“I continue to enjoy learning new things. I love my job,” is statement which many would not have expected to hear from Dan Henderson (27-8) twelve months ago. He was just coming off a shock defeat to then Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields that not only spoiled his debut in the promotion but had people questioning his long term future in the sport.
However, a move back to light heavyweight and dominant wins over Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Rafael “Feijão” Cavalcante has left the former two-division Pride FC Champion wearing world title gold around his waist once again.
Far from sitting back and enjoying his renewed success, Henderson is about to embark on what is perhaps his biggest challenge yet. While the fight is not quite confirmed, it is looking increasingly likely Henderson will test himself against the man generally considered to be the best heavyweight in the history of MMA, Fedor Emelianenko.
The fight has seemingly been dogged by confusion over the weight at which it would take place, but that was never an issue that concerned Henderson.
“He’s not going to make 205-pounds but he’s not the biggest heavyweight out there so I have no problems fighting him at what he’s at,” said Strikeforce’s light heavyweight champ.
It had been suggested the fight would take place at a catch weight to minimize the size advantage Emelianenko would have over the naturally smaller Henderson. It was a suggestion that Henderson has little time for.
“It won’t be at a catch weight, I’ve never believed in those. If you’re going to fight somebody just fight them at their weight, don’t make them come halfway down. There’s no reason for me to make him cut 15 pounds as he’s going to weigh that much come fight night anyway.”
With several outlets reporting the heavyweight fight will take place on July 30 in Chicago, two men who held championship gold in Pride FC at the time of its dissolution can now start preparing to finally face one another. It’s a contest that Henderson for one is looking forward to.
“I love these challenges and he’s going to be a great challenge,” said Henderson. “He’s very dangerous on both the feet and the ground.”
After the non-title superfight against Emelianenko, Henderson will make his return to 205 pounds and look to become the first man to successfully defend the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Title since the it was resurrected in 2008.
When asked who he thinks will next challenge him for the belt, he admits to not “having given it a whole lot of thought” due to it currently being “vague” as to who most deserves the next shot.
“There isn’t a clear number one contender. So we’ve just got to wait and see how they do matching up against each other,” explained Henderson. “That will make it a little bit more interesting as to who I face.”
A confident Henderson is fine with whoever emerges from the forthcoming contender eliminators as long as they’re planning to bring the action. “It doesn’t matter to me who I face as long as it’s going to be an exciting fight,” said Hendo.
Of course, the situation in Strikeforce has been complicated by the promotion’s recent buyout by Zuffa, owners of the UFC. Henderson has seen positive changes in the running of Strikeforce since the change in ownership.
“There’s a little bit more infrastructure and a lot more organization,” he commented. “Things are being organized into the same system as the UFC uses and that’s a positive change. I also think the marketing is going to be a lot better.”
There is also the question of whether we will some day see title unification matches with Strikeforce Champions battling their UFC counterparts for the undisputed title, much as Dan Henderson did back in 2007 after the end of Pride FC.
When asked about facing current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, Henderson was clear he would “be up for that anytime.”
“With anyone who’s got a different style it’s interesting to see how you match up against them,” he explained. “Jon Jones fits into that scenario. He’s very awkward and throws a lot of different stuff. You’ve got to wonder how well I’d do against him or how well he’d do against me”.
When asked how he would go about competing against a phenom who has tore through the competition in the UFC, Henderson said, “The biggest thing is controlling the space. I wouldn’t stand half way across the ring where I couldn’t hit him but he could hit me!”
Jon Jones is not the only matchup involving a UFC fighter that interests Henderson. He said, “A lot of them would be fun.” Though when asked which UFC fighter other than Jones he would most like to face, his answer was clear.
“I wouldn’t mind beating Anderson Silva up.”