UFC 139 Preview: The Main Card

Rua vs. Henderson

By Tristen Critchfield Nov 16, 2011
Dan Henderson returns to the Octagon at UFC 139 for the first time since July 2009. | Photo: Dave Mandel

Mixed martial arts’ bountiful November marches steadily along, as UFC 139 “Shogun vs. Hendo” offers up plenty of intrigue on Saturday from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.

Having captured the Strikeforce light heavyweight strap, Dan Henderson returns to the Octagon to battle Mauricio Rua in what figures to be an explosive bout with potential title implications. As former stalwarts of Pride Fighting Championships, Henderson and Rua know what it means to put on a crowd-pleasing performance.

The co-main event features a potential slugfest between Wanderlei Silva and Cung Le, while Urijah Faber must get past talented bantamweight Brian Bowles in order to set up a potential third showdown with current 135-pound champion Dominick Cruz. Without further adieu, the UFC 139 preview, with analysis and picks.

Light Heavyweights
Mauricio Rua (20-5, 4-3 UFC) vs. Dan Henderson (28-8, 5-2 UFC)

The Matchup: There has been some mystery surrounding Rua’s camp ever since the former light heavyweight champion’s manager announced he would be training in Sao Paulo, Brazil, instead of at Kings MMA, where he worked under the guidance of longtime Chute Boxe coach Rafael Cordeiro. The move to Brazil has paid dividends before, such as when Rua knocked out Chuck Liddell at UFC 97. Rua’s dominant victory in his rematch with Forrest Griffin at UFC 134 came on the heels of a camp with Cordeiro, however, so it will be interesting to see if the relocation has any tangible effect on his performance.

No matter what part of the globe he chooses to call home base, “Shogun” fans know that for the Pride veteran to be at his best, he must be healthy, motivated and in shape. Rua was clearly all of the above in dispatching Griffin, getting the best of an exchange with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 winner in the center of the Octagon before sealing the deal with punches and hammerfists with Griffin on all fours.

Such a finish in the standup game will prove more difficult against the 41-year-old Henderson, who has one of the most durable chins in all of MMA. Henderson packs a serious wallop, as well, and the legend of his powerful right hand has only grown since he turned out Michael Bisping’s lights in his last UFC appearance.

After being outgrappled in his Strikeforce debut against Jake Shields, Henderson’s weapon of choice has spelled the end for three straight opponents: Renato Sobral, Rafael Cavalcante and Fedor Emelianenko. A former two-division title holder in Pride, Henderson has expressed little interest in returning to middleweight outside of a rematch with Anderson Silva, so his best path to UFC gold rests with his ability to connect with that right hand against a fellow accomplished knockout artist.

Rua has great power, technique and countering ability, and if he can lure Henderson into a prolonged exchange in the center of the cage, the advantage will be his. Should Shogun choose to rush forward in a nod to his Chute Boxe background, he must be wary that a counter from Henderson could end his night at a moment’s notice.

In terms of sheer volume, Henderson cannot win a standup war with the quick-handed Rua. He must be patient and pick his spots, using the threat of the knockout punch to set up takedowns and put Shogun on his back. The Greco-Roman specialist can do his best work from top position, raining down punches and wearing down Rua as the bout approaches the later rounds. Henderson will be susceptible to damage in tie-ups, as Rua is proficient at landing knees and punches from that position.

Conversely, Rua must utilize his outstanding kicks to limit the threat of a “Hendo” double-leg. Rua’s submission game is underrated, but he will need to put it to use if Henderson winds up inside of his guard. Henderson struggled against Shields, a noted jiu-jitsu specialist, but much of the difficulties came as a result of a difficult weight cut. That should not be an issue here.

The Rua that battled Lyoto Machida for five rounds before losing a controversial decision at UFC 104 needs to show up against Henderson. Though he is not nearly the puzzle that Machida is, Henderson has never been finished with strikes, and Rua’s only submission victory came in 2006 against Kevin Randleman. There is a good chance this fight makes it to the fourth and fifth frames, and at that point, Rua will need to summon a second wind and finish with a flurry.

The Pick: Henderson will have to weather an early barrage from Rua, and his history suggests that he can. As the fight wears on, Henderson asserts himself with wrestling and grinds out a late stoppage with punches or takes home a decision.

Continue Reading » Next Fight: Wanderlei Silva vs. Cung Le
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