Strikeforce: Fedor Emilianenko vs. Dan Henderson preview
Two of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in mixed martial arts history will collide in a heavyweight superfight at the Sears Center Arena when Fedor Emelianenko, the last reigning Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight kingpin, looks to rebound from back-to-back losses against Dan Henderson, a former Pride two-division champion and current Strikeforce 205-pound ruler.
Here's a complete breakdown of the fights Strikeforce has lined up for Saturday night:
Dan Henderson (27-8) vs. Fedor Emelianenko (31-3)
In Henderson's first fight at heavyweight since Pride 24 in December 2002, the Strikeforce light heavyweight titleholder will move up in weight to challenge the legendary Russian wrecking machine in a fight for the ages.
Henderson, 40, has competed for the biggest MMA organizations on the planet. The former US Olympian and NCAA Division I wrestler started his career in 1997 in Brazil before winning the UFC 17 tournament and going undefeated for the Rings promotion in Japan, where he earned notable decisions over Gilbert Yvel, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Renato "Babalu" Sobral.
Henderson tasted defeat for the first time in his career when he joined the Pride Fighting Championships in 2000, losing a decision against Wanderlei Silva in his promotional debut. Henderson's run in Pride would be a memorable one, however, as the Team Quest co-founder would amass wins over a who's who of the sport's elite, including Renzo Gracie, Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Murilo Bustamante, Kazuo Misaki and Vitor Belfort, before avenging his loss against "The Axe Murderer" at Pride 33 in 2007. Henderson recorded a spectacular third-round knockout over Silva to claim the Pride middleweight title and become the only Pride or UFC fighter to simultaneously hold two major championships.
After the UFC's acquisition of Pride, Henderson suffered back-to-back losses in title-unification clashes with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Anderson Silva before going on a three-fight winning streak, including a highlight-reel KO win over Michael Bisping at UFC 100.
Though Henderson emerged victorious, a contract dispute led to his departure from the UFC and subsequent signing with Strikeforce. Henderson signed on the dotted line about one year before the UFC acquired Strikeforce, and CEO Scott Coker brought in Henderson with the hope he would dethrone then-middleweight champion Jake Shields before he departed for the UFC. The debut was a career low for Henderson, as Shields utilized his grappling skills to control the California native over five rounds.
Many questioned whether Henderson could rebound from the one-sided loss, but he did so impressively with back-to-back knockouts of "Babalu" and Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante — giving Henderson the promotion's 205-pound title.
One year since his debut for the California-based organization, Henderson is now a champion trying to extend his winning ways at heavyweight, while his opponent, once seemingly indomitable, is in a must-win situation after successive defeats.
Emelianenko, 34, is widely acknowledged as MMA royalty and considered by most to be the greatest heavyweight in history. His beginnings in MMA can be linked to Henderson, as Emelianenko also competed for the Rings promotion, where he recorded notable decisions over "Babalu" and Ricardo Arona.
Unlike Henderson, however, Emelianenko would not lose his Pride debut in June 2002. Instead, Emelianenko would enjoy an unprecedented period of dominance over the heavyweight division, during which he triumphed over Semmy Schilt, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.
After Pride dissolved, Emelianenko signed with the defunct Affliction promotion and recorded resounding stoppage wins over former UFC heavyweight champions Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski. Emelianenko's third Affliction bout against Josh Barnett fell apart when the "Babyfaced Assassin" failed his drug test, a development that ultimately led the brand to fold.
Emelianenko was victorious in his Strikeforce debut, overcoming a tough first round to stop then-unbeaten juggernaut Brett Rogers in the middle period.
In Emelianenko's next bout, the unthinkable transpired as he suffered his first legitimate loss against underrated grappling ace Fabricio Werdum, succumbing to a triangle armbar in just over a minute. The once-unstoppable Russian was unable to rebound in the first leg of the heavyweight grand prix as Antonio Silva overpowered and brutalized him with ground-and-pound before a doctor stopped it before the start of the final round.
Looking to rebound from back-to-back losses for the first time in his storied career, another setback could lead to Emelianenko possibly retiring from the sport.
A multiple-time combat sambo gold medalist, Emelianenko possesses excellent throws, trips and takedown techniques. He is also a powerhouse who has crushed adversaries with his undeniable knockout power. With 16 submission victories on his record, he is a savvy wrestler who uses a calculated offensive assault and intelligent defensive awareness.
On the other hand, Henderson is a Greco-Roman wrestling specialist. He punishes opponents with dirty boxing in the clinch and often finishes fights with his lethal overhand right. On the mat, Henderson is a ground-and-pound specialist, though his submission game has improved over the years.
Stylistically, these are two evenly matched legends with incredible résumés. Neither fighter has ever been knocked out, and both possess the power to finish a fight at any instant. Emelianenko is the superior submission specialist, but Henderson is a more accomplished wrestler. If the action hits the mat, Henderson's patience will be critical if he hopes to avoid getting caught in one of Emelianenko's patented armbars.
Henderson is anchored at Team Quest; Emelianenko often holds his training camps on Russian soil, which has led to criticism of his evolution as a mixed martial artist. Emelianenko is still great, but he lacks the patience and poise that made him a force to be reckoned with during his days in Japan. "The Last Emperor" was calmer during his ground-and-pound beating on Nogueira in Pride compared to his reckless onslaught on Werdum in June 2010, which ended with him submitting. While it's true Emelianenko has not gone the distance since 2005, a strategy that acknowledges that possibility is a key to his success.
Henderson has submitted only three times in his career, but he could very well be overpowered by the Russian judo black belt, who should be about 20 pounds heavier come fight night. Henderson has all the tools at his disposal, but Emelianenko's fight-ending submissions will become an even bigger danger because of his weight advantage.
This is a tough fight to call, as both fighters are in the latter stages of their legendary MMA journeys. However, Emelianenko is too desperate for a win and will likely showcase an improved game plan Saturday night. If he wraps his legs around an arm or ankle, Henderson will have no choice but to tap out in agony.
The Strikeforce female welterweight championship is up for grabs as the Dutch queen, Coenen, looks to defend her crown against the American Team Alpha Male product, Tate.
Coenen, 30, has won 14 fights by submission. As a member of the famed Golden Glory Gym, Coenen has improved significantly as a kickboxer, and her long reach gives her an edge against smaller opponents.
Tate, 24, is far less experienced as she carries a five-fight winning streak into her first title shot. The high school wrestling and submission grappling standout lost to the former champion Kaufman on a Strikeforce Challengers card in May 2009 but has since rebounded with wins over the likes of Bellator champion Zoila Gurgel, Maiju Kujala and Hitomi Akano.
However, Coenen's edge in experience and improved striking could be difference makers. Tate would be well-advised to take her down, but she will consequently enter dangerous territory. Tate might steal some early rounds, but she will eventually fall victim to the Dutch champion's submission prowess.
In a battle featuring two of Strikeforce's top middleweights, the US Army veteran, Kennedy, meets the "Ruthless" former EliteXC torchbearer, Lawler.
Kennedy, 31, has competed in only 16 pro fights after debuting in August 2001, spending lots of time abroad while serving in the military. The Greg Jackson student has since made MMA his top priority, submitting the likes of Nick Thompson, Zak Cummings, Trevor Prangley and Melvin Manhoef to earn his status as a top middleweight.
The California native lost a hard-fought decision against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza for the vacant Strikeforce 185-pound title, but he has had his sights set on redemption ever since.
Lawler, 29, also made his debut in 2001, but he has since racked up 26 fights with 18 wins. A longtime member of the H.I.T. Squad alongside UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes, Lawler overcame a rough stint in the UFC by claiming the SuperBrawl, Icon Sport and EliteXC middleweight titles with wins over Falaniko Vitale, Frank Trigg and Murilo "Ninja" Rua.
The last reigning EliteXC champ has recorded highlight-reel knockout wins over Manhoef and Matt Lindland under the Strikeforce banner, while dropping a razor-thin decision to Renato "Babalu" Sobral and suffering a submission loss to Jake Shields.
Lawler submitted to the current Strikeforce champion "Jacare" in his most recent bout and is looking to get back into title contention by dispatching the patriotic rising star.
Both fighters have solid wrestling pedigrees, though Kennedy is a more dangerous submission artist. Submissions have been Lawler's Achilles' heel in the past, so he will likely try to keep the fight standing and pick apart the fellow California native.
We can undoubtedly expect a competitive meeting between two durable middleweights. Lawler possesses devastating power in his hands. If Kennedy is unable to grind him out on the mat, he could be in trouble and Lawler should outpoint him with strikes. But Kennedy's pressure will be unrelenting.
The confident Brit's knockout of Scott Smith in his promotional debut was a candidate for "Knockout of the Year." Another win over Yuya Shirai overseas earned Daley a crack at 170-pound champion Nick Diaz in April.
Daley had his moments during the fight, nearly finishing Diaz with a barrage of strikes before succumbing to a flurry late in the opening stanza. The Team Rough House member is not in UFC president Dana White's good books, so he desperately needs to get back on the winning track if he hopes to continue fighting under the Zuffa banner.
Woodley, 29, is unbeaten in his campaign with wins over Rudy Bears, Nathan Coy, Andre Galvao and Tarec Saffiedine. The former NCAA Division I wrestler and Big 12 champion has excelled since taking up MMA in 2009, constantly evolving along the way. In addition to his sound wrestling base, Woodley has also developed his hands and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu while training at American Top Team in Florida.
However, Woodley's blueprint to victory will revolve around his wrestling fundamentals. He should have no intention of trading fists with the British knockout artist if he intends to prevail on Saturday night.
Daley, meanwhile, will need to use his improved sprawl to keep Woodley on his feet. He will likely be taken down early on, but his ability to recover and return to a vertical base will determine who wins. If Daley can capitalize standing, he will annihilate the Missouri native with his heavy hands.
Verdict: Daley via KO, Round 1
Scott Smith (17-8) vs. Tarec Saffiedine (10-3)
In a crossroads fight for "Hands of Steel" Smith, he looks to rebound from two losses against Saffiedine, an unheralded Team Quest product.
Smith, 32, made his debut in 2001 and has competed for several major promotions, including the UFC, EliteXC and Strikeforce. The Nevada native has dropped bouts against Patrick Cote, Ed Herman, Robbie Lawler, Nick Diaz and Paul Daley, but his fairy-tale knockout wins over Pete Sell, Benji Radach and Cung Le have been career highlights.
Saffiedine, 24, is still a relative novice to the sport, though he can already benefit from quality experience competing on the international circuit. Saffiedine has vanquished Seichi Ikemoto, James Terry, Nate Moore and Brock Larson, but he is looking to rebound from a decision loss to Tyron Woodley in January.
The seasoned Belgian striker also possesses a grappling advantage, making this a highly unfavorable matchup for Smith. Saffiedine will punish the aggressive American over three rounds with an array of devastating strikes. If he fails to put him away, he will get a clean sweep on the judges' cards.