NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A little fatigue and a lot of Jake Shields spoiled the promotional debut of former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson in the Strikeforce “Nashville” headliner on Saturday at the Bridgestone Arena.
Shields entered the matchup as a considerable underdog but retained his championship in a unanimous decision, surviving a first-round encounter with Henderson’s fabled right hand. The blow -- Shields said it was the hardest he had ever been hit in his life -- sent the champion crashing face first to the canvas, and most, Henderson included, thought the end was near.
“I know I had him hurt real bad,” Henderson said. “I didn’t land the next couple of punches to finish him off.”
Shields recovered, regained his bearings and waited for the first round to run its course. He came out in the second with renewed purpose, took down Henderson and ultimately mounted the two-time Olympian. Henderson tired noticeably over the course of the final 20 minutes.
“I had a good one and a half, two rounds,” said Henderson, who admitted he ran into some difficulty with his weight cut. “I just got a little tired for whatever reason. Jake had a great game plan. He covered well on top and stayed there, and I did a very bad job getting up. He deserves all the respect.”
Shields seemed to grow stronger as the fight deepened. He mounted Henderson three times in the fifth round and left no doubt as to which man was the superior fighter. Henderson, who turns 40 in August, had not lost since falling to UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva in March 2008. Shields won virtually every scramble between the two, leading to one dominant position after another.
“I knew he was dangerous, and I didn’t overlook him at all,” Henderson said. “He doesn’t try to do damage on the feet, but he’s real effective with his style. He’s really good at what he does. He’s definitely one of the top guys out there.”
A big-ticket free agent who sent shockwaves through the industry with his decision to leave the UFC for Strikeforce following his crackling knockout of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner Michael Bisping last summer, Henderson maintains he has no regrets about the move.
“I’d feel a little bit better had I won,” Henderson said. “I was happy when I left. I’m happy now. I’m still going to be here. I’m still going to try and fight the best guys in the world.”
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker believes he got plenty of bang for his buck with his decision to lure Henderson away from the UFC.
“Dan’s a legend in the sport,” Coker said. “I’ve followed his career for many years. This is not the last fight for Dan Henderson.”