Dan Henderson Wins Strikeforce Gold and Holds off Father Time
By Matthew DeGonzaque, Doghouse Boxing (March 28, 2011)
March 5, 2011: the day Dan Henderson's career was resurrected.

That was the day that 40-year-old Dan Henderson defeated Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante to win the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship. It was the biggest victory of Henderson's career since his February 2007 victory over Wanderlei Silva.

It couldn't come at a better time for Henderson after his defeat last April at the hands of then-Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields. It was a fight most expected Henderson to win with relative ease. At first, that prediction looked to be correct as Henderson almost knocked out Shields in the opening seconds of the fight with his trademark right hand. However, Shields survived the first round and Henderson's ability to fight immediately declined afterward. For the rest of the fight, “Hendo” was slower, exhausted and subsequently dominated by Shields.

Rounds two through five all played out the same way with Henderson easily being taken down and mounted by Shields. Shields landed at will while Henderson, an Olympic wrestler, lay on his back, helplessly unable to show any defense or mobility on the ground. Henderson lost a unanimous decision in what was easily the worst performance of his career.

After the poor performance in the Shields fight, it was thought that “Hendo” was finished as a top-level fighter. He was 39 years old and had a lot of mileage on his body after a 14-year career in the sport. Maybe his time at the top off the mountain was finally over.

Henderson blamed the loss on a bad weight cut (down to 185 pounds) and injury heading into the fight. Afterward, he decided to move back to light heavyweight (205 pounds) to avoid future problems with weight.

Henderson returned last December with a first-round knockout victory over Renato '”Babalu” Sobral. It was a great victory but a fight Henderson was expected to win, failing to erase the stigma of his poor performance against Shields. Henderson needed a major victory to restore his reputation and show that he was still a force to be reckoned with.

Following the win over “Babalu,” a fight between Henderson and Cavalcante was signed for March 5th. “Feijao,” a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt (who also had the advantage of training alongside previous Henderson opponents the Nogueira brothers and Anderson Silva) became the light heavyweight champion last August when he TKO'd the undefeated Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in the third round.

The first round started out badly for “Hendo” when “Feijao” floored him 78 seconds into the fight. It was a close round that started off very shaky for Henderson but he managed to come back and take control for the rest of the round, quickly recovering before wrestling Cavalcante to the ground. Henderson then used his wrestling to control and press “Feijao” against the cage, landing knees to the body.

The second round was a much more dominating round for the challenger as Henderson went after Cavalcante and kept him on his back foot the entire round. Henderson used his strikes and leg kicks on Cavalcante’s feet, outpointing him before using his wrestling skills to take him down twice during the round.

The third round started with Henderson looking to finish “Feijao.” He came out looking to exchange and landed a straight right hand against the cage, causing Cavalcante to clinch and circle away from Henderson. Henderson landed a couple of inside left kicks to set up another shot and seconds later, landed another straight right hand that dropped Cavalcante. Henderson immediately took his back and landed several unanswered strikes until the referee stopped the fight 50 seconds into the third round.

In that victory, Henderson (27-8) set two records that night. First, he became the only man to win championships in the UFC, Pride and Strikeforce. That's a triple-crown achievement that no one else can lay claim to. Second, at 40 years young, he is the second oldest fighter to ever win a world championship, behind only Randy Couture at 43.

His dominating performances against “Babalu” and “Feijao” indeed give credence to the theory that Henderson's struggles against Shields were injury and weight-related. This fight showed that 1) “Hendo” can still compete against the top guys in the division and 2) the Shields fight is a distant memory now.

Beating Cavalcante for the title puts Henderson back in line for big fights and not just in Strikeforce- although that is where his next fight will take place. The obvious next challenge is the winner of the Gegard Mousasi-Mike Kyle fight in May. Mousasi, in particular, has a style that could make for an exciting battle against Henderson. There is also still the outside chance of a super-fight against Fedor Emelianenko, who Henderson has been interested in fighting since signing with Strikeforce. Critics and fans quickly dismissed the idea of a fight between the two but judging on Fedor's recent performances, it might be a more competitive fight than fans would anticipate.

With the recent news that Zuffa (the parent company of the UFC) purchased Strikeforce last weekend, we could also see Henderson’s return to the UFC. With only one more fight left on his Strikeforce deal, Henderson could choose to pursue fights in either promotion. If he chooses to return to the UFC, he could still chase after that Anderson Silva rematch or remain at light heavyweight to challenge the best light heavies the organization has to offer.

No matter what direction he decides, Henderson is now in the driver’s seat amid a traffic jam of intriguing fights and is itching to bury the pedal. He’s even got a belt to fasten before he takes off.

Questions or comments,
Matthew at: mdegonzaque@hotmail.com

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