Dan Henderson: Too Old Or Ready For Strikeforce Gold?

Image courtesy Esther Lin/Strikeforce/Showtime.

At Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson tonight, Dan Henderson will be competing in the ninth title bout of his career. Yet, as some experts believe his chances to win tonight are excellent others suggesting the former PRIDE champion is ready for retirement. Which is it?

Yesterday I issued my predictions for the main card of Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson. My sense of the main event was that neither fighter is elite enough at this point to make a super compelling case for their chances of victory. But, provided there aren't injuries or other mitigating factors, Dan Henderson's fight-ending power and iron chin was probably enough to put Rafael Cavalcante away.

In fact, here's how I described it:

Feijao showed fantastic defensively wrestling against Muhammed Lawal, but we really don't have a firm sense of his takedown arsenal. Certainly obtaining top position is a good way to defeat Henderson. Yet failing to do so but tiring Henderson out would be suitable for a five-round fight like this. Feijao is a more complete striker, but as we saw with Mike Kyle and even a little against Lawal, Feijao is good attacking but can be defensively asleep at the wheel. That's costly against a fighter like Henderson. Neither fighter inspires confidence, but I have trouble envisioning Feijao stopping Henderson. I can't say that's true for the reverse. Henderson by TKO.

That's the case for a Henderson win, but, naturally, not everyone agrees with me. The betting odds favor Henderson with a healthy margin, but MMA Fighting's Mike Chiappetta believes Feijao is going to keep his light heavyweight gold:

A game-changer could be who takes a better punch. Henderson has historically had a granite chin. He's never been knocked out in 34 pro fights, including some against heavy hitters like Anderson Silva, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort. Cavalcante, meanwhile, has had a few shaky moments. In June 2009, he was knocked out by Mike Kyle, and in May 2010, he survived a nearly disastrous moment at the hands of Antwain Britt. Given that tenuous history, Henderson is certainly capable of ending this one with a perfectly timed bomb.

That, however, seems like one of few ways he can win. There are questions about his gas tank and the creaky back that hampered him in his loss to Shields. At 40, it's not going to be easy to quiet those questions, but a win over a young, powerful opponent like Cavalcante would be a step in that direction.

I expect Cavalcante to stay away from Henderson's right hand from the outside, perhaps breaking him down with early leg kicks from the outside or pushing him up against the fence and tiring him out. As the fight goes on, Cavalcante should be the fresher of the two, allowing his multi-dimensional game to wrest control from the veteran.

Henderson will always be dangerous, as most fighters will tell you that power is the last thing to go, but Cavalcante is using more tools out of his MMA belt at a higher level right now, and for that reason, you have to go with Cavalcante by decision.

I don't deny Chiappetta's analysis taps into key strengths of Feijao, but aside from the two fights I mentioned, the Brazilian was also rocked early by Antwain Britt. This is a five-round fight, so I'll cede this territory to Chiappetta: the longer the fight goes the more it favors Feijao. Feijao is error-prone early and Henderson needs to capitalize early.

I find it intriguing how analysis of Henderson is juxtaposed between his seeming inability to lose tonight and need for retirement as his body slowly fails him. That probably speaks both to Henderson's hot-and-cold career of late (including attempts to fight in multiple weight classes) as well as the lack of strong contendership for Strikeforce titles. Henderson is old and yet in the lineup of Strikeforce light heavyweight contenders is a top pick.

That might also explain the less than tepid interest in this bout or the event generally. It also underscores what a deathgrip the UFC has on light heavyweight, squeezing Strikeforce to the point where they must have contenders challenge champions, but often on flimsy grounds.

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