UFC 139 breadkdown: Rua vs. Henderson

Two of the greatest light heavyweights in history will finally

cross paths as former UFC champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua battles

former Pride king Dan Henderson in the main event of UFC 139

Saturday in San Jose, Calif.

Meanwhile, mixed martial arts icon Wanderlei Silva looks to

prove his critics wrong when he battles former Strikeforce

middleweight champion Cung Le in the co-feature.

Here’s a closer look at the main event:

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (20-5) vs. Dan Henderson

(28-8)

In a battle of Pride Fighting Championships legends and all-time

great light heavyweights, world-renowned knockout artists “Shogun”

and Henderson are vying for top contendership in the 205-pound

division. Neither man is a stranger to the title picture as both

are universally recognized as decorated mixed martial artists with

vast accomplishments between them.

Rua, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, won the 2005 Pride

middleweight grand prix and later captured the UFC light

heavyweight championship with a stunning knockout of Lyoto Machida

last May. During his reign of dominance in Japan, Rua was widely

regarded as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.

Henderson, meanwhile, a two-time US Olympian in Greco-Roman

wrestling, won the UFC 17 middleweight tournament, 1999 Rings King

of Kings tournament, Pride welterweight championship, Pride

middleweight championship and, most recently, the Strikeforce light

heavyweight title. Henderson is still the only man to

simultaneously hold two major belts as he was both the Pride

185-pound and 205-pound kingpin when the promotion folded.

Fresh off a first-round knockout of Forrest Griffin at UFC 134

this past August, in which he avenged his shocking 2007 upset loss

in his UFC debut, the 29-year-old “Shogun” is eager for a shot at

reclaiming the title he lost to Jon Jones in March. His career

victims have included Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Antonio Rogerio

Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, Ricardo Arona, Kevin Randleman, Mark

Coleman, Chuck Liddell and Machida.

Based primarily in his native Brazil, Rua has been criticized

for his old-school training methods. However, the Brazilian’s

mentality has seemingly altered since he dropped his title as he

warmed to the idea of reuniting with former Chute Boxe head coach

Rafael Cordeiro at his Kings MMA Academy in California, at least

temporarily. However, his camp for this fight was held in Sao Paulo

with Rua repeatedly emphasizing the importance of refining his

boxing.

A multidimensional combat machine, Rua’s vicious muay thai

arsenal has led the way in his career with 17 of his 20 wins coming

by form of knockout. However, Rua is also adept at the submission

game and his wrestling, too, is often overlooked. In fact, Rua’s

takedowns were a vital key in his win over Noguiera at Pride

Critical Countdown 2005. Nonetheless, Rua will be looking to trade

strikes with the crafty American veteran as he ultimately aims to

become the first fighter to put him away.

At age 41, Henderson remains one of the most dangerous punchers

in the division. Since transitioning from Olympic wrestling to

mixed martial arts in 1997, Henderson’s assembled quite the

résumé, defeating the likes of Carlos Newton, Gilbert

Yvel, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Renato Sobral, Renzo Gracie, Vitor

Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, Rich Franklin, Michael Bisping, Renato

Sobral and Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante.

Henderson’s most recent win — a first-round knockout of

legendary heavyweight icon Fedor Emelianenko — is perhaps his

most notable accolade. After all, Henderson fought out of his

weight class against one of the most feared fighters of all time

and he finished him in the first round. Emelianenko’s best days are

certainly behind him, but Henderson’s triumphant performance was a

career highlight that will also infinitely live in MMA highlight

reels.

A co-founder of Team Quest, his home base in Temecula, Calif.,

Henderson’s wrestling, clinch game, dirty boxing and trademark

ground-and-pound have cemented him as one of the best American

mixed martial artists of all time. The former Olympian’s signature

overhand right has become a weapon of choice in recent outings with

Emelianenko, Cavalcante, Sobral and Bisping all succumbing to its

fight-ending power.

Henderson has returned to top form since he dropped a one-sided

unanimous decision to Jake Shields in a 2010 Strikeforce

middleweight title bout. As expected, the weight cut to 185 pounds

has become more difficult with age and Henderson will likely stay

at light heavyweight unless a potential rematch with Anderson Silva

can come to fruition.

When the cage door closes, both Rua and Henderson become

Berserkers. They are rarely involved in dull fights as they

willingly bang in the center of the Octagon, which guarantees fans

will be treated to an entertaining clash on Saturday night. This

matchup was initially expected to take place during the Pride era,

but it never actually materialized.

The quality of Rua’s training camp will be a key factor on fight

night. Little is known about the training partners or methods

employed during his preparation in Brazil. With Henderson, however,

there is little doubt he’ll be ready to grind on Rua for five

rounds.

If Rua has undergone an adequate camp, he should be favored to

prevail based primarily on his youth and athleticism. Furthermore,

he’s a more dynamic striker who utilizes kicks and knees to his

advantage, though his takedown defense will be pivotal. With

injuries recently plaguing the Brazilian, the more consistent

Henderson will be looking to exploit Rua in his weakest areas.

The clinch will be Henderson’s saving grace when Rua is winging

wild punches his way. If Henderson effectively times his

counter-punches and frustrates Rua by tying him up and taking him

down, he could prevail after 25 grueling minutes in a fight that

could unquestionably end the moment a big shot connects.

Verdict: Henderson via decision