Henderson proves he's still strong at 40, more Strikeforce analysis
Imagine you are in a dark alley with one escape route guarded by Dan Henderson, the only other one protected by Renato "Babalu" Sobral. (OK, I realize that dark alleys tend to have just one way out, but a two-outlet dark place like "a wooden covered bridge over a bucolic Vermont stream" just doesn't sound as menacing.) Anyway, which way would you go? Given that no-win choice -- and fully acknowledging that I might be in trouble if I had to fight off even Strikeforce ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. to get out -- the guy in whose direction I would turn is Henderson.
Look at Babalu. With those dark, intense eyes, the scruffy beard and all that ink covering his body, he has the appearance of every mass murderer you've ever seen. His entrance music should be the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer," and he probably ought to use that song title as his nickname instead of one that evokes "I Love Lucy." Now, Babalu has acted the gentleman in every interview I've seen, but going by appearances alone, I'd naturally take my chances with the soft-spoken, often smiling Henderson, who looks like your little brother's junior high wrestling teammate.
Boy would that be a mistake.
Sobral was way more equipped to defend himself than I'd be when he stepped in the Strikeforce cage with Henderson in the main event of Saturday night's fight card in St. Louis, but he had no escape route either. Henderson used a gizmo from deep in his tool box to do a job on Babalu in just 1 minute, 53 seconds.
In recent years, Henderson has come to rely on his robust right fist and more of the same. And ultimately, he decided the fight with that weapon, but only after returning to his roots. The two-time Olympic wrestler was patient with his punches out of the gate, cocking his ominous fist and circling at center cage with Sobral, who kept his distance and scored with a few leg kicks. But when Babalu, after some glancing punches sent him against the cage, grabbed a leg for a takedown, Henderson remembered who he was. He stuffed the takedown, no sweat. He ended up on top, in half-guard, then stood up out of it and pummeled the Brazilian with two hard rights. Henderson (26-8) then climbed back on top, threw a couple more shots as Sobral (36-9) went limp, and referee John McCarthy pulled him off.
Henderson's right hand won the fight. His wrestling put him in position to do so.
"My body felt better than it has for a long time," Henderson, fighting at light heavyweight (205 pounds) for the first time in Strikeforce after losing to then-middleweight champion Jake Shields in his debut with the promotion back in April, said in a post-fight interview in the cage. "I'm just happy I could perform the way I can. I was trying to be patient. I knew that it would come, but it came a little faster than I actually expected."
Asked by Showtime interviewer Mauro Ranallo to watch the knockout on the big screen in the arena and give his thoughts, all Henderson said was, "Ouch!"
Henderson also beat Sobral what seems like a lifetime ago, in the final of the Rings King of Kings tournament in 2000 in Tokyo. That was in only his third year in mixed martial arts, and Henderson has gone on to put in many a rugged mile, from winning titles in two Pride weight divisions to competing for belts in both the UFC and Strikeforce. At age 40, he insists he has more to do.
"A lot of people thought I was done in this sport," said Henderson. "I'm a long way from done."
• You have to feel for Paul Daley. Robbie Lawler knows how he feels.
Just minutes before Dan Henderson flattened Renato Sobral, Daley scored what at the time appeared to be the knockout of the night, putting Scott Smith on his face after just 2:09 of the first round. Daley's destruction might still qualify as the evening's best, considering the precision with which he softened Smith and the awe-inspiring power with which he put him away.
Daley dropped Smith with a left-right combo a minute into the fight but coolly didn't pounce, knowing Smith's reputation for being dangerous no matter how hurt he appears. Patience paid off a minute later when Daley staggered Smith with two lefts, then hit him with two more. Smith fought back, as you would expect, but Daley covered up and blocked everything thrown his way. Except Smith's final punch. Daley just stepped out of the way of that one and unleashed a short left that put Smith on the mat. On his face.
At this very moment back in a locker room, Lawler was celebrating what he surely thought was KO of the night in the fight previous. He needed only 50 seconds to put out the lights on an out-of-his-element Matt Lindland. The 40-year-old wrestler tried to stand and trade with "Ruthless" Robbie, and for his trouble he was knocked cold, an uppercut and a straight right putting him on the mat, a lunging right finishing the job. Lindland remained on the mat for a full 2 minutes.
So the KO of the night was Lawler's ... then Daley's ... then Henderson's.
• Somewhere, Brock Lesnar was smiling. Nah, the ex-UFC heavyweight champ surely doesn't get cable in the hunting cabin where he's no doubt hunkered down in the woods of the northern Midwest. So he likely was unaware that Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, who had bashed Lesnar as a "fake fighter" in a recent interview, was being bashed himself and putting up not much more than a fake fight after Mike Kyle dropped him with a right hand 30 seconds into their heavyweight prelim.
Silva remained on his back for the rest of that initial round and took a beating, but he sure made up for it in the second. After his sloppy shoot was easily stuffed by Kyle -- hey, the guy trains with Cain Velasquez, so don't even try that with him -- Silva ended up getting his undersized opponent (Kyle was 219 pounds, Silva 263) on his back by sidestepping a wild punch and taking advantage of Kyle being off balance. Silva climbed on top, nearly choked him out, then pounded his way to the win.
After being so thoroughly beaten up in the first, it was quite the impressive comeback by Silva, reminiscent of the work done against a similarly dominant Shane Carwin last July by some guy named Lesnar.
• No doubt Strikeforce and Showtime would have loved to have had the ratings boost provided by Herschel Walker, who was scheduled to fight but was injured in training.
Instead, the fight card got another former Southeast Conference football player.
Ovince Saint Proux, who in the early 2000s played linebacker at Tennessee, put on a dominant performance against Benji Radach, winning a unanimous decision that included a 30-25 score and a 30-26, along with the less audacious 30-27.