Thursday, July 28, 2011 | 7 p.m.
It’s inaccurate to assume that matchmaking in mixed martial arts promotions has gotten away from booking fights solely for fans’ enjoyment.
The main event of Saturday’s Strikeforce card in Chicago, which will air via tape delay on Showtime at 11 on the West Coast, proves otherwise. A heavyweight matchup between Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson has fans clamoring, but it’s a bout that doesn’t make much sense for either fighter.
Emelianenko and Henderson are two of the most popular and well-known mixed martial artists in the world, but their careers are in drastically different places.
Emelianenko, the greatest heavyweight in MMA history, has lost two straight after going unbeaten for nearly 10 years. Henderson has only lost once in his past six fights and captured the Strikeforce light heavyweight belt his last time out.
But instead of defending it for the first time, Henderson will fight a man who has weighed as much as 50 pounds heavier than him throughout their careers.
“I’m not going to feel outmatched or small in there,” Henderson said. “I’m planning on going out there and not fighting right through the middle of his power and lifting his weight around, but at the same time, being able to move around him.”
For Emelianenko (31-3 MMA, 1-2 SF), the Henderson (27-8 MMA, 2-1 SF) fight is one without any major upside. If he wins, Emelianenko will have beaten an opponent who has spent a majority of his career as a middleweight.
If Emelianenko loses, thoughts of retirement will surely creep into his mind perhaps even more than they did after a second round TKO defeat to Antonio Silva five months ago.
“Everything will be known after this fight,” the 34-year old Emelianenko said through a translator. “It’s better to talk about that and answer that question after the fight.”
The end is nowhere in sight for the 40-year-old Henderson, who recently said he felt better than ever and was confident he could compete with the youngest, strongest fighters.
“I’m pretty happy with the way my career has gone and where it’s going,” he said. “I don’t know how long I’m going to fight for, but I’m sure I’ve got two or three years left in me.”
Henderson speaks with a conviction and excitement about fighting that Emelianenko can’t match. Some would say it’s just a difference in the two men’s personalities, but Emelianenko has appeared to lose at least a little enthusiasm about his profession recently.
In the moments after the loss to Silva, Emelianenko muttered, “Maybe it’s the last time” in the cage.
“It doesn’t seem like his heart has been in it the last couple years,” Henderson said. “That changes the outcomes of fights sometimes.
“I hope he comes in in great shape and motivated. That’s the Fedor I want to fight.”
Henderson may have gotten his wish. Reports out of Chicago indicate Emelianenko is more upbeat than usual and may have even lost a few pounds since the Silva meeting.
Emelianenko has promised that a chance to take down Henderson is meaningful to him.
“Dan Henderson has been a fighter for a very long time and been a champion in many different organizations,” Emelianenko said. “And for me, it would be very important. It would mean a lot.”
Henderson is likely the most notable fighter Emelianenko has ever faced. Both men have the type of notoriety that has forced fans to label this fight as a can’t-miss event.
“These are two legends of the sport,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said. “I think it’s going to be an amazing fight.”