The fan in me is anxiously counting down the days until Dan Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko meet in the center of the cage just outside of Chicago, Illinois. They are two of the most decorated and accomplished fighters in the history of the sport.
I’m curious as to whether Emelianenko can return to the form that made him unbeatable for so many years. Despite suffering defeat in back-to-back bouts — the first two legitimate defeats of his iconic career — the Emelianenko aura still draws me into this fight like a high-powered tractor beam.
Just as the fan in me has questions about “The Last Emperor” that need to be answered, Henderson poses some riddles to the MMA addict in me. I want to see how he’ll adapt against a bigger, younger, faster opponent like the Russian heavyweight, and whether he really will tip the scales on Friday at 206.1 pounds as he previously said he would.
The fight fan in me keeps looking at the calendar to see what day it is, checking the clock to see if time is standing still, ready for it to be Saturday night already.
My journalistic side is seriously interested in this fight as well, but for altogether different reasons.
For the life of me, I can’t come up with a good reason for making this fight, outside of the obvious “this fight should make us some money and we have no other real options” explanation. I’ll be glued to my seat on Saturday night, but I’m not the one who will have to deal with the fallout of this fight on Sunday morning.
Barring a draw or a no contest, there are two possible outcomes to this bout; either Henderson wins and hands Emelianenko his third consecutive loss or Emelianenko beats the company’s reigning light heavyweight champion.
Neither of those outcomes sound all that appealing to me from an organizational standpoint. What does either really deliver?
The invincible aura of Emeliaenenko was first cracked by Fabricio Werdum last summer, than smashed to bits by Antonio Silva back in February. He was openly discussing retirement after the loss, and is at best the #4 man in the Strikeforce heavyweight division as we speak, behind Werdum, Silva and champion Alistair Overeem. Depending on where you rank Josh Barnett, Sergei Kharitonov and Daniel Cormier, Emelianenko could be as far down the rankings as #8, a reality few would have accepted 14 months ago.
The problem with Emelianenko falling from his pedestal and being proven to be a mere mortal like the rest of us is that he’s still Fedor. Which other fighters are known by their first name alone? Everyone you might be able to list commands main event status and marquee opponents, and Fedor is no exception.
That being said, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was written into his contract as well. You know, just in case.
A middle-of-the-main-card-meeting with a middle-of-the-pack opponent would be out of the question. With the Heavyweight Grand Prix still plodding its way to a finish, Emelianenko was left without a premium dance partner in the division.
But why was Henderson the solution to the quandary?
Outside of another marquee name on his resume, there isn’t much benefit to Henderson or the organization in his beating Emelianenko. Most critics already believe the Russian heavyweight is fighting beyond his expiration date in the wrong weight class. A third consecutive loss would seemingly confirm this notion.
Henderson would still be without an established challenger in the light heavyweight ranks, and no one expects to see the former Pride dual-division champion take a semi-regular step into the heavyweight division. So other than a sizable pay check and a fading name to add to his list of conquests, there isn’t much that comes from a Henderson victory.
It’s not like he’s an up-and-comer looking to establish himself at the expense of the regression Russian superstar.
Here’s the rub: what the hell does Strikeforce do if Emelianenko gets the better of their light heavyweight champion?
Fedor has already been proven to be a notch below the best heavyweights in the division, but he also balked at the idea of shedding his doughy midsection for a permanent move to the 205 pound ranks. A rematch would once again be contested at some agreed upon catchweight that still lives inside the city limits of the heavyweight division, so the 205 pound champion would have been handed a loss for no particularly meaningful reason.
Beating Henderson doesn’t make Emelianenko any more formidable in the heavyweight ranks; it wouldn’t change anyone’s opinions about how a rematch with Silva would turn out. What it does do is take the shine of Henderson’s light heavyweight strap and give him a 2-2 record since being brought over from the UFC for big money that no one else seemed to be offering.
He’d be 0-2 outside of the division he’s best suited for at this stage of his career, and coming off a loss to a fighter who lost his luster over the last year. None of that sounds appealing to me if I’m Strikeforce.
In theory, this is a great idea; a clash between two iconic figures in the sport that should do solid business on Showtime. It looks great on paper and atop the marquee.
The trouble is that the theory is tragically flawed and business has to continue after this fight.
Neither of the two most likely outcomes moves things forward for Strikeforce, and at this stage, that’s what they need more than a big name fight that doesn’t make much sense.