The fight resumes of Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson are chock full of memorable battles over more than a decade. They fought a range of opponents of all sizes and abilities in all corners of the world. Though they have never been on the same track long enough to face each other, the headliners of the Strikeforce/M-1 Global event on Saturday at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill., forged their reputations, in large part, against a common foe.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira spent about 75 minutes of his life locked in combat with Emelianenko and Henderson, a bruising and strenuous slate that laid bare the trio’s grit and gifts.
“I know those guys very well,” Nogueira said during a recent appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” program. “I’ll tell you, [they are] very similar. Both guys ... they have a very good right hand. They’re both very good Greco-[Roman wrestling] guys, so they throw the right hand and get close, shorten the distance. It’s kind of the same, the way they attack the person in the fight.”
In the year between Nogueira’s becoming the first heavyweight titleholder of Pride Fighting Championships and his 2002 rematch against Henderson, the submission master was regaled as the sport’s best heavyweight, if not its pound-for-pound best fighter. At Pride 24 in December 2002, the then-Brazilian Top Team representative put a submission attack clinic on the wily Henderson, who gave up 40 pounds in the fight and withstood several contortions until succumbing to a third-round armbar. At the next Pride, in a torch-passing moment, Emelianenko took the mantle as MMA’s top heavyweight, battering Nogueira from top position en route to a decision. Nogueira lost to Emelinaenko again in 2004 and to Henderson via split decision in 2000.
Nogueira said he slightly favors Ememlinaneko in the fight. He broke down elements of both fighters’ games:
Nogueira said Emelianenko was the more powerful puncher and referred to the kind of punches Pride announcer Stephen Quadros compared at the time to “someone hitting a buffalo with a baseball bat.” Emelianenko weighed in at 230 pounds for his last outing, a loss to Antonio Silva.
“His punch is stronger than Dan Henderson, for sure,” Nogueira said. “Fedor [has] got more power, punch for punch.”
“On the ground game, Dan Henderson plays more. He was trying to pass my guard ... [his] ground game is more fluid. He tried to do submissions. Dan Henderson tries more. And Fedor was holding there, tight elbows and throwing punches,” Nogueira said. “Fedor -- he’s way stronger, so he just holds and throws punches. He’s got a good ground-and-pound; his posture is good, better than Dan Henderson’s posture inside the guard. [Fedor] was just holding there, holding my hip and throwing punches.
“Henderson’s got short legs for him to bend his knees and push [his opponent] and stand up,” he added. “I [have] got big legs, so it’s easier for [Emelianenko] to hold somebody big like me. Henderson has short legs, so it’s easier to stand up. It’s not going to be easy to hold Henderson down. Fedor, he [has] got more armbars and kimuras, more attacks and submissions. I think Fedor would be the better submission guy if they both go to the ground.”
Nogueira said Henderson will not be easy to tap despite Emelianenko’s varied weapons.
“Once I got [Henderson] in the omaplata and I see his arm, his shoulder looks like it’s going to come out. And all of a sudden, the guy’s just on top of me throwing punches. So, damn, he’s very flexible and is hard to submit, and he never gives up,” he said. “That guy, he [has] got a heart of a champ, so that’s why he is coming back all over. When people think he’s not doing well, he’s just kind of [gets] back in good shape again. He never gives up.
“Of course, Fedor is one of the best submission guys,” Nogueira added. “He’s got a very good armbar. I think that can happen, too, if Dan Henderson lets him stay in the position [on the bottom]. But Dan Henderson is very tough, and he don’t give up. It’s not going to be easy for him to submit Dan Henderson.”
“I had a harder time with Fedor. He uses his body more; he uses a lot more of his body, so I have a harder time to clinch him,” Nogueira said. “But Dan Henderson’s clinch is very good. I think he’s very dangerous. If Dan Henderson clinches him, it would be a smarter game, because he’s a Greco guy, [and] he can take away [his opponent’s strength] when he clinches the guy. It will probably be Dan Henderson using the Greco-Roman [wrestling] he’s got, play a little in the clinch and take a little bit of [Fedor’s] endurance and strength in the clinch.”
“He’s a good fighter; he had two bad moments,” Nogueira said. “I think he underestimated [Fabricio] Werdum a lot. Werdum, of course, he has got skills to submit anyone else in the world. He’s one of the best heavyweights in jiu-jitsu in the game. Fedor underestimated him in the way he played his guard. He was too confident, and he paid for that. And Antonio [Silva] is a huge guy. He’s got really good double-legs and he’s got a good chin and he’s improving standing up. So Antonio’s really one of the top fighters right now. But I think Fedor is still a good fighter and one of the best fighters in the world. He’s going to go back stronger, and I still believe he can be in the top of the heavyweight division or the light heavyweight [division] -- wherever he goes.”