Dan Henderson and Rich Franklin are both former champions. In fact, Henderson won the 183 pound PRIDE title at the same time Franklin was the reigning UFC 185 pound champion.
Time doesn’t stand still long for a champion though.
Dan Henderson brought two PRIDE titles with him to the UFC – the only man in MMA history to hold two titles at once. In Henderson’s first fight back inside the octagon he lost his first belt to Quinton Jackson in five round war of attrition at UFC 75.
Henderson didn’t get a break in his second fight where he took on UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 82. Henderson won the first round but lost in the second round due to a rear naked choke. He lost his second title in the process.
Rich Franklin became the UFC middleweight champion at UFC 53 when he beat Evan Tanner. Franklin defended his title twice before meeting the aforementioned Anderson Silva at UFC 64.
Silva devastated Franklin like no other champion has been beaten in MMA. Franklin got an opportunity to take back his title at UFC 77 but Silva wasn’t in a giving mood. Franklin was overwhelmed once again and has since moved on to the light heavyweight division.
Both Henderson and Franklin could have submitted to the disappointment of losing their status as champions. But at UFC 93 they will get the chance to reinsert themselves once again in the title picture.
The light heavyweight division has recently opened up. The winner of this war could be one more win removed from a title shot with the chance to become champion once again.
With that being said lets break down their battle.
Dan Henderson has fought a who’s who list of MMA fighters: Antonio Nogueira (twice), Yuki Kondo, Wanderlei Silva (twice), Renato Sobral, Ricardo Arona, Renzo Gracie, Kazuo Misaki, and Vitor Belfort. In his 30 MMA fights he has logged almost 300 minutes of action.
Franklin has fought some good competition but not at the level Henderson has faced. Franklin has fought Lyoto Machida, Evan Tanner, Ken Shamrock, Nate Quarry, Travis Lutter, and Yushin Okami. In 27 fights he has logged about half the time of Henderson.
Some would argue all of those battles have taken their toll on Henderson. Don’t be fooled – he is still in excellent condition and experience will only serve him in his fight with Franklin.
Dan Henderson is a world-class wrestler – he competed at both the ’92 and ’96 Olympics in Greco Roman Wrestling. He is an expert at using his clinch and body locks. This allows him control his opponent while standing and dictate the action. Henderson works to close the distance with his clinch and to get the fight against the cage.
From there he can tie up Franklin and look to take the fight to the ground. Franklin will need to bring his A-game if he wants to avoid being taken down. At some point in the fight, Henderson will take the fight to the ground when decides. From there he will look to control Franklin using use ground and pound to score points and ultimately finish the fight from there.
Franklin has admitted that his wrestling is the weakest part of his game and will want to avoid it at all costs. Franklin needs to avoid wrestling on the ground but also needs to avoid Henderson’s clinch. We saw what happened when he got caught in Silva’s clinch. While Henderson likely won’t reign knees to Franklin’s chin he will push him against the cage and work for a take down.
Advantage: All Henderson
Franklin has the superior Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is a brown belt and will need to use it if he gets put on his back in the fight. While Franklin has nine submission wins most of those were before he fought in the UFC and against lesser competition.
Henderson has been submitted three times in his career but those came against the Nogueira brothers and Anderson Silva. Henderson has actually developed good submission defense over the course of his career.
In his last fight, Dan escaped multiple submissions from Rousimar Palhares, one of the best BJJ guys in MMA, so a submission loss to Franklin would be nothing short of shocking.
Franklin will by and large use his BJJ as defense. It will be very helpful in defending against Henderson’s ground and pound. It also will be useful for gaining position and getting the fight back to its feet.
Moderate Advantage: Franklin
If the two do go toe-to-toe it will be a very exciting striking affair. Franklin is the more well-rounded Muay Thai artist with his combination of kicks, punches and other kickboxing skills. But Henderson has dynamite in both hands, especially his right, and is unafraid to slug it out with anyone – just ask Wanderlei Silva.
Franklin has a similar pugilistic streak in him and is willing to trade with the best of them. His power is not as well regarded as Henderson’s but it was unmistakable when he floored Nate Quarry in their title fight. His big advantage will be his footwork and his superior handspeed.
Henderson needs to avoid getting overexcited by his ability to throw that big right hand. When he does, he gets away from his game plan. Henderson should focus on tying Franklin up in his clinch and using his Greco Roman wrestling to control the fight instead of getting drawn into a stand up war with Franklin.
Henderson should not avoid boxing altogether though. Franklin is a southpaw, so he is more at risk to right hands, particularly lead right hands, because he cannot protect his chin with his left shoulder. A big right hand is Henderson’s second best weapon to get a knockout win.
If Hendo dials down his right hand just a bit, he can finish with a left hook, perhaps his most underrated weapon. He used a left hook to KO Wanderlei and win take the 205 pound PRIDE title. If Henderson can land left hooks it will further increases the chances of him ending the fight while standing.
This one is a tough one to call. I will give Franklin the slight edge because he has the more complete stand up game. But Henderson’s knockout power should prevent Franklin from really opening up on the feet, which could neutralize Franklin’s biggest advantage.
Slight Advantage: Franklin
Both fighters are hard to finish and this fight could easily goes the distance. Henderson’s ability to dictate where this fight goes – because of his wrestling – will be a big advantage for him.
If he gets in trouble on his feet he can take the fight to the ground. This will give Henderson the opportunity to outpoint his opponent … unless Franklin really outscores him in the stand up game.
Franklin’s best bet is to use his striking to get a TKO victory. The only problem: Henderson has never been knocked out in 30 MMA fights. Franklin would have a better shot at doing so in a five round fight – three rounds are simply not enough.
I like Henderson to win against one of my favorite fighters, Franklin.
Verdict: Henderson by Decision