Dan Henderson has not lost at 205 pounds since 2007. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Lyoto Machida (18-3, 10-3 UFC) vs. Dan Henderson (29-8, 6-2 UFC)
The Matchup: If ever a non-title, co-main event deserved five rounds, this is it. While the UFC 157 headliner pitting Ronda Rousey against Liz Carmouche is not likely to go past the opening frame, an extra 10 minutes could do wonders for an interesting matchup between Machida and Henderson. “Hendo” was involved in one of the promotion’s first five-round, non-title main events at UFC 139, and his 25-minute epic with Mauricio Rua would be viewed quite differently today had it ended after three stanzas.
The winner of this one figures to be in line for a 205-pound title shot. With so much at stake and only three rounds with which to work, Machida and Henderson need to look to assert themselves early.
A former Pride Fighting Championships and Strikeforce titleholder, Henderson has one final belt to add to his collection. The Team Quest co-founder was scheduled to face champion Jon Jones at the now-infamous UFC 151 event before a partially torn knee ligament forced him to withdraw from the bout. Now 42 years old, it will have been 15 months since Henderson last fought. As durable and resilient as he has been, at some point age and injury will take their toll on the veteran.
Machida, meanwhile, was in prime form at UFC on Fox 4, catching Ryan Bader with a short counter right hand for a second-round technical knockout victory in August. It was a sobering reminder of what happens to a Machida opponent when he becomes impatient. One of the best in the sport at controlling range and avoiding damage, Machida will be especially wary of the power in Henderson’s notorious right hand. The Brazilian uses angles and feints while constantly circling and changing directions in the cage, movement which could disrupt Henderson’s timing as he looks to find a home for his equalizer.
Henderson has never been knocked out in 37 professional fights, and that granite chin will give him the confidence to be the aggressor. While patient and composed, Machida must avoid a tentative performance like the one he gave in a contentious loss to Quinton Jackson at UFC 123. Respecting his adversary’s knockout ability is crucial, but being overly cautious could result in “The Dragon” dropping a round if Henderson elects to push the pace.
A five-round bout would clearly favor Machida, as Henderson has been known to fatigue as a fight progresses. If the American struggles to find the range on his power punches, he should look to plant Machida on his back and unload with ground-and-pound. This is no certainty against Machida, who is good at landing body punches in the Greco-Roman clinch, as well as knees in the Thai plum.
If Machida hurts Henderson with one of his unorthodox combinations, the Pride veteran has an uncanny ability to regain his wits and defend.
The Pick: The fight could begin slowly, with Henderson stalking Machida in hopes of the quick finish but ultimately coming up empty. It will not be an emphatic victory, but Machida will keep Henderson guessing throughout, landing enough combinations and counters to emerge with a narrow decision triumph.
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