UFC 139: Preview & Predictions

UFC 139 Press ConferenceBreaking down Saturday’s UFC 139 event

Mauricio Rua vs. Dan Henderson: Dan Henderson’s return to the UFC comes at an optimal time in his career. You might say that Dan is in the middle of a Randy Couture-esque career renaissance, and you would be correct, in a manner of speaking.

After being told that he wasn’t really worth the money he was asking to stay in the UFC several years ago, Henderson went to Strikeforce and began a very different chapter of his journey. Yes, he lost to Jake Shields in a bout that both Strikeforce and fans around the world expected him to win. That loss could have derailed him or sent him into retirement; I think we would have been fine with Henderson riding off into the sunset. Instead, he moved back to light heavyweight and reeled off two wins to grab the Strikeforce light heavyweight belt, then capped it all off win a heavyweight win over the once-great Fedor Emelianenko.

And so Henderson moves back to the UFC, where he jumps immediately into the title picture of two separate divisions. He wanted a fight with Anderson Silva that never materialized, so he’s settling for stepping in the cage with former champion Mauricio Rua in a bout that could determine a contender for Jon Jones and his light heavyweight belt in 2012.

Henderson’s right hand, affectionately dubbed the “H-Bomb” in commentary, is the ultimate equalizer in this fight. He uses it with enough power that he can drop any man on the planet, and Rua is no different. Henderson uses his greco-roman wrestling to grind opponents against the cage and wear them out before unleashing a flurry of punches. Some find their mark and some don’t, but the ones that do can put his opponent in a world of hurt.

Rua will need to avoid playing Henderson’s game at all costs in this fight. He’ll need to keep his distance and stay out of range of the clinch and the right hand. Ideally, he’ll use leg kicks to tire Henderson early, but the most important thing for Rua in this fight is range. He was unable to stay away from Jon Jones and his gargantuan reach in their championship fight earlier this year, but he’ll have an easier time staying away from Henderson.

We never know what version of Rua we are going to get, at least not in the UFC. Is he injured? We never find out until after he fights. There are too many questions surrounding his conditioning for me to comfortably feel he’s going to hang with Henderson.

Prediction: Dan Henderson by TKO, round 2

Wanderlei Silva vs. Cung Le: Beloved Bay Area star Cung Le’s journey to the UFC likely never would have happened without the purchase of Strikeforce by Zuffa early in 2011. He was a company man, loyal to the end to former owner Scott Coker, and likely would have been okay if his career ended never having fought on the biggest stage in MMA.

But the Strikeforce sale and the UFC’s debut in long-time Strikeforce home San Jose gave Le a chance to make the leap, and he’ll do so against one of the more beloved fighters in the history of the sport. Wanderlei Silva is past his prime, to be sure, but still captures the affection and attention of MMA fans like nobody else in the sport. His 2-6 record since 2006 is atrocious, but he’s still the guy who goes out swinging and either puts you away or ends up staring at the lights, and that garners a certain amount of respect with fight fans.

It’s hard to know what to expect out of this fight. Silva still swings like a wild man and still hits hard, which means he still has the ability to put the violence on his opponent like few others. But Le’s striking is unlike anything Silva has ever faced, and Silva’s propensity for opening himself up during his attacks leaves him incredibly vulnerable to the kind of damaging strikes Le excels at.

Silva’s chin is the ultimate question mark. I’m not sure it’s good enough to withstand even one accurate strike from Le. This one will be fun while it lasts, but it won’t last long.

Prediction: Cung Le by TKO, round 1

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