleet afoot he is. The two vexing Octagon performances he opened with were underscored by an uncharacteristic level of fatigue and sluggishness.
Toying with the fragile emotions of his dedicated fan base (relax, I'm one of them), Shogun blasted through Chuck Liddell like he'd been shot from a cannon just as we were writing him off as another underwhelming Pride crossover.
The glaring difference? Mobility. The Shogun who lumbered around the cage like he was sloshing through melted cheese was transposed with the explosively athletic and dexterous madman from his dominant Pride reign.
The metamorphosis was attributed to rehabbing his nagging knee injury; a root-cause that became even more sensible in his pair of title bouts against Lyoto Machida.
These, of course, took place in the "Machida era" where the champ dazzled the audience with elaborate footwork. "The Dragon" had confounded all comers with a mystical inability to be hit or get ahold of, flitting out of range while offering only the stings of a long left hand.
Shogun was the first opponent to crack the code, able to engage the heralded champion endlessly whereas most others were fortunate to merely get the better end of a brief exchange. Again, it was Rua's liveliness of motion that enabled him to mount offense. He doggedly pursued Machida through every winding and circuitous angle he cut in reverse, anticipating his circling and cutting off the cage brilliantly.
The first Machida bout was a decision loss embroiled in controversy. However, Shogun left no room for dissenting opinions in the second.
Their roles were reversed in the final flurry where Rua became champion, as it was Machida vaulting forward aggressively and Rua playing the counter-striker. That finite detail is salient here, as Shogun will be dealing with an opponent who comes straight forward behind a heat-seeking right hand, endeavoring to brawl at phone booth range.
To keep the contest at his preferred striking range, Shogun's footwork and agility will be cardinal.
Just because everyone, including Shogun, knows the barreling, haymaker-laden charge shown to the right is guaranteed to reoccur, it doesn't make it any easier to defend.
Really, none of Dan Henderson's 30+ opponents should have assumed otherwise, because it's exactly what they all got and only the top of the food chain fighters were able to overcome it. In the last four years, the caliber of martial artist to repel Hendo's primal onslaught are current UFC pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva, then-205-champ Quinton Jackson, and elite sub-grappler Jake Shields.
Since Shogun can't imitate the scorching low single that Shields dismantled Hendo with, that leaves clinch fighting as the standout variable. The saving grace for Silva and "Rampage" was their top-notch clinch prowess. Silva enforces massive leverage in the clinch with exceptional footwork and Muay Thai, and Rampage is one of the strongest and powerful clinchers at 205.
While clinching with Dan Henderson belongs on the very bottom of every To-Do list ever created, Shogun is quite a beast himself in that position.
The pixilated outburst to the right came after a destructive interaction in the clinch where Shogun pummeled Rampage with knees to the midsection.
The chess match there will be that Shogun always goes high on the head for the Thai plum, which will be conducive based on the way Hendo lowers his head coming in, but Hendo usually allows that hold because he can still bomb loopers over the top from his crouched and balanced stance.
I think Shogun can hang in the clinch with Hendo, but it's just like playing with fire and something he doesn't want to do often.
As he showed against Fedor Emelianenko, Hendo can turn the tables in the blink of an eye, going from knocked on his back and eating punches to reversing, regaining his footing and finishing the fight with one punch.
That's why I think it would be wise for Rua to avoid clinching whenever possible and circle out into open space where he can work his kickboxing arsenal, which is thoroughly more dynamic than Hendo's violent and predictable boxing.
Though Henderson will punish him mercilessly for it if he fails, Shogun does have an extensive library of creative submissions and effective trip takedowns.
The way he drops for a leg lock from the rear waist-cinch to the right is downright poetic. Henderson's submission defense is solid but, despite being a risky tactic, Shogun's BJJ acumen is awesome.
If Shogun's cage motion, agility and explosiveness are in top form, I think he can avoid the H-Bomb and land the more meaningful and memorable exchanges. He's a smart fighter with a ridiculously rounded skill set.
I do feel that Henderson is the safer choice here. His chin is nearly impervious, he's always one punch away from ending the fight, and he'll surely be chasing Rua around and manipulating him in the clinch, which endows him with the oft-overpowering scoring aspects of aggression and control. That leads me to believe that Shogun might have to finish Henderson or rock him visibly in the majority of rounds, which seems less likely than Hendo executing his classic game plan.
My Prediction: Dan Henderson by TKO