Dan Henderson vs. Fedor Emelianenko Must Be For The Strikeforce Title

One can see why Fedor Emelianenko would take a fight against Dan Henderson.  After being finished by both submission and TKO in his last two fights respectively, he needs a better matchup than the ones he’s been given.  In the new era of heavyweight MMA fighters Fedor is a relic based on size alone; his remarkable athletic ability and skill have usually been enough but his three fights in Strikeforce have exposed him somewhat.

His fight against Brett Rogers was significantly closer than it looked to be on paper, with Rogers almost coming away with the upset before being caught (like many others) with a KO shot.  He was overwhelmed by size from Antonio Silva and by technique from Fabricio Werdum.  All three men are around the maximum limit for the division, with Silva having to cut weight to the heavyweight limit of 265.  With his skills depreciating he looks to be the valiant yet undersized hero who finally gets overwhelmed by the larger opponent.

Many, including UFC announcer Joe Rogan, have wondered aloud if Emelianenko’s time as a small heavyweight is over.  “I think at the highest levels of the game, you can’t be rolling around fat at 230 and fighting those guys” he said recently at about the same time rumors of a Henderson-Fedor fight came about.  With Henderson on a bit of a tear since his defeat to UFC welterweight contender Jake Shields for the Strikeforce Middleweight title, it makes tremendous sense from a matchmaking perspective.

Both are veterans of the MMA circuit and known to both casual and hardcore fans alike.  Old Pride videos are strewn with highlights of both and with the Strikeforce acquisition by Zuffa the promotional materials will be able to take advantage of both fighters’ history.  The highlight package could be sensational to introduce the masses not around for the heyday of Pride.  It doesn’t take much to sell Henderson-Fedor, either.  Henderson has a handful of highlight reel knockouts recently, including his light heavyweight championship victory, and Fedor is a big enough name to immediately challenge for the title without a prior victory in the division.  And that’s where it should be: the light heavyweight division.

Anything else devalues both as fighters.

The key thing when a champion fights outside his weight class is that they should have no reasonable opponent coming up or have effectively cleaned out the division.  Usually that’s one and the same.  It’s quite rare, though, and it’s why GSP moving up to the middleweight division makes sense.  He’s defeated nearly everyone of note already in his division.  Henderson hasn’t faced anyone in the division yet.

Having yet to make a title defense of any kind, it’s been his first title victory after losing to both Anderson Silva and Quinton Jackson for the UFC middleweight and light heavyweight titles respectively.  In fact no one in the Strikeforce light heavyweight division has since defended it succesfully since Bobby Southworth defeated Anthony Ruiz in 2008.  With the title playing hot potato ever since from Southworth to Renato Sobral, Gegard Mousasi, Muhammad Lawal and Rafael Cavalcante before finding itself around Henderson’s waist, Henderson fighting Fedor, with the title on the line, makes sense.

It doesn’t any other way.

Fedor has no good reason to have Henderson fight on his terms as opposed to dropping down.  Coming off a two fight losing streak, after being the #1 ranked heavyweight in the world, an immediate title shot for the Russian would be considered more earned by legacy than by current results.  And one can make a case for a LHW Fedor jumping ahead in line to take on Henderson, allowing the Russian to fight against opponents who can’t overwhelm him with size alone.  His skill would be measured, not his BMI, in a LHW fight.  It would make for an interesting fight at a minimum, as Henderson isn’t massive for the division and Fedor would be in supremely good shape at 205 lbs.   Both men are similar size and love to throw big right hands.  On top of it you have an American Olympic Wrestler taking on a Russian Sambo Expert, which sounds something like an MMA version of “Rocky 4.”

You can argue that Fedor didn’t lose because of overwhelming skill to Silva, just size, and Werdum’s submission was a superb display of Brazilian jiu-jitsu from one of its finer practitioners.  What you can’t argue is that a fight between Henderson and Fedor at a 220 would be something either deserves.

Henderson is a champion with a title to defend.  Fedor  needs to challenge him for it.  Anything less would be uncivilized.

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