So at UFC 172 I explained all about how I felt Tim Boetsch was being disrespected by the betting public leading up to his fight against Luke Rockhold. Even though I conceded that Rockhold deserved to be a large favorite, Boetsch was +1000 at one point, and I simply thought that he had enough paths to victory that he deserved a little more respect than that. Rockhold promptly submitted him without breaking a sweat.
If I was willing to go to bat for Boetsch, a decent mid-tier UFC middleweight but nothing more, then surely I should be willing to come to the legendary Dan Henderson’s defense as a +600 underdog against Daniel Cormier, right?
Well… not exactly. When I look at how Henderson matches up with Cormier, I have tremendous difficulty seeing paths to victory for him.
Now, it’s important to note that Henderson is coming off a dismal performance against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Yes, Henderson won the fight by third-round knockout, but only after being knocked down twice and mounting very little offense through the first two rounds. Henderson looked very much like a 43 year old athlete in that fight.
It’s also important to note that this will be the first time Henderson will be competing without a testosterone replacement therapy exemption. To be clear, I don’t think Henderson’s ability to fight is going to fall off a cliff because of this, but it certainly doesn’t help.
The line used by a lot of people who want to defend Henderson’s chances of winning is that the “H-bomb” is the great equalizer. My retort is that it’s only the great equalizer if it lands. In his last four fights, Henderson has landed just 1.96 significant strikes per minute despite facing four opponents who wanted to stand and strike against him. Meanwhile, Cormier has absorbed strikes at a very low rate of 1.41 per minute.
This fight actually reminds me a lot of Cormier’s fight against Roy Nelson. Even though I think more highly of Henderson than Nelson, the dynamic of the fight is very similar. Presumably, both fighters had only one realistic path to victory – landing a big punch and knocking Cormier out. But if they only land 15-20 significant strikes in three rounds, how likely is it that they’re going to land that big punch?
But I have another question. Why would Cormier keep this fight standing? If Henderson’s great equalizer is the big right hand, why should Cormier give Henderson a chance to land it? Henderson’s takedown defense has been shaky throughout his career (60 percent) despite his background as an Olympian in Greco-Roman wrestling. Cormier is the bigger fighter and the better wrestler. Why wouldn’t he just take Henderson down and take away the one realistic threat of the upset here?
The “safe” route to victory for Cormier – a fighter who has been keenly aware of how to shut down his opponents’ strengths in the past – is to take Henderson down, put him on his back, and engage in a ground and pound offense that will make him an almost guaranteed decision or TKO winner. I’ll put it this way: if Jake Shields could repeatedly take Henderson down, Daniel Cormier can do it too.
But even if Cormier decides to engage in a striking match, I have to consider him the heavy favorite to win. Cormier has taken to striking very naturally in his MMA career, and enters with a ratio of 2.9 significant strikes landed for every one he has absorbed. The only time Cormier has absorbed more than 25 strikes in a fight was in his victory over Josh Barnett, and that was a five-round fight. I’m curious to see how well Cormier’s defense holds up against a true volume striker (and Cormier has yet to battle one) but Henderson is not that kind of fighter.
Make no mistake about it, I have tremendous respect for Dan Henderson. He was one of the first fighters I enjoyed watching in this sport and it’s been a lot of fun to see him succeed over the years. But even Randy Couture had a lot of trouble succeeding at a high level at this age, and Couture didn’t have to face an opponent with the kind of wrestling base and well-rounded game as Cormier. I can never count Henderson completely out, but I just don’t see this one working for him.
Pick: Daniel Cormier by decision