At age 40, it was quite an accomplishment for Dan Henderson to capture the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio. His next task will be one that's proven even more difficult: holding on to the belt.
By defeating Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante with a vicious overhand right and a flurry of rights on the ground for a KO at 50 seconds of the third round, Henderson became the fifth straight challenger to take down a first-time defending champ at light heavy. Cavalcante took the title last August from Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, who'd captured it in April from Gegard Mousasi, who'd won it in August 2009 from Renato "Babalu" Sobral, who'd become champ in November 2008 by beating Bobby Southworth.
And around and around it goes.
"Feijao" appeared poised to end the vicious cycle in the first round when he connected with an overhand punch that sent Henderson reeling backward onto the canvas. But at that point experience took over -- Olympic-level wrestling experience, that is. When Cavalcante (10-3) charged in to try to finish, Henderson (27-8) grabbed a leg and bulled the champ to the mat, ending up in full guard but with time to clear his head. "He caught me with a good dinger in the first round for a second," Henderson, a member of the 1992 and '98 U.S. Olympic wrestling teams, told Mauro Ranallo in an interview in the cage afterward. "But I felt like I finished the round real strong."
Strong is a good word for it. After the grappling settled into a stalemate and referee Dan Miragliotta stood up the fighters, Henderson almost immediately closed the distance and bulled Cavalcante against the cage. "Feijao" was the bigger man, by appearance, but Henderson's compact strength and Greco Roman chops gave him the edge whenever the fighters were in a clinch, which Henderson made sure was often.
Cavalcante had another moment in the second round, though, this time by reversing a Henderson takedown and seizing top position. But he couldn't advance or do any damage, so Miragliotta stood them up. And once again Henderson took the fight to the cage, controlling "Feijao" in the clinch. No doubt Randy Couture was enjoying this kind of action from his cageside seat.
"You know, I kind of wanted to be real patient in this fight," said Henderson, who landed 31 power strikes to Cavalcante's 7, according to CompuStrike statistics. "Obviously, I would have liked to knock him out in the first minute, but I felt that he's a tough guy and he's real powerful. I wanted to be patient and hopefully catch him in the third, fourth or fifth round. And that's what happened."
Indeed it did. And Henderson didn't wait long to make it happen. About 45 seconds into the third, he unleashed a right hand that appeared to just graze Cavalcante. But Henderson had put everything he had into the punch, and "Feijao" was throwing a left at the same time. The combination was deadly, as Cavalcante's body was turning with the momentum of his missed punch and Henderson's momentum drove him forward into the champ. Henderson ended up essentially driving Cavalcante into the mat face-first, like a blitzing linebacker taking down a quarterback in mid-throw. Cavalcante's face bounced off the canvas, and Henderson ended up on his back, exploding with right hand after right hand -- six of them, all hard -- until Miragliotta pulled him off.
"It's a punch that I work on all the time," said Henderson. "I threw it, landed it and jumped on top."
And then he strapped his new belt around his waist. It's been a long time coming. The former Pride middleweight and welterweight champion failed in his attempt to take the UFC light heavyweight title away from Quinton "Rampage" Jackson back in 2007. A year later, he was unable to steal the UFC middleweight belt from Anderson Silva. Last April, he tried to capture the Strikeforce middleweight belt but lost a decision to then-champ Jake Shields. Finally, he's again the owner of a championship belt.
"Hopefully," said Henderson, "I can break the curse next time and defend it."
Had Marloes Coenen been just another fighter, she'd have gone home a loser after being mounted and beaten up badly in both the second and third rounds by Liz Carmouche. But Coenen was putting her welterweight championship on the line, and title bouts ask a little more of the fighters.
And that was all the opportunity needed by Coenen (19-4), who seized a better position when the fight went to the mat again in the fourth, and was able to put her formidable jiu-jitsu skills to use, choking out the ex-Marine with a triangle at 1:29.
It was a stunning comeback for the champ, as the Dutchwoman acknowledged, saying afterward, "Liz was whooping my ass."
Indeed, the woman known as "Girl-Rilla" (5-1) was all over Coenen, landing more than four times the strikes of the champ (221 to 48). But Coenen weathered the storm and did what she had to do ... because she had the time to do it.
That's why they call them the championship rounds.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.