Dan Henderson’s knee caused the cancellation of a UFC event for the first time in the organization’s history and now he steps back into the cage, losing a title shot against Jon Jones, to take on another elite light heavyweight in former division champion Lyoto Machida. He also hasn’t fought since an incredible five round war with Shogun Rua, as well. Machida is coming off a spectacular knockout of Ryan Bader on a Fox card.
Fight breakdown – If you only looked at their backgrounds you’d think this was a traditional “striker vs. grappler” matchup.
Lyoto Machida grew up doing karate and is a high level black belt under his father in Shotokan Karate. Machida has a high level karate game as he has a room full of trophies in Karate and Sumo. He also is a high level black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to match his other accomplishments. He’s a martial arts student’s wet dream: a high caliber martial artist in multiple disciplines who’s achieved success in MMA with a variety of TMA disciplines.
Dan Henderson spent the bulk of his 20s and 30s as one of the best Greco-Roman wrestlers in the world. A two time Olympic team member, Henderson’s list of accomplishments puts him as one of the elite level wrestlers in the light heavyweight division of MMA. If you want to talk about fighters with elite wrestling skills Henderson is near the top because of his extensive experiences on the mat. For those of us who grew up on the mats at a certain point in their life you remember Dan Henderson.
The thing is neither fighter is strictly one dimensional enough to be labeled as either.
Machida has an underrated ground game and shockingly good takedowns from the clinch. He may come out in a counter striking style, looking to counter instead of landing the first strike, but he’s got no qualms taking it to the ground either. Machida is a black belt in BJJ and trains at Black House. His preference is to stand and look for the counter; he does a lot of circling and forces guys to over commit. The key for Machida will be to make Henderson play this game, to get over aggressive and walk into something he can’t get out of. Machida has some of the most recognizable knockouts in UFC history, from Ryan Bader’s “stop, drop and flop” to Rashad Evans and the “Stanky Leg.” Machida’s best offense is going to be his defense; not getting hit and landing enough on counters to make Henderson get frustrated is how he wins. Machida is going to be faster and has dynamite in his hands.
It’s conceivable that he could finish the fight with strikes if Henderson rushes in blind. But don’t overlook Machida trying to get this to the ground, either. He’s athletic enough that it’s possible and his takedowns are usually unexpected and underrated.
Henderson may have the best credentials in the UFC in wrestling besides Daniel Cormier but he doesn’t use them as often as you’d think. Why? Because he’s got insane amounts of power in either hand, that’s why. Henderson unleashes the Mauro Ranallo dubbed “H-Bomb” and has put guys with better chins than Machida down. Henderson uses his boxing to finish and his wrestling to keep it standing. Getting Henderson down is tough and the only times he’s vulnerable to being taken down is when he’s gassed. Shogun Rua did it but Henderson was spent; that’s the key for Henderson to win the fight. Machida’s movement is going to take a toll on him over a long period of time but with three rounds, not five, and he actually has an advantage in that regard. He generally tends to gas at about the three minute mark of the third round; if he can take the first two rounds decisively he can afford to have a toss-up of a third.
Look for him to gauge Machida’s movement early and try to make him fight out of a phone booth. Henderson doesn’t need a ton of space to unload a fight ending punch; Machida does. Machida is going to circle away from Henderson’s right; he’s gotten more knockouts with that hand but he has underrated power in his left. He’s very good at using that left hand power to set up the right and Machida has to be careful with either hand. Henderson put Fedor down and out; Fedor’s a guy who could walk through nearly anything some of the biggest heavyweights have thrown at him and “Hendo” turned his lights out. He’s got as much power in his hands as Melvin Manhoef; Henderson has managed to turn that strength from grappling into his hands.
Henderson needs to have studied both Machida fights against Shogun Rua for a game plan that’ll work for him. Shogun showed how to make Machida work in a phone booth and Henderson is athletic enough to duplicate it. When it comes to fighting Machida the best example of how to nullify his counter style without being Jon Jones is to duplicate what Rua did. Rua’s footwork made all the difference and Henderson can duplicate what he did.
Machida needs to operate in space and keep Henderson from making him fight in small spaces. Look for him to throw leg kicks early to the lead leg to take some of the MPH off Henderson’s fastball. He also needs to tire Henderson out before the third and keep it close. The typical Henderson fade will happen and Machida can steal the fight with a good third round and a close 2nd or 1st. The further it goes, and the closer he keeps it, the better his odds at winning. Machida needs to follow the same plan he had against Quinton Jackson.
Both are similar fighters in a lot of ways and if Machida can duplicate what he did against Jackson he can take this fight. Machida may have lost the Jackson fight on the scorecards but it was a split decision and an awful lot of people gave that fight to Machida.
Why it matters – A win here for either of the fighters and it’s a potential title shot against the winner of Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen.
Prediction – Henderson