UFC Fight Night 39 Preview

Rua vs. Henderson

By Tristen Critchfield Mar 20, 2014
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua last won back-to-back fights in 2009. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Fight fans will not have long to catch their breath after the epic welterweight title bout between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler, as the Ultimate Fighting Championship ventures to Brazil with a card featuring a rematch of one of the most breathtaking fights of 2011. While Mauricio Rua and Dan Henderson are no longer fixtures in the light heavyweight title picture, one can only hope that the two battle-hardened veterans are able to reprise their memorable UFC 139 clash.

Usually, Sundays serve as a time to relax and reflect on the week of violence that was. With “Shogun” and “Hendo” set to square off at Nelio Dias Gymnasium in Natal, Brazil, it might be time to change those days-of-the-week stereotypes.

Here is a closer look at the UFC Fight Night 39 card, with analysis and picks:

Light Heavyweights

Mauricio Rua (22-8, 6-6 UFC) vs. Dan Henderson (29-11, 6-5 UFC)

Photo: Sherdog.com

Henderson has lost three straight.
The Matchup: The first meeting between these two legendary light heavyweights took place at UFC 139 in November 2011, when both men still entertained ideas of title contention. The memorable bout featured numerous momentum swings over the course of 25 hard-fought minutes; Henderson wobbled Rua numerous times with his fabled right hand in the first three rounds before “Shogun” rallied to nearly finish the fight in the final 10 minutes. In the end, Henderson eked out a narrow decision, although a case could be made that Rua deserved a 10-8 scorecard for the fifth frame.

That was the last time the 43-year-old Henderson tasted victory in the Octagon. The win had him sitting pretty for a shot against Jon Jones at UFC 151, but a knee injury forced him to withdraw from the bout and ultimately led to the event’s cancellation. Since then, the Team Quest co-founder has dropped bouts to Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort. The Machida and Evans defeats were narrow split verdicts, while the Belfort loss came via devastating knockout -- the first such defeat of Henderson’s career.

Rua has been up-and-down throughout his entire UFC tenure. Most recently, he snapped a two-fight skid with a vicious first-round knockout of James Te Huna at UFC Fight Night 33. It was but a brief glimpse at the type of offense the Brazilian can offer, as knee injuries have greatly limited his explosiveness and conditioning on fight night. Even with his limitations, “Shogun” has plenty of heart and will not shy away from a brawl when the opportunity presents itself.

This bout will be something of a milestone, as the Brazilian commission has announced that the therapeutic use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy granted to Henderson will be the last of its kind in the country. Whether Henderson will be able to continue his MMA career without the treatment remains to be seen. While both men were able to go the full five rounds in their first meeting, neither was fresh by the end. Considering their advancing age and wear and tear, a finish seems to be the more likely outcome this time around.

Rua is effective in spurts, and while he rarely utilizes a jab, he can still be dangerous landing hooks and uppercuts in exchanges; it was a counter left hook that finished Te Huna in December. Rua can also land chopping low kicks when he decides to use them.

There are no secrets regarding Henderson’s game plan at this point. He will stalk his opponent with his right hand cocked, looking to land the knockout punch. While that approach has not been effective against more elusive foes, Rua will not be as difficult to track down. Despite being a two-time Greco-Roman Olympian, Henderson does not often rely on his wrestling. In fact, Rua has a more prolific takedown rate than “Hendo,” according to FightMetric.com, and his takedowns were a big part of his late rally at UFC 139.

If neither man is able to score the quick knockout, this will come down to conditioning. Rua is adept at forcing clinches and landing knees or looking for takedowns, which will come easier if Henderson is tired. On the other hand, Rua’s tendency to fire off power punches could leave him vulnerable to Henderson’s big right hand.

The Pick: This feels like a tossup, and things could get a little sloppy if the bout enters the fourth and fifth frames when fatigue sets in. Rua wins by late TKO.

Next Fight » C.B. Dollaway vs. Cezar Ferreira


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