Dan Henderson vs. Gegard Mousasi would make for an interesting bout. | Photo Dave Mandel
Few fighters elicit as much passion from those who follow mixed martial arts as Fedor Emelianenko, the soft-spoken, stoic Russian who rose to prominence inside Pride Fighting Championships a little more than eight years ago. After 31 victories and an unparalleled run of dominance in a sport defined by volatility, “The Last Emperor” may have reached the end of his road some 5,000 miles from home.
Undone by a wildly aggressive attack and an uppercut that might have knocked out King Kong, Emelianenko succumbed to punches from two-time Olympian Dan Henderson in the Strikeforce/M-1 Global “Fedor vs. Henderson” main event on Saturday at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Moments after being swarmed upon, Henderson freed himself from a vulnerable position underneath Emelianenko and fired the finishing uppercut from behind, blindsiding his foe in an instant. Follow-up punches came next, along with the stoppage from referee Herb Dean.
Some have called for Emelianenko’s retirement, hoping to preserve a legacy built entirely outside the halls of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. For argument’s sake, let us assume he has at least one more fight left in him. A closer look at the matches we want to see after “Fedor vs. Henderson” follows:
Dan Henderson vs. Gegard Mousasi: Even as he approaches his 41st birthday, Henderson remains one of MMA’s elite competitors, and he seems to have found new life after leaving the middleweight division. Carving out an historic niche in the sport, the former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder added the Strikeforce light heavyweight crown to his lengthy list of accomplishments by felling Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante in March. Packaging a vicious right hand with world-class Greco-Roman wrestling skills, Henderson has not yet defended the belt. Mousasi may pose the most significant threat at 205 pounds. Few are blessed with more physical talent than the current Dream light heavyweight champion, who, like Henderson, has competed at three different weight classes in the last two years, winning 18 of his past 20 fights.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Fabricio Werdum: Emelianenko’s days on an active roster may indeed be numbered, but should he muster the desire to compete again, a rematch with Werdum could be in order. The first man to legitimately defeat the Russian icon, Werdum submitted Emelianenko with a triangle armbar in June 2010, turning the MMA community upside down in just 69 seconds. Hopelessly outgunned on the feet, Werdum, a two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist, lured the overzealous Emelianenko into his guard and finished him in a hurry. It seems unlikely that Emelianenko would fall for the same ruse again. With Alistair Overeem out of the picture following his release, other top heavyweights tied up in the ongoing Strikeforce grand prix and Emelianenko’s apparent unwillingness to try on the 205-pound division, Werdum may be the only logical option left.
Miesha Tate vs. Sarah Kaufman: That Tate dethroned Marloes Coenen and won the Strikeforce women’s welterweight championship came as no great shock. That she did so by submission surprised almost everyone outside of her inner circle. Tate has come into her own at age 24 and only figures to further improve under the direction set forth by Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Calif.
Perhaps more impressive than the victory over Coenen itself was the manner in which Tate dodged repeated submission attempts from the champion in the second round. A lesser fighter might have given in to Coenen’s advances after more than three minutes on the ground with the Golden Glory ace. Tate did not. Kaufman, a physically strong and experienced 135-pound fighter, poses different threats altogether, primarily with her polished standup and underrated wresting chops. The 25-year-old Canadian defeated Tate by unanimous decision in 2009. That result, combined with Kaufman’s skillset and savvy, makes for quite the sequel.
Marloes Coenen vs. Liz Carmouche: Coenen had plenty of opportunity to retain her 135-pound title against Tate, but her inability to finish a second-round submission cost her dearly in the end. That defeat came on the heels of her fourth-round submission victory over Carmouche, a rugged competitor who bullied Coenen for nearly 20 minutes before losing focus and submitting to an armbar. In wake of Carmouche’s recent decision loss to Kaufman, both women now find themselves on the rebound. The lack of depth in women’s MMA make rematches more likely and, in many cases, more attractive. If a second bout between Carmouche and Coenen fails to tickle your matchmaking fancy, then perhaps promotional newcomer and former Raging Wolf champion Alexis Davis could enter the fray. She announced her arrival at “Fedor vs. Henderson,” dominating Julie Kedzie in the clinch en route to a decision.
Tim Kennedy vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza-Luke Rockhold winner: Kennedy holds to the belief that he was wronged by the judges in his unanimous decision defeat to Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza nearly a year ago -- a decision that cost him the Strikeforce middleweight championship. He may soon get a second crack at the Brazilian. However, Souza first has to deal Rockhold, a gifted but unproven American Kickboxing Academy representative, when the two meet for his 185-pound crown in September. By besting former EliteXC champion Robbie Lawler at “Fedor vs. Henderson,” Kennedy solidified his claim as top contender and put himself in prime position to make a second run at promotional gold.
Tyron Woodley vs. Tarec Saffiedine: Still undefeated after outpointing Paul Daley in their welterweight title eliminator, Woodley has emerged as the top welterweight remaining on the Strikeforce roster. Rumors are swirling regarding a potential return of Japanese veteran Kazuo Misaki, who has won back-to-back bouts since his 2010 “Fight of the Year” with Jorge Santiago ended with his defeat in August under the Sengoku Raiden Championship banner. Even with Misaki in play at 170 pounds, a Woodley-Saffiedine rematch may make the most sense, especially after the Belgian throttled Scott Smith for three rounds in his latest outing. Woodley outpointed Saffiedine in a three-round match in March. A rematch for the vacant welterweight championship could extend into rounds four and five, adding all new dimensions to a second bout between them.
Paul Daley vs. Evangelista Santos: For those who desire fireworks on the feet, there can be no better matchup in Strikeforce’s welterweight division. Daley, owner of the game’s fiercest left hook, suffered his second consecutive defeat at “Fedor vs. Henderson,” as Woodley again exposed the glaring holes in the Brit’s defensive wrestling. He figures to face no such threat against Santos, a throwback from the glory days of the Chute Boxe Academy who wields some of the most feared leg kicks in all of MMA. Cyborg was Daley’s original opponent before a shoulder injury forced his exit and opened the door for Woodley, a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler. Interest in a Daley-Santos slugfest remains as high as ever, provided the Brazilian can recover in a timely fashion.