If there was a universal MMA hall of fame, Fedor Emelianenko would be a first-ballot electee. | Photo: D. Mandel
The fight makes any fan of the game do a double-take. When Fedor Emelianenko battles Dan Henderson in the Strikeforce/M-1 Global “Fedor vs. Henderson” main event on Saturday at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill., we will get the latest installment in Emelianenko’s journey.
It has seen the longtime Pride Fighting Championships titleholder go from the hottest free agent in the sport to the recipient of two shocking, back-to-back upsets. Pitted against Henderson, one of MMA’s most consistent performers and one of its most difficult nuts to crack, Emelianenko has a definite fight on his hands.
The event also features a title defense for women’s welterweight champion Marloes Coenen, as she takes on Miesha Tate, and solid supporting matches in the middleweight and welterweight divisions.
Here is a closer look at the “Fedor vs. Henderson” show, with fight-by-fight breakdowns and picks.
Fedor Emelianenko (31-3, 1 NC, 1-2 SF) vs. Dan Henderson (27-8, 2-1 SF)
The Matchup: Once the most feared fighter in the game, Emelianenko meets a fellow legend in Henderson and attempts to rebound from consecutive losses. It is hard to tell what the greatest heavyweight of all-time has left. His shocking submission loss to Fabricio Werdum in June 2010 ended almost as soon as it began, and being pounded for two one-sided rounds by the massive Antonio Silva eight months later reinforced Emelianenko’s toughness, even if he is not as technically adept as he was in his prime.
Used to fighting larger men in a career that stretches back to the early UFC and Pride days, Henderson brings a stylistic complement to the bout. He will not submit Emelianenko, as Werdum did, or smother and crush him, as Silva did. Henderson is a great wrestler with a massive right hand that has long been recognized as one of the game’s best equalizers. In his last two fights, it has been in destructive mode, with Henderson scoring brutal stoppages on Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante.
The intrigue of this match is obvious, and it provides a bit of a what-if factor as a throwback to Pride, where both men were younger and in their primes. Will Henderson be willing to keep it standing despite Emelianenko’s penchant for bone-jarring flurries? That is a key question. Emelianenko still retains his excellent hand speed, as witnessed in the first round against Silva, and Henderson’s great chin and right hand could make it a tempting proposition.
The battle for the takedown is also a fascinating factor. Emelianenko has been difficult against heavyweights his entire career, with great hips, the ability to exploit small openings in scrambles and outstanding submissions. Does he have enough left to apply those against Henderson? The two-time Olympian is no Rickson Gracie when it comes to securing submissions, but he has proven exceptionally tough to catch in them, and he may be able to control Emelianenko enough to drag the fight late, when submissions are less likely to be available.
This fight could represent Emelianenko’s last stand to prove he is still a relevant heavyweight, even though it comes against a smaller man. The matchup favors him early but shifts towards Henderson late.
The Pick: Both will shake off big shots and swing the momentum their way early in exciting exchanges on the feet and the mat. Ultimately, Henderson has just enough to take a late stoppage or decision win.
Continue Reading » Next Fight: Marloes Coenen vs. Miesha Tate