There will be a lot on the line when Dan Henderson (25-8) and Renato “Babalu” Sobral (36-8) square off in the Strikeforce Dec. 4 main event in St. Louis, with a possible shot at light heavyweight champion Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante for the winner.
Both men are decorated mixed martial artists. Babalu, a former UFC title challenger, has faced some of the toughest men in the sport, including Fedor Emelianenko and Chuck Liddell, and has 18 submission victories to his credit.
As for Henderson, well he’s quite simply an MMA legend, having won the PRIDE 185- and 205-pound titles and the UFC 17 tournament back in 1998, not to mention his Olympic wrestling experience.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker would not confirm during a media call on Tuesday whether the winner of the fight will get the title shot, but did say that the fight would be “pivotal” in determining Feijao’s next challenger.
Due to his performance against former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields, Henderson faced several questions about his conditioning. Henderson nearly took Shields out in the first round with brutal punches on the feet, but he wore down as the fight went on and lost a five-round decision, with Shields the last four rounds with his grappling.
“I felt like my conditioning was great in that fight but it didn’t show,” Henderson said. “I had some other issues going on that didn’t help me out and made the weight cut tough.”
Asked whether he fatigued due to the weight cut – Henderson regularly moves between 185 and 205 – Henderson said he was unsure.
“I really just felt like I just didn’t have the energy that I should’ve had,” he said. “There was no reason that I should’ve been that tired with my conditioning the way it was.”
Henderson left the UFC after the two sides failed to agree on a new contract. His highly-anticipated Strikeforce debut resulted in a loss, but Henderson doesn’t feel more pressure than usual.
Asked if it was a must-win fight, he replied, “Probably, but I feel like I’m out there to win every fight. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.
“I don’t feel like it’s a do or die situation,” Henderson said. “I’m not going to retire if it doesn’t go my way, but I feel very confident in my training for this fight.”
Besides his wrestling, Henderson is best known for his heavy hands. Babalu recently defeated another power-punching fighter, Robbie Lawler, in his last Strikeforce appearance. With that in mind, ProMMAnow.com asked Henderson how he feels about the striking battle.
“It’s obviously something that’s helped me finish fights in the past and one of the things that makes me dangerous,” he said. “I usually try not to get hit in the process, but sometimes that happens. I’m pretty confident on my feet with most people.”
While Henderson expects Babalu to stand and trade, he also knows Sobral is a well-rounded fighter and expects the contest to go everywhere at some point.
Both fighters anticipate a high octane, action-packed clash.
Asked if he thinks Dan Henderson will come out strong looking for the knockout, Babalu replied, “Hell yeah, who doesn’t?”
The two actually faced each other back in 2000 in the Rings promotion, a fight Henderson won by decision. But neither man believes that fight means much, given their growth as mixed martial artists.
“It’s a great fight for the fans, not really a revenge match,” Sobral said.
To get ready for Henderson, Babalu is working with UFC middleweight Mark Munoz and other high caliber wrestlers. But like Henderson, he’s ready for the fight wherever it goes.
“I feel very comfortable on the bottom or any situation,” Babalu said.