Dan Henderson takes on Vitor Belfort at middleweight for the main event of UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson 3 on November 7, 2015 at the Ginásio do Ibirapuera in São Paulo, Brazil.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: A case study measuring the deterioration caused by age and chemical dependencies as two withered husks attempt to punch one another into dust.
David: The young dinosaur meets Hendo Ho-Tep in the final chapter to a trilogy everyone will hate talking about after the fact.
Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort
Dan "Hendo" Henderson
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Dan Henderson is the proud owner of what may well be the hardest schedule that any MMA fighter has had. Ever. He's fought the best heavyweight of all time (and beat him), the second-best heavyweight of all time, the best middleweight of all time, and only missed out on fighting the best light heavyweight of all time because he got injured. As he's aged, he's slowly slid down from being a contender to being an "name" fighter and/or gatekeeper, but he's still capable of surprises. As Matt Erickson pointed out, this fight marks the 10th straight time he's been an underdog, and if you bet on him every time out, you would have made some nice change.
David: Henderson's mileage at this point is far more impressive than Randy Couture. Granted, this was never in question. But it really emphasizes what Hendo has actually accomplished; simply put, I can't see there ever being a fighter that could possibly replicate what Dan has at his age. The interesting part of his longevity is that every aspect of his arsenal hasn't dissipated. He still throws with a tire iron, still tough as nails, and the parts of his game that were once deficiencies are only inconveniences.
Phil: Vitor Belfort is likely approaching the end of his MMA career, and it's mired in controversy. The poster child for testosterone replacement therapy in MMA (something which was, let's not forget, basically pioneered by Hendo), he's been ducking, dodging and diving questions around the UFC's sketchy attempts at self-regulation. This is likely to be the big story for the post-fight conference, more than the actual outcome of the fight.
In general, Vitor makes a convenient bugaboo; a scapegoat for the idea that PEDs are the domain of the cheater and the coward- the explosive finishes balanced against the tendency to fold under pressure, and the grating way that he tends to discount reality makes a checklist for people looking for a comfortingly flawed Ivan Drago.
David: I loathe the double standard in concept, but Belfort is a firebrand of petulance. The whole John Morgan situation still bothers me. Nonetheless, this is a topic for another day, for which there will be many words dedicated to the same topic for many days. Belfort is like Hendo in that despite the concept of senescence, he's an upgrade from his previous incarnations. Unlike Hendo, Belfort looks primed for a Super Shredder fate; miscalculating his quest for modern efficiency like he's the secret of the fountain of youth ooze.
What are the stakes?
Phil: I can't get too excited for this one. It has a certain bizarre intrigue to it - how bad is Vitor now he's off the juice? Just how old can Hendo get and still knock people out?- but sporting merit is replaced with weird novelty value, like it's one of those Bug Fights pitting Mantis against Cave Spider. I guess there's the moral aspect of Old Warrior against the Evil PED Abuser but... whatever. Even if the PED lines weren't more than a little blurry, I just don't believe in the cage as a place for karmic retribution.
David: Like Ash vs. Evil Dead? The insect warfare is the perfect analogy though. Who's the Mantis in this situation though? I feel like this is more like the Killer Beetle versus the Red Lobster. I just wish we didn't have to rehash the steroid crap over and over. Unfortunately it will happen, and it won't be the complete fault of the media.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Normally I'd say that Hendo wants Vitor backing up so that he can land the big overhand, but I don't really see how that one plays out in this scenario. If even a fraction of Vitor's speed is still intact, Hendo is just not going to land that overhand, and any time spent on the feet is playing with fire against a sharper counter-puncher with a better kicking game. Henderson needs a bit of that classic Decision Dan flavor, and to get into the clinch and grind away.
As we've mentioned before, the clinch is one of the few areas of Hendo's game which has survived and even thrived in his new, pared-down style, and a surprising amount of his later finishes have been directly or indirectly enabled by clinch breaks and dirty boxing.
David: The weird thing about Hendo's game at this point is the way his grappling has improved. His takedown defense is still bizarrely inert, and takedown wise it's bizarrely blue collar, but nowadays he's able to fight a whole lot better in the transitions. Just compare his Ninja Rua fight to the first Shogun bout. It's essentially night and day.
Phil: Vitor is a surprisingly patient counter fighter who rarely leads apart from with sporadic rear-leg head-kicks and a wheel kick. What he likes doing is waiting for opportunities where he'll explode with the left straight or uppercut. His whole game is generally predicated around explosions of violence followed by periods of inactivity, bordering on timidity. This extends to his submissions and even his takedown defense: Every time something he tries doesn't work or something his opponent tries does, you can visibly see Vitor start to check out.
David: Belfort is a complete enigma to me. He's an excellent counter fighter, but he doesn't have the patience to be efficient in that world. He's an excellent pressure fighter, but he doesn't have the stamina to use it as a foundation for his game. In other words, he's mastered the mechanics of mixed martial arts, but not the philosophy. He's the king of random acts of senseless violence.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Hendo is a smart guy. He knows that he needs this fight in the clinch, and he knew it in their last bout. Henderson came in with an astonishingly ugly clinch entry where he got nailed with Vitor's uppercut and then promptly punted upside the head, capping off Belfort's absurdly violent 2013 run.
David: Between the childish way he deals with the media, and his aloof demeanor, I think he lose sight of his in-ring intelligence. No, he's not some sort of brilliant technician, and even in this post I've argued his mental game limits his physical gifts. But in intervals, he's dangerous wherever the fight goes. The Jon Jones bout is not the only example of Belfort threatening with something other than his fists, but knowing his limitations.
Phil: The more pertinent question is: what isn't an X-factor? I'm going to say that I'm pretty sure Hendo is still going to be able to hit hard. He's still going to be able to punch holes in drywall when he's 90 years old in a nursing home.
David: I think the x-factor is just how motivated Belfort is for this fight. Does he feel he can make a run? Or is he getting sick of being the center (and sometimes cause) of every media circus?
Phil: Almost everything about this fight is open to change apart from that fact that these are two extremely violent guys. In general, Hendo's declining durability implies that he's unlikely to withstand a Vitor counter-blitz at some point early on, and that he won't make it to the point where he can capitalize on the Brazilian's historical lack of tenacity. Vitor Belfort by KO, round 1.
David: Hendo has been hurt in a lot of recent fights, win or lose. And Belfort is still the 20 second hero he began his career as. Vitor is a brutal finisher. No way he lets Hendo off the hook. Vitor Belfort by KO, round 1.