Emelianenko vs. Henderson: Big Fight Breakdown
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Dan Henderson: Strikeforce, July 30
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When it comes to longevity and success in MMA, few active fighters can boast the dizzying scope and length of careers as Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson. Both Strikeforce stars have been competing at the highest levels of the sport for more than a decade, have won multiple championships, and still rank among the top 10 in their respective weight classes.
Despite their storied careers, a matchup between the two longstanding stars never seemed to be a real possibility until recently. When Henderson signed with Strikeforce in 2010, he immediately mentioned the hope of a superfight with the Russian legend. Given their homes in different divisions, however, it seemed unlikely. Then, the impossible happened. Emelianenko, unbeaten for nearly a decade, lost two straight. With the promotion’s Heavyweight Grand Prix moving on without him, it suddenly became the perfect time to think outside of the box, and Emelianenko vs. Henderson became an attractive option. After lengthy negotiations, it’s official, two of MMA’s biggest starts will meet in the cage on July 30 at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Emelianenko’s game has always been predicated on speed, and that has suited him well in the heavyweight division, where his punching velocity has been a massive advantage against some of the sport’s goliaths. There are questions, though, as to whether it will offer an edge against Henderson. Emelianenko (31-3, 1 NC) will try to capitalize on his speed by making sure he comes into this fight lighter than he has in years. Although the fight is officially a heavyweight bout, Emelianenko is expected to weigh around 220 pounds—10 pounds less than usual and the lightest he’s been for a fight since he was 224 pounds for his PRIDE 32 bout against Mark Coleman in October 2006. That should pay dividends against the smaller Henderson, who will likely check in around 205 pounds.
Given his size advantage, power, speed, and chin, Emelianenko might well feel comfortable keeping the fight standing. Much like Henderson, Emelianenko’s right hand has proven capable of dramatically stopping bouts, and it also serves to deter opponents from wading in recklessly. Unless this fight is finished early—doubtful given each man’s chin—expect to see lengthy periods of standup battle. Additionally, Emelianenko may also choose to employ a part of his game that is far more underrated takedowns, where he has finished 18 of 27 attempts over his last 10 fights. Despite Henderson’s sterling wrestling credentials and reputation, he has been taken down nine times in his last eight fights, so it’s not impossible to put the former Olympic wrestler on his back. If successful, Emelianenko can throw bombs from the top, where Henderson has never flashed the bottom submission game to threaten him.
For Fedor, the recipe for victory will be variety, mixing up the fight’s location, and keeping Hendo offbalance while circling away from the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion’s big right hand.
While Henderson (278) has the reputation of a wrestler, he doesn’t look to take the action to the mat as much as his background suggests. According to CompuStrike, in his last eight fights, he’s attempted 18 takedowns, successfully completing nine. In his last fight, a KO win over Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante in a Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Title match, he went back to his roots a bit, using three takedowns in a fight that was decided in less than 10 minutes.
That might be the same type of blueprint he uses against Fedor, who is similar in size to Feijao. Since Fedor now seems to be most dangerous on his feet, it makes sense to take his favorite weapons away from time to time. However, if Henderson’s history has taught us anything, it’s that he’s much more likely to stand with Emelianenko for long stretches and trust in his hands. It’s a formula that has rarely failed him. Even at 40 years old, Hendo’s won five of his last six fights, with three of those victories coming via knockout.
If he gets it to the ground, Henderson usually goes for broke, looking for the finish with power strikes. That will be an area of danger, as Emelianenko still has the hips to hunt submissions. Henderson needs to exercise caution in this position, but restraint has never been his M.O.
We can break down this fight ad nauseam, but Henderson and Emelianenko are both ultraaggressive fighters who like to throw hands and rarely back down from a duel. There is a smart way to fight and there is an entertaining way, and these men have found a hybrid style that has made them so beloved. The historical value of this contest is in many ways more important than its actual result or the path it takes to get there. We can’t always predict each fighter’s gameplan, but we can predict that the sum total of their styles and histories will result in something close to epic.