Just before Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche settle who will be the first women's title fight winner in UFC history two former champions clash in the co-main event. Dan Henderson is a true legend in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, fighting since 1997, Hendo is 29-8 as a professional fighter. An international stand out in Greco-Roman Wrestling, Henderson made the move to MMA at a slightly more advanced age, but is still fighting at age 42.
His fight record is a veritable who's-who of MMA and includes a Pride FC Middleweight Championship and the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight crown. Henderson is coming off his fantastic match with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, but injury prevented him from getting his promised title shot in August.
Lyoto Machida also has a laundry list of MMA stars on his resume, as well as a UFC Light Heavyweight belt in his trophy case. The Brazilian son of a Japanese karate master, Machida was raised learning his father's style of Shotokan karate. Machida also has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as well as training in Sumo wrestling. Now 34-years-old Machida is 18-3, looking to get back into title contention having already fallen once to current UFC Champion Jon Jones and is fresh off an impressive knockout win over Ryan Bader.
Now these two are set to meet in an absolute treat of a Light Heavyweight fight. Lets take a look at how these two match up.
Before I even start if you want a far more in depth look at the striking match up here I highly recommend Jack Slack's breakdown of this fight on the feet. In fact consider this required reading for watching this match, remember to take notes as there will be a test.
This is a fantastic match up on the feet because of how different and effective both are as strikers. Machida uses his highly technical and footwork based karate style while Henderson uses a mid-1900s power boxing style.
Machida is at his best when he can coax his opponents into attacking him and over extending a tiny bit on their attacks. Machida then angles off a bit and then lands very hard counters, most notably his straight left hand. While on the outside the Brazilian karate expert will throw a variety of kicks and occasionally leap in to throw strikes.
Most of Machida's power comes from timing his attack, coming forward right as his opponent attacks, causing them to run directly into Machida's strike. As previously mentioned Machida likes to land his classic straight karate style punches in that case, but will also mix in lead knees to the body. This leaping in a sword that cuts both ways, if Henderson is able to time Machida correctly it will be the Brazilian leaping into a Henderson strike rather than the other way around.
Henderson uses a slowly shuffling style that is all about creating power in his right hand. More than one MMA great has woken up dizzy on the canvas after taking a H-bomb on the chin. While Henderson could be portrayed as a one trick pony on the feet, he is so good at setting up that right hand that is it is constant danger. One of his favorite tricks is throwing a lead inside leg kick and then follow it up with an overhand right.
While it would appear Machida has an edge on the feet he would be wise to approach this fight with caution as forums are full of the crumpling forms of strikers that have underestimated Dan Henderson.
Henderson is a highly accomplished wrestler and his strength in the clinch is legendary. He is very tough against the cage and works a great Greco-Roman takedown game, mostly composed of twisting his opponents to the ground.
What makes Henderson a truly dangerous grappler is that his right hand as just as much power on the mat as it does on the feet. His ground-and-pound is devastating, and Henderson is great at catching fighters while scrambling and moving on the ground. This is really an X-factors as most fighters are either throwing strikes or transitioning position and few are able to do both at once.
Machida is actually quite the underrated grappler, with very good offensive and defensive takedown skills. When looking to take fighters down Machida has a diverse array from which to pick from. At range Machida makes use of footsweeps and tripping low kicks that are fairly unique to his karate background. In the clinch Machida has an array of trips, which are his most reliable way of getting fights to the ground. What makes Machida's takedowns so effective is how quickly he is able to transition from striking to the takedown.
Once on the ground Machida employs a mostly grappling based attack, looking to advance position and then hunts for submissions. While not a ground wizard, Machida is aggressive and skilled on the ground and must be respected.
How they match up:
This fight comes down to two factors in my eyes. First is that Henderson has managed to fend off old age with his use of TRT, but he slows down dramatically late in fights. While this isn't a five round fight, Machida will be much faster to begin with and in the later half of the second round and the third round it is unlikely Henderson will have the energy to close distance.
Second is that despite Henderson's impressive wrestling credentials, it isn't all that hard to take him down. In fact it is fairly par for the course for Henderson to be out-wrestled in fights. This is partially due to how much Henderson commits to his punches, off balancing himself but also it is because Henderson doesn't defend his legs. This may be due to his Greco-Roman background, where no attacks on the lower body are allowed. As a result the quickest and surest way to get Henderson to the ground historically has been trip takedowns from the clinch, at which Machida excels.
While Henderson cannot be counted out at any point because of his power, Machida is not the kind of striker who acts as if his past accomplishments automatically give him some sort of advantage. Machida's whole style is based around using footwork and creating angles, which is the perfect style to deal with Henderson. However Machida does have a tendency to circle into the right hand of fighters, which could be a disaster waiting to happen.
This is a tough fight to call as all Henderson has to do is time Machida once to get the knockout win, but Machida will mix in enough variety of strikes and a few takedowns to keep Henderson from ever finding a rhythm on the feet and take the fight.
Fight Prediction: Lyoto Machida by Decision