UFC 173 is headlined by Bantamweight Champion Renan Barao looking to defend his title yet again, this time against challenger T.J. Dillashaw. The co-feature is essentially a LHW title eliminator that pits Dan Henderson against Daniel Cormier, two fighters who were expected to challenge Jon Jones at some point. One of them will likely get a chance depending on the results of this fight.
Daniel Cormier (14-0 overall, 3-0 UFC)
Strengths: Excellent wrestling, explosive athlete
Weaknesses: Plays it too safe sometimes
Dan Henderson (30-11 overall, 2-3 UFC)
Strengths: Iron toughness, sledgehammer right hand
Weaknesses: Age, one dimensional at times
Fight Breakdown – Whoo wee. We get a barnburner for the co-main event that precedes Renan Barao vs. T.J. Dillashaw. The battle of the Dans. Well, it’s no secret what Henderson likes to do. He’s going to make it his mission to stalk Cormier around the Octagon, always respectful of Cormier’s explosiveness and wrestling, while looking to throw and land that right hand of his.
Cormier has fought a similar fighter before in Roy Nelson, so he might look to employ a similar game plan. The big difference here is that Dan Henderson is an excellent clinch fighter and wrestler himself, and thrives in wild scrambles and situations that require some quick thinking/instinctive fighting. He doesn’t mind if the fight goes to the ground, or even if he gets knocked down or shook up. If his wars with Shogun taught us anything, it’s that Dan Henderson can take a lot of punishment and still win.
Cormier will have to stay away from that right hand of course, but he can’t just play defense all night, not if he wants to fight for the title. His best bet is to mix things up with two primary ingredients. First, a healthy dose of smothering Henderson and roughing him up against the cage. Taking him down would be a great move, but Henderson has great takedown defense and is very capable of finding his feet once taken down. These are two elite level wrestlers and we could end up seeing a lot of it before the fight is through. Second, Cormier will want to use his speed and movement to stay the hell away from the punching path of Henderson and pepper him on the way in and out, much like he did to Roy Nelson. Cormier doesn’t get enough credit for his athleticism and movement. He’s a great blend of size, strength and explosiveness for an MMA fighter. He’d probably get schooled on the basketball court, he might hold his own playing football, but as an MMA fighter, he moves incredibly fluidly for a guy his size and has very explosive striking.
Henderson absolutely has to have a backup plan. His fists have won him a ton of fights and fans, but against elite opponents, he hasn’t fared too well. Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans both made him look his age, and Daniel Cormier is easily at their level. Cormier has fought some heavy hitters and he’s come out relatively unscathed. To this point, he hasn’t been truly put into deep waters. Henderson has a good a chance as anyone to do it, but he has to find another option if his Plan A isn’t working, or at least to give his Plan A a better chance.
Henderson should look to mix things up more than he has in the past. He needs to take Cormier by surprise at some point in the fight and catch him off guard. His surefire way to victory would be forcing Cormier into wild scrambles and exchanges, which is exactly how he beat Fedor and Shogun. Henderson has a very good chance of getting the better of such exchanges, but he needs to push Cormier out of his comfort zone, and that may be hard to do.
Key to Victory: Can Hendo break Cormier’s discipline?
Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida both were able to avoid the big shots of Henderson and come out victorious. They weren’t the most pretty victories, or the most entertaining or crowd pleasing, but the important thing is that they were victories. Cormier has to stick to his game plan and remain focused and disciplined, even if the crowd is booing and screaming for action. Cormier has all the tools needed to beat Henderson, he’s got a good head for fighting, wicked wrestling, powerful strikes that demand respect and a great motor. As long as he doesn’t give in to the temptation to slug it out with Hendo, he should have the upper hand. Hendo, if he can make Cormier fight his way and turn this into a brawl, could easily end the fight at any given moment.
Why It Matters – Both of these guys were supposed to fight Jon Jones and it’s still a very distinct possibility. The winner of this one likely gets a crack at the LHW title after Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 goes down. Either that, or a date with Anthony Johnson in a title eliminator.
Henderson is 43 years old now. Yes, 43. Most guys that age are doing a lot of things and fighting isn’t one of them. With the way TRT is being handled in MMA nowadays, you have to wonder how much Hendo has left in him. He had an amazing comeback against Shogun, but was KO’d by Vitor Belfort prior to that. For Hendo, it’s really about sooner rather than later. Every fight becomes that much more significant because it could be his last or second to last. He needs a win here to set up a date with Jones or move closer to that title shot.
Cormier only moved down to LHW because his good friend Cain Velasquez is sitting on top in the HW division. Otherwise, Cormier would have probably found himself in a title fight already. He’s that good, but he’s new to the division and has to show some consistency and beat some quality fighters. A big win over Henderson easily catapults him into title talks, or at the very least a title eliminator as mentioned. It may not be his stiffest test, but at LHW, it easily is. Let’s not forget, this is his second fight at LHW and he fought a late sub in Pat Cummins because of the Rashad Evans injury. It’s his chance to show that he deserves a title shot and he will probably seize the moment.
Prediction – Cormier