Strikeforce: Dan Henderson's Career Highs And Lows

Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson is preparing for yet another tough test, taking on fellow MMA legend, Fedor Emelianenko, in a non-title "super fight" planned for July 30, 2011. Henderson has carved out a legendary career fighting the best in the business ... win or lose. His next fight will be no different. Let's look at Henderson's most memorable moments -- good and bad -- that got him in this position.

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Dan Henderson's Worst Fights, A Top Five List

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Dan Henderson vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Pride 24: "Cold Fury 3"
Marine Messe Fukuoka in Fukuoka, Japan
Dec. 23, 2002

Henderson came into this contest hungry, looking to rebound from a split decision loss at the hands of Ricardo Arona eight months earlier. He had tasted defeat just twice at this point in his career, with the other blemish being a decision loss to Wanderlei Silva in 2000. "Big Nog," however, was on a tear, winning 12 straight fights heading into the bout. In fact, the last time the slick Brazilian jiu-jitsu player tasted defeat was two years earlier thanks to Henderson in the "Rings" 32-man tournament. He was out for revenge. And he'd get it, as well as add an exclamation point, with an armbar submission -- the first time ever that Henderson was forced to tapout. It also marked the first time ever that Henderson dropped back-to-back contest. And it's the only time in his 14-year career that he went an entire year (2002) without winning a fight. Lots of firsts.

Kazuo Misaki vs. Dan Henderson
PRIDE Bushido 12
Nagoya Rainbow Hall in Nagoya, Japan
Aug. 26, 2006

Just four months earlier, Henderson notched a unanimous decision win over Misaki at Pride Bushido 10 in Tokyo. It was his fourth consecutive victory since suffering back-to-back losses to Arona and Nogueira. It was also his first win since winning the Pride FC 2005 Welterweight Grand Prix, as well as the welterweight title, with a decision over Murilo Bustamante in the tournament finals. He was now poised to defend that grand prix crown, drawing Misaki in the quarterfinal round. Instant rematch! Unfortunately, Henderson would go on to lose a decision, getting bounced out of the tournament and failing to duplicate his grand prix glory. Misaki's good luck continued as he went on to win the whole thing despite being eliminated by Paulo Filho in the semifinals. He'd return to beat Denis Kang by split decision when Filho could not continue because of an injury. Some things just aren't meant to be ... for Henderson, anyway.

Dan Henderson vs. Quinton Jackson
UFC 75: "Champion vs. Champion"
The O2 in London, England
Sept. 8, 2007

Henderson was riding high after his sensational knockout win over Wanderlei Silva under the Pride FC banner to claim the middleweight championship. And when Zuffa purchased the Japanese promotion in 2007, it didn't hesitate to book an instant unification bout between Henderson and UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton Jackson. It was a five-round back-and forth war, during which both fighters had their moments. "Rampage," however, apparently had more of them -- at least according to the ringside judges -- who awarded him with a unanimous decision victory, as well as the title of undisputed 205-pound kingpin. To this day Henderson still feels he did enough to win the match, but that likely does little to soothe the sting of defeat.

Dan Henderson vs. Anderson Silva
UFC 82: "Pride of a Champion"
Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio
March 1, 2008

No rest for the wicked. With one failed bid to unite a title behind him, Henderson had a second chance when he took on UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva in his very next appearance. Remember, Henderson was the Pride FC 203- and 185-pound champion when he made his return to the promotion. This time, however, he would have to do it against a man widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. "The Spider" seemed unstoppable, winning his first five fights under the UFC banner in impressive fashion. No one had really even tested him inside the Octagon up until that time. But he certainly had never faced anyone with the wrestling pedigree of Henderson. For the first five minutes, it actually appeared that Silva had finally met his match -- Henderson took him down and pounded on him for the better part of the round, clearly winning it. But things would go south real fast midway through the second frame, and it would end with just eight seconds remaining on the clock, when Henderson succumbed to a rear naked choke. Lord only knows what would have happened in the next few rounds had he been able to hang on for just a little while longer.

Dan Henderson vs. Jake Shields
Strikeforce: "Nashville"
Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee
April 17, 2010

Coming off a spectacular knockout win over Michael Bisping at UFC 100, Henderson's stock had likely never been higher since his win over Silva in the waning days of Pride FC. He and the UFC were unable to strike a new deal and Henderson bolted into the open arms (and checkbook) of rival promotion, Strikeforce. It had a similar situation brewing with its middleweight champion, Jake Shields, who was nearing the end of his contract and would likely demand top dollar. And it was no secret that the UFC would drive up the sale price to lure Shields into the Octagon. Strikeforce booked Henderson opposite Shields in an instant title fight, hoping that he could handle Shields and ultimately demonstrate his true worth (or lack thereof). On paper, Henderson -- who had competed against the best the sport has to offer at 185 pounds and above -- was no match for Shields, a one-dimensional jiu-jitsu fighter whose true weight class was at 170 pounds. And in the first round Henderson was proving as much, ragdolling the much smaller fighter and nearly finishing him. But Shields would weather the storm and turn the tide in the final four rounds, taking Henderson down, mounting him often and coasting to an improbable unanimous decision victory, as well as a lucrative UFC contract. It all happened much to the satisfaction of UFC President Dana White, who told everyone and anyone that Henderson's best days were behind him. Perhaps that night, but clearly not forever.

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Dan Henderson's Best Fights, A Top Five List

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Dan Henderson vs. Renato Sobral
Rings: "King of Kings"
Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Japan
February 26, 2000

Thirty-two men enter, one man leaves. That was the concept behind the event that Fighting Network Rings (RINGS) assembled in 1999, pitting the best fighters at the time -- from nine different countries -- against one another in a single elimination tournament that took four months to complete. It was a prehistoric period for mixed martial arts (MMA), but several notable fighters such as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, Renato Sobral, Renzo Gracie, Maurice Smith, Gilbert Yvel and Dave Menne were all in the running. It was Henderson, however, who somehow emerged victorious in the end. Sure, he was fresh off a middleweight tournament win at UFC 17 months prior, but the decorated Olympic wrestler had no business winning major MMA tournaments. Not just after turning pro two years earlier, anyway. And it's not like he had a cupcake path, either. Henderson had to go through Bakouri Gogitidze, Hiromitsu Kanehara, Yvel, Nogueira and finally "Babalu" in the finals. It was the start of something special.

Dan Henderson vs. Murilo Bustamante
Pride Shockwave 2005
Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan
Dec. 31, 2005

Pride FC had big plans for Murilo Bustamante when it lured the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace away from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) shortly after he successfully defended his middleweight belt for the first and only time against Matt Lindland in 2003. However, he got off to a rocky start, losing three consecutive fights, including a technical knockout finish at the heavy hands of Henderson. In 2005, he entered the Pride FC Welterweight Grand Prix, stringing together two straight victories and securing a spot in the final opposite Henderson, who literally punched his ticket to the championship fight with two knockout wins in the opening and semifinal rounds. But once again, it was Henderson who would prevail, earning a split decision from the judges and taking home the 185-pound tournament trophy, as well as the division championship. Another Henderson hardware haul.

Dan Henderson vs. Wanderlei Silva
PRIDE 33: "Second Coming"
Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada
Feb. 24, 2007

For most of his career, Henderson was a two-division fighter, stuck between the 185 and 205 pound weight classes. However, he was much more successful against lighter competition. Losses to Ricardo Arona, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and his brother, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, made it seem pretty clear that Henderson was in over his head in the 205-pound division. He'd start to change that perception, however, when he decisioned Vitor Belfort at Pride 32: "The Real Deal" in 2006. And he'd prove it wrong altogether when he scored an improbable, and devastating, knockout of Wanderlei Silva in their rematch four months later. Earlier in their careers, "The Axe Murderer" registered a unanimous decision win over Henderson. He would go on an epic championship run, successfully defending his middleweight title several times over the next six years. That would come to a crashing end when Henderson separated him from consciousness with a blistering left hand on the button, which came shortly after a highlight-reel spinning backfist that wobbled the Brazilian. It marked the first time ever in MMA competition that a fighter held two major titles at the same time in different divisions. Dan Henderson, setting records at 36.

Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping
UFC 100: "Lesnar vs. Mir 2"
Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada2
July 11, 2009

It was the centennial event for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). It was a hallmark in the history of the promotion, which was headlined by its two biggest draws, heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and 170-pound deity Georges St. Pierre. Henderson was also on the card, taking on the polarizing Michael Bisping, the culmination of their "U.S. vs. U.K." coaching rivalry on the set of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 9. "The Count" was a viable and marketable middleweight contender at the time, and if he could defeat Henderson, was likely guaranteed a title shot against division champion Anderson Silva in the near future. Henderson detonated those hopes with a thundering right hook, which he followed up with a flying face forearm smash as Bisping lay supine, stiff as a board, on the canvas. It was the biggest highlight on the UFC's biggest ever show. Henderson stole the show, scoring one of the greatest, career-defining knockouts ever against one of the sport's most reviled personalities ... on the biggest stage possible. Clutch.

Dan Henderson vs. Rafael Cavalcante
Strikeforce: "Feijao vs. Henderson"
Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio
March 5, 2011

After his epic win over Bisping, with his stock at an all-time high, Henderson opted to walkaway from the UFC after the parties failed to agree on the terms of a contract extension. Strikeforce quickly swooped in and signed him to a deal, as well as rewarded him with an instant title shot against middleweight champion Jake Shields. Despite a marked experience and size advantage, Henderson would drop a disappointing five-round unanimous decision ... even though he nearly finished the fight in the first round. He would rebound with a rematch against Sobral in a light heavyweight number one contender eliminator match in his next fight, more than a decade after their first encounter. He would quickly get back in the knockout win column and earn a crack at Rafael Cavalcante's 205-pound belt. It took him three rounds, but Henderson eventually connected with a flurry of powerful punches that led to a technical knockout stoppage. He was once again crowned champion at the ripe age of 40. An accomplishment that seemingly never gets tired, especially when it happens at such an advanced stage of a career. Old man strength prevails once again.

(Note: This list appears in chronological order. Feel free to share your favorite, and not-so-favorite, "Hendo" memories in the comments section below.)

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Strikeforce: Dan Henderson's Career Highs And Lows

With a crushing right hand, granite chin and Olympic-level wrestling, Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson has found tremendous success throughout his 14-year mixed martial arts (MMA) career.

"Hendo," 40, was the first and only fighter in the history of the sport to win two titles simultaneously in two separate divisions, holding the Pride FC welterweight (185 pounds) and middleweight (205 pounds) belts at the same time.

That was after he was able to win the UFC 17 middleweight tournament way back in 1998 -- less than a year after his professional MMA debut. Two years after which, in early 2000, he won the Rings: "King of Kings" heavyweight tournament, defeating notables such as Renato Sobral, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Gilbert Yvel. Henderson also took home the Pride FC Middleweight Grand Prix Tournament title in 2005.

He's a legend.

There isn't much he hasn't done with the exception of hoisting an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) belt. Although he did compete for the middleweight and light heavyweight championships upon his return to the Octagon in 2007, losing the back-to-back contests to Quinton Jackson and Anderson Silva, respectively.

Those two defeats highlight the few hiccups Henderson has had along the way. Like most other experienced fighters, he has also dropped matches he wasn't supposed to lose and turned in far from perfect performances. The Temecula, Calif., native has also been branded "Decision Dan" -- nearly 50 percent of his 35 career fights have gone the distance -- which is far from flattering for an audience that constantly craves spectacular finishes.

Got to take the good with the bad.

And that's exactly what we plan to do in this feature, traveling back in time to look at Henderson's best and worst career-defining moments to date as he prepares to take on another legend, Fedor Emelianenko, in the main event of Strikeforce: "Fedor vs. Henderson" on July 30, 2011.

The "super fight," which is scheduled for the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill., is a non-title heavyweight bout against a man who is widely regarded as the best ever (despite his recent slump). It's just the latest in a long line of challenges that he'll likely tackle head on -- like he always has and does -- for better or worse.

Just another day in Henderson's six-sided office.

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