Photo courtesy Esther Lin/Showtime.
At Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Henderson, Dan Henderson proved his right hand is more than just lethal. It's also the only signature move in modern, elite MMA that produces incredible results without being gimmicky. It's also part of his very identity.
A gimmick is defined as "quirky feature that distinguishes a product or service without adding any obvious function or value. Thus, a gimmick sells solely on the basis of distinctiveness."
That begs the question: Is there an elite MMA fighter whose game is heavily predicated upon and singularly tied to one technique without being gimmicky more than Dan Henderson? His right hand is not only the nucleus of his offensive arsenal, it's part of his brand.
Finding a countervailing example is not easy. Before we list other possible candidates, consider the following:
- The right hand dropped Feijao last night and was the only punch he threw once Henderson followed the Brazilian to the floor.
- The right hand knocked out Renato Sobral as the Brazilian tried to fight Henderson off of his back.
- While Henderson lost to Jake Shields, he can exceedingly close to stopping Jake Shields after a hard over hand right found the mark in the first round of their fight.
- Henderson's right nearly decapitated Michael Bisping at UFC 100.
- A left hook dropped Wanderlei Silva in their second fight at PRIDE 33, but was part of an exchange where Henderson head-hunted with the right.
- In the first fight with Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva was nearly knocked out with Henderson's right hand bomb. Silva would go on to win that fight
A few points to make about Henderson's right hand.
There are other fighters with unique or successful applications of one technique that not only define their game, but identity. Mirko Filipovic used the left high kick throughout his kickboxing and early MMA careers. However, CroCop hasn't had a headkick KO since he fought Wanderlei Silva in 2006. By contrast, Henderson's lethal right hand has only grown in significance as a threat and legitimate fight-ender as his career has progressed.
Kenny Florian was once known for elbows slashing opponents' faces to pieces, but that's no longer even an ancillary part of his game. That isn't the sort of skill that can be meaningfully applied against fighters in the upper echelons of the lightweight division and trying to force it as a high percentage move would come with serious opportunity cost. Coincidentally, as Florian pushed to two title shots, that technique - and even the willingness to apply it - has all but disappeared.
Some fighters are known for unique styles. Mark Coleman as well as Tito Ortiz helped patent and push forward the takedown to ground and pound sequencing. Chuck Liddell was known as a hard puncher who employed considerable takedown defense. Chael Sonnen is the opposite, a dominant wrestler with seemingly impossible-to-stop takedown ability. Melvin Manhoef is a striker who throws everything with maximum power.
But those examples are fighters who've developed fuller styles that are combinations of multiple, related techniques covering a wider swathe of the fighting experience. Henderson's right hand is effective in both kickboxing and ground and pound settings, but isn't cleanly part of a larger "system" of offense. It doesn't stand alone, obviously. Footwork, timing, the ability to gauge distance, refining the motion of the punch and other time-honed distillations all service the punch. Yet, the punch doesn't exist on equal terms with the rest of his offensive skill set. Henderson doesn't rely on the successful application of the supporting cast of techniques as much to make use of the punch. There's a real disruptive, naturally explosive quality to the whole thing.
Those who preach modernity in MMA is synonymous with well-rounded games should take account of this very real outlier. Yes, Dan Henderson uses clinch skills to jockey for position. Yes, he used a takedown last night on Feijao after being rocked to reverse the tide of offense. And yes, Henderson put his hooks in on Feijao's back to keep his opposition flattened before bombing on him. It's inarguable that a more comprehensive skill set improves any fighter's chances for victory. But Henderson, at an elite level in modern MMA, is able to deploy a single weapon that's as impactful as it is simple.
I wouldn't recommend up-and-coming fighters ape Henderson's approach, but I won't deny there's a beautiful simplicity to it all. One man, one right hand. One hall of fame career.