Here's a fun bit of trivia in advance of Saturday night's Strikeforce light heavyweight title fight: when 40-year-old challenger Dan Henderson represented the USA in the 1992 Olympic Games, champion Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante was all of 11 years old.
By now Henderson (26-8) has just about been through it all as a professional fighter. He debuted in the UFC with two victories in one night to claim the middleweight tournament title at UFC 17. He knocked out Wanderlei Silva to become Pride middleweight champion in the last days of Japan's preeminent MMA promotion.
Now he saunters into yet another big fight with yet another easy, seen-it-all grin stamped into a face that boasts more dents and dings than a '62 Volkswagen. It's almost enough to make you wonder, does Henderson even get pumped up for this stuff anymore?
Not that I'm questioning the man's competitive fire, mind you. Anybody who thinks he's just trying to collect a few final paychecks before he settles in his recliner for good can ask Renato "Babalu" Sobral whether Hendo still has it. The sound of his right hand thumping off Sobral's skull ought to be enough to make anyone on the Strikeforce roster lose a little sleep.
But in the champion, Henderson faces a tough Brazilian who has already stymied one accomplished wrestler. Cavalcante took the Strikeforce 205-pound title from "King" Mo Lawal last August, and he did it not just by stuffing takedowns, but by bouncing right back to his feet like he was spring-loaded on the few occasions where he was put down. Very quickly the question shifted from whether Lawal could get him down to whether he could keep him there. When the answer to the latter turned out to be no, Lawal seemed to lose confidence in his ability to continue doing the former.
Henderson faces a similar challenge against the hard-hitting "Feijao." As much faith as Henderson surely has in his own one-punch power, standing and trading with the man who has won nearly all his bouts via TKO is a bit too much like rolling the dice. The surer bet for Henderson is to put Cavalcante on his back and flip the old ground-and-pound switch.
Cavalcante has never gone the distance in his pro career, and he's certainly never done five five-minute rounds. Henderson, with his wrestler's love of a long grind, could very well exploit that fact. Then again, while Henderson's gone the full five rounds in two prior title fights, he lost both times. And it's not like he's gotten any younger since then ...
The good news for Strikeforce middleweight Tim Kennedy (12-3) is that he finally found someone to fight him after months of waiting. The bad news, at least for fans, is it's not exactly the fight anyone was hoping for.
Kennedy said he'd hoped to face old foe Jason "Mayhem" Miller, who he split a pair of fights with in recent years and who is reportedly as eager as Kennedy is for a rubber match. Instead Strikeforce booked him against the little-known Luke Rockhold, who later pulled out with an injury, and then finally settled on Dutch striker Melvin Manhoef (24-8-1).
With Manhoef coming off two straight losses in 2010, it seems like a fight where Kennedy has more to lose than gain. Yes, Manhoef is an exciting fighter to watch. As long as the action stays on the feet, he fights like a 16-year-old drives -- fast and without regard for future consequences. At the same time, his complete lack of a ground game makes him seem like a relatively easy mark for anyone with the ability to put him on his back and exploit his well-documented weakness with submission defense.
If Kennedy wants it, that path to victory is certainly open to him. If he feels like recklessly tempting fate he might opt to keep it standing and beat Manhoef at his own game, if only because he wants to prove how well-rounded and exciting to watch he is. There are a lot of ways for that to go very wrong, and even if it goes right you'll probably still need medical attention when it's all over.
This fight could easily be decided on the basis of whether Kennedy's smart enough to know a good idea when he sees one. My guess is he does, no matter what the devils on his shoulder might be encouraging him to try in the stand-up game.
The original plan was to have the one-night tournament winner, Miesha Tate, challenge for the Strikeforce women's 135-pound title. That sounded like a fine idea, but when Tate was forced to withdraw from the bout and Strikeforce replaced her with Liz Carmouche, the response from most MMA fans was, who?
Carmouche (4-0) hasn't done anything especially worthy of a shot at champion Marloes Coenen (18-4), which sucks a lot of the energy out of this title fight. It's fighting simply for the sake of fighting, and that's exactly what championship bouts are not supposed to be.
Coenen has more than five times the experience that Carmouche does, and her submissions game is among the best in the women's 135-pound division. As long as she didn't stop caring as soon as she heard Carmouche's name, Coenen can probably win this one however and whenever she wants. It should be relatively quick, but don't expect it to be terribly meaningful.