Saturday, November 19, 2011

UFC 139: Shogun vs. Henderson - Something to Prove vs. Nothing to Lose

With the UFC's experimental FOX television debut safely behind us, commercial-free MMA action returns tonight headlined by one of the most anticipated main events of the year. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua faces off with Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson in a long-awaited meeting of the former PRIDE rivals.

What We Know

Mauricio Rua entered the UFC to high hopes, but his Octagon career has been an emotional roller coaster for fans. After dropping a closely contested title decision to former champion Lyoto Machida, Rua bounced back and won the belt in a rematch, only to be immediately sidelined with knee surgery.

Following a long recovery, Rua returned to defend his title only to have it summarily stripped away by Jon "Bones" Jones in a one-sided TKO loss which was not particularly competitive.

Rua's most recent outing, a brilliant first-round knockout of Griffin which avenged that inauspicious UFC debut, showed a return to form the Brazilian must maintain to get back into contention. A dominant victory over Dan Henderson might fast-track Shogun to another title shot.

At 41 years of age Henderson may not have time on his side, but his dramatic victory over the legendary Fedor Emelianenko proved he can still get the job done against younger and more aggressive opponents.

Stung early and knocked down early by Fedor's frenetic striking attack, the cagey veteran was able to reverse positions and deliver a blind-side uppercut that dropped Fedor and led to a first-round TKO.

Both Rua and Henderson have made names for themselves as strikers, though with markedly different styles. Rua uses speed, great boxing and devastating leg and body kicks to keep opponents on the defensive, while Henderson relies more on timing and power to land the big overhand right which has become his signature.

While Henderson's superb ability to close the distance and connect will likely factor into Rua's strategy entering this fight, he will probably be more focused on nullifying Henderson's distinct advantage as a wrestler. By using superior quickness and landing the same vicious leg kicks he used to dismantle Lyoto Machida, Rua may be able to wear down the veteran wrestler and chip away at his ability to shoot.

What the Tapes Don't Show

Superstitious fans will appreciate the fact that Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, Brett Rogers, Fabricio Werdum, and Antonio Silva each fought Fedor Emelianenko and then immediately turned in dismal follow-up performances. Though it's improbably Henderson will fall completely flat in his return to the Octagon, turning in a strong performance against Rua will mean breaking the "Fedor Curse."

Had he decided to retire, Henderson's win over Emelianenko would have provided a definitive conclusion to a long and illustrious MMA career.

Rua, on the other hand, is just one fight removed from a lopsided beat-down at the hands of Jon Jones, and at 29 years old is only reaching the prime of his fighting career.

Like most fights, this one may be about unfinished business. All things being equal (or a wash, anyway,) the odds usually favor the fighter who has something left to prove.

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