Dan Henderson: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson made his Strikeforce debut as a heavy favorite to dethrone then middleweight champion Jake Shields in April.
For the first round of their fight, it appeared as if “Hendo” would do just that. The veteran dropped Shields with a trademark overhand right and looked to finish, only to find the younger fighter refusing to give in. Rounds two through five belonged to Shields, as an increasingly fatigued Henderson was taken down repeatedly and dominated on the ground.
Henderson will make his second promotional appearance on Saturday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, as he takes on Renato “Babalu” Sobral in the Strikeforce “Henderson vs. Babalu II” main event. Henderson fielded questions during a Nov. 23 teleconference, many of them related to his lackluster performance against Shields in Nashville, Tenn.
The two-time Olympian, who has made the cut to middleweight a number of times during his 13-year career, claimed he was in good condition leading up to the bout and pointed at other factors that contributed to his fatigue. The Team Quest founder revealed the cause of his troubles to Sherdog.com in October.
“It was a medical thing. Something came up unexpected, and my weight went up when it should have been going down. It was some medication that doctors gave me for some back injuries that didn’t do well with weight-cutting,” said Henderson. “I cut 19 pounds from the night before to the weigh-ins. I’ve never had to do that ever in my whole wrestling career. I’ve cut more weight than that but never that much last-minute like that.”
His underwhelming performance behind him, Henderson’s upcoming contest against Sobral will take place at 205 pounds, where Henderson has competed and succeeded before.
“I have always felt comfortable at 205. I have never felt weak or out-powered,” he said. “I can eat a good meal the night before the fight, which means it’s one less thing I need to worry about. [Right now] I am hanging out at 203, 204.”
Casual observers may not know the pending Strikeforce headliner between Henderson and Sobral is actually a rematch of their 2000 clash in Japanese promotion Rings. Henderson edged out a split decision over Sobral to win the 1999 King of Kings tournament. Though his opponent is the same on Dec. 4, Henderson believes that both fighters have evolved so much in the last decade that little can be taken from their first encounter.
“I was primarily a wrestler trying to throw some punches before, but I have gotten more training on submission stuff,” said Henderson. “I have learned and grown as a fighter and [learned] how to use my wrestling better for MMA. I have really enjoyed learning new things along the way.”
The owner of Team Quest in Temecula, Calif., Henderson claims he feels no added pressure to beat Sobral again, nor is he stressed about entering the cage coming off a loss.
“I feel like I am out there to win and to make sure I win every fight. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but I don’t feel like it’s a do-or-die situation,” he said. “I am not going to retire if it doesn’t go my way, but I feel very confident in my training for this fight. Hopefully, it won’t be an issue.”
A 13-year MMA veteran, Henderson, 40, cites his decision to stop wrestling as a reason for his longevity.
“I had no idea I would be in this sport for this long,” said Henderson. “When I quit wrestling in 2000, I was going to fight full-time for a couple of years. At that time, my body felt more beat up from wrestling than it did two or three years later after I quit wrestling and focused on fighting, which has prolonged my fight career.”
As for his upcoming fight, Henderson expects fans to be pleased by what they see.
“It will not be a boring fight. I am in this to perform well, and I want to make sure it is exciting for the fans [so I can] bring new fans to the sport,” he said. “I did not do that in my last fight, so I want to make sure this one is exciting.”