Fedor vs. Hendo? Fedor vs. Hendo!
OK, it's debatable whether a meeting of Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson in the summer of 2011 is an exclamation point-worthy event. There's no question, though, that at some point in the history of mixed martial arts -- say, in the winter of 2007, when Emelianenko wore the heavyweight belt of the Pride Fighting Championships and Henderson was the Japanese promotion's champ in both the middleweight and lightweight divisions -- this matchup most certainly would have been an exclamatory happening for the sport. But Fedor is no longer riding a decade-long unbeaten string. Hendo is 40 years old.
Still, Saturday night's Strikeforce main event in a suburb of Chicago (10 p.m. ET, Showtime) is a mouth-watering example of the fan-friendly creativity prevalent in MMA matchmaking. There's no championship on the line, which means there's been no linear, logical progression for either fighter from up-and-coming prospect to serious contender to title-belt challenger. Instead, this is one of those rare, delectable why-not? collisions of champions -- Hendo the current owner of the Strikeforce light heavyweight belt, and Emelianenko, a champ from the past whose name still evokes a kind of regality among devout followers of the sport.
Maybe this summit meeting is coming a few years later than ideal for maximum impact, but it's nonetheless a battle of fighters still capable of firing live ammo. This isn't Joe Louis putting down his
Who's going to win it? Let's break it down:
Maybe this weekend -- facing a man younger but no less experienced (both guys have 35 pro fights), one who's put his body through the meat grinder of combat sports competition for only a single fight in each of the last two years, one who hasn't been the younger man in the cage or ring for several years -- Hendo will finally start acting his age. Don't expect Fedor to show much respect for his elder.
That's all true. But there's another way of looking at it. Coming off a pair of losses, the first two he'd suffered in nearly a decade, Emelianenko is in dire need of a win. Who's he supposed to right the ship against, with Strikeforce's other top heavyweights still occupied by the Grand Prix? Surely not fellow first-round castoffs Andrei Arlovski (been there) or Brett Rodgers (done that).
A rematch with Fabricio Werdum, who started Fedor on his downward spiral last summer, might have been an attractive reclamation fight, but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace wasn't eliminated from the tourney until last month, long after M-1 Global began plotting Fedor's immediate future. Werdum's date with Emelianenko will come, though, you've got to figure.
So will Alistair Overeem's. The Strikeforce heavyweight champion was the one who ousted Werdum, but last week he, too, was bounced from the Grand Prix after declining a September date for a second-round match, saying he needed more time to heal a toe injury. Now he has all the time he needs, and when he's got two healthy feet under him, maybe he can use them to step into a cage with Emelianenko.
For either of those appealing and lucrative bouts to become reality, though, Fedor must beat Henderson. If he loses for the third straight time, no one's going to care when M-1 management announces that its fighter has a free Saturday on his schedule. That's called incentive. That's called career survival. Fedor
Then again ...
That's the thing about determining which fighter hits harder: It's not just about the "harder" part; you've also got to hit. A hard punch will leave a bruise -- unless it doesn't connect, in which case it results in nothing more than a breeze. If Fedor too often swings and misses Saturday night, as he has in his latest fights, a return punch will come his way from the more accurate Hendo and he'll get hit. Hard.
True, Henderson has been alive on this earth for six more biological years than Emelianenko has, but as a fighter he's retained his vitality while Fedor has begun to shrivel up. Hendo acts the part of the younger man.
Yet, with an accomplishment such as that within his grasp, Henderson has no pressure on him. He's not supposed to beat the bigger Emelianenko, "The Last Emperor." And if oddsmakers are right and Hendo fails to conquer Fedor, he can just get up, brush himself off, strap his light heavyweight belt back around his waist and wait for someone to come along and fight him for it. Someone his own size.