When we last left our heroes...For personal reasons, Mauricio Rua vs. Dan Henderson holds a special place in my heart. After all, it was my first time getting the front page treatment. Unfortunately I've been squandering that good will ever since.
Nonetheless, I'll make a very not that bold prediction: this won't even be the third most entertaining fight on the card. A prizefighter's will depends on their ability to presume immortality. The very concept of fragility can't enter into the equation. Once it does, the losses pile up.
Both men are a combined 2-5 since their UFC 139 bout; Henderson has gone 0-3 since then, while Rua has managed a 2-2 record. The strength of competition doesn't really account for the losing record either: for example, Henderson had beaten Vitor Belfort before eventually losing to him that Fight Night show, and Rua's loss to Chael Sonnen feels a little anomalous given how it happened.
Needless to say, these are fighters returning to the career dust they once arose from. Nonetheless, they've got enough left in the tank to make this an interesting fight.
Although just how interesting depends on your point of view. I love MMA, and I suspect I will for a very long time, but I'm not fond of the idea that should they engage in another brutal war with Rua winning...a trilogy would be inevitable. I realize it's hypocritical to write as much despite concussions being a logical consequence of what happens inside the cage all the time, but we can still be fans, and promote fighter safety at the same time. So here's to you two once more...may you two have a fight befitting of your respective legacies, and may your careers end on the high note they deserve without any messy concussion related caveats.
Now that I've made an attempt to basically sap whatever desire you have to watch this fight...on to the preview...
What both men can do: Rua is not the fighter he once was, but that still makes him a heck of a fighter. Surprisingly, not a whole lot has changed in his game. From a technique point of view, he's not a great boxer. And yet he's managed to fluster more technical strikers. He has an unbelievable sense of timing when it comes to his boxing. While he throws a pretty standard one-two, he's at his best penetrating his opponent's defenses one punch at a time, punctuating it all with some particularly efficient leg kicks.
A lot of this comes down to posture. His posture allows him to stand confidently in the pocket while being able to take punches at the same time he's throwing them. See Connor's chop on Juan Manuel Marquez for more on that.
Also, Rua does something unique and not so unique to MMA striking: he loops his punches (often in the pocket) in such an exaggerated fashion that he often lands his strikes 'offcenter'. I've always found it odd where Shogun lands his punches. A lot of his opponents end up getting hit near the ear, or towards the back of the head. See Machida, Griffin, Vera, Henderson, etc. Despite how sloppy he looks throwing punches at times, I can't help but conclude it's intentional.
Unlike other strikers of his ilk, his kicks are not designed to soften or maintain distance, but to maim. And he's great at closing the distance with lunging strikes. His grappling has always been heralded not just as underrated, but elite. I don't fall into that camp, but I respect his obvious talents from half guard. He's incredibly adept at sweeping, and/or threatening from guard.
As for Hendo, you know the profile by now. Cock that right hand, and let her rip. Lately he's developed a decent left hand, and it's not like it's his only weapon. Dan is pretty good at lobbing kicks inside at just the right time to set up his right hand.
There's also the fact that he may want to beat Rua exactly how he beat Belfort the first time; takedowns. Granted, just like the first time, it'll be tough if he wants it there because despite how good Dan is in the clinch, Rua can keep up with him just fine in that category.
What both men can't do: Nonetheless, Dan has always been known for his incredible ability to wrestle offensively while lacking in the ability to defend takedowns. Jake Shields was able to put him down repeatedly with a tight single. So was Shogun's brother.
I watched the first fight again, and I feel like there are certain traits about that both men that favor the grindy, brutal fight we got and could likely see again (with just a little less drama). For one, both guys like to fight inside, and they're hard to budge in the clinch. Rua has always been highly effective with his trip takedowns. So has Henderson. That push and pull forces them to then trade in intervals.
I favor Shogun. Even though he's in the twilight of his career, he still has more tools than Dan. Granted, both men might as well be the same age in fight years, but Shogun should be able to put Dan on the ground in the later rounds a lot like last time. Obviously Dan's power is the great equalizer, but even Shogun's knees from the great depression don't make him quite as old...Henderson is 43 with 40 professional fights. I suspect the Belfort KO was no accident of execution...TRT or not.
X-Factor: A bad stoppage. Fans will feel cheated if one of the guys get's rocked and isn't given a chance to recover, and that could very easily happen in a bout involving the kind of horsepower these men carry in their fists.
In-Fight Soundtrack: CCR always feels appropriate...
Prediction: Mauricio Rua by Decision.