You’ll have to forgive me for gushing about these fighters. When I started watching PRIDE in 2006 I chose Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua as my two favorite fighters from the promotion. I liked Henderson for being the type of person to do his talking in the ring, and I liked Rua for simply putting on very exciting fights. When Henderson defeated Wanderlei Silva to win the PRIDE middleweight title (93 kg/204 lbs) in 2007, I eagerly awaited a potential match between Henderson and Rua. Instead, PRIDE was purchased and its fighters were absorbed by the UFC.
So when the UFC put together a fight card featuring Henderson vs. Rua in San Jose… I was in. I didn’t need to get hyped up about it because I was already hyped from the moment the fight was announced. I was thrilled to make it the first UFC event I went to live… and then they put on one of the greatest fights in the history of the sport. I say all of that to say: I might not be the most unbiased source when it comes to this fight.
Even so, I have mixed feelings about the prospect of a rematch. Both fighters were already past their respective primes when they fought at UFC 139. After two and a half years it’s hard to imagine either one competing in professional MMA for much longer, especially Henderson, who enters this fight at the age of 43. Certainly it seems virtually impossible that they could come close to matching the excitement of their brawl in November 2011.
Henderson has had remarkable durability throughout his career, both from a career length standpoint and for resistance to being knocked out. It’s unclear just how much testosterone replacement therapy has helped with that, but I suspect it’s helped a great deal. Randy Couture also used TRT when he competed well into his forties. Couture is also the sport’s only precedent for high-level fighting at Henderson’s age – Couture was 43 when he defeated Tim Sylvia to win the UFC heavyweight title and 44 when he defended that title against Gabriel Gonzaga.
Henderson will get his TRT exemption one last time for this bout, but even with that advantage, it’s hard to see Henderson keeping this up much longer. In his last fight Henderson was quickly knocked out by Vitor Belfort for his third loss in a row. Being knocked out by Belfort doesn’t say much but it was Henderson’s first career knockout loss, so it’s still a sign that Henderson’s resilience is fading.
However, in Henderson’s previous two losses, he fought very competitively against Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida, losing both fights by split decision. If those fights are any indication, Henderson is still a dangerous opponent at light-heavyweight, although his days of being a title contender have probably come to an end.
Even so, I have a feeling people are a little too quick to assume that Rua will defeat him in this match. Rua is a fighter who’s become a much lesser version of what he once was in MMA. He used to be a fast and athletic fighter who didn’t take very much damage in fights. Now he’s a plodding fighter who largely relies on his durability and knockout power to win slugfests.
Before he fought Jon Jones at UFC 128, Rua absorbed just 1.67 significant strikes per minute, a rate that’s consistent with fighters who are currently UFC champions. Since the Jones fight, Rua has absorbed a whopping 3.77 significant strikes per minute. He’s become an easy fighter to hit – which is not good when facing the likes of Henderson.
The same is true of Henderson’s defense. He’s not particularly hard to hit either, as he successfully defends only 50 percent of the significant strikes thrown his way, compared to 55 percent for Rua. With both fighters being easy to hit, both fighters being knockout artists, and both fighters being extremely difficult to knock out… it’s not hard to see how their fight at UFC 139 turned into a brutal five-round war.
The takedown game between these fighters is similar to the striking game in that neither fighter has very good defense. Both fighters are capable at landing takedowns but Rua is the only one who’s been attempting them in his recent career. Rua has landed ten takedowns in his last five fights while Henderson has landed just two. It seems that the Henderson, a former Olympian in Greco-Roman wrestling, has almost completely abandoned the takedown as part of his offense. It might be strange to say, but on paper I give Rua the advantage in takedowns just because he’s more likely to attempt them.
Overall, I expect this to be a fight where both fighters land heavy shots on each other again… but I can’t see them both surviving five rounds this time. I think it’s much more likely that we see a stoppage victory. This can go either way, but with Henderson being the older fighter and coming off a knockout loss, I have to think Rua is more likely to get the finish.
Pick: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua by TKO
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
Rua is the favorite at -235 with Henderson the underdog at +195. Like I said, I think people are too quick to count Henderson out in this fight. He still has big power and could absolutely finish Rua in this match. While I believe Rua has a better than 50-50 chance to win this fight, I don’t think his chances are as good as 70-30 either. I’m going to put a small bet on Henderson and risk $1.00 to win $1.95.