When Dan Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko fight in Strikeforce this weekend in suburban Chicago, there won’t be much on the line except for a little bit of history and, well, possibly the greatest career in the history of mixed martial arts.
Indeed, nobody knows exactly what to expect from Emelianenko this weekend. The once great Pride champion who didn’t suffer a loss during 10 years and 28 fights has appeared in rapid decline lately. He’s suffered back-to-back losses in his most recent Strikeforce bouts, falling first to Fabricio Werdum, then to Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in appearances where he looked by turns overly eager and completely disinterested.
Those losses have conspired to make this fight against Henderson a must-win in the eyes of many fans. Emelianenko hinted at retirement in the cage following his loss to Bigfoot and it’s hard to believe he’d solider on in the face of a third consecutive defeat, especially to a guy he figures to outweigh by some 25 pounds on fight night.
There is also the small matter of his sizeable contract – an issue that also dogs Henderson – and the recent speculation that the newly Zuffa-owned Strikeforce might look to divest itself of its future final obligations to whoever comes up short in this fight. Translation: Loser might get cut.
Questions about Fedor’s future and about his continued involvement with the American fight promotions could be answered this Saturday night. For his part, it appears he’s showed up in Illinois in a little bit better shape than he was for his February loss to Silva. That could be a sign that even the notoriously stoic Russian understands the significance here. In interviews leading up to the bout he’s been his economic self, saying as few words as possible while avoiding the issue of retirement as best he could.
So far, his coaches say he won’t consider a drop to light heavyweight. It’s hard not to wonder however, if things go significantly better for him against the smaller Henderson this weekend than they've gone against larger foes like Werdum and Silva, if Emelianenko might change his mind about that. Fans and analysts have been calling out for him to try his hand at the lighter weight class for some time now, though to date he’s seemed loathe to change anything at all about his approach to fighting, even though the rest of the industry appears to have passed him up.
Aside from the specter of possible unemployment, the stakes seem much lower for Henderson. His 205-pound title won’t be on the line, so no matter what happens he can go back to light heavyweight and carry on without taking too big a hit to his reputation. Hendo is 40 years old however, so perhaps it only seems like he has nothing to lose until he winds up on flat on his back with a doctor shining a pen light in his face.
In any case, Henderson has played the lead up to this fight just right. He first made himself look like an old school badass by turning his nose up at the idea of a 220-pound catchweight, then revealed he’ll like roll in just a hair about 205 anyway. He also got out in front of the media curve on his testosterone replacement therapy exemption, thereby (hopefully) avoiding the kind of scrutiny heaped on guys like Chael Sonnen and Nate Marquardt recently.
With some many intangibles on the line, who will win this battle of MMA legends? In my professional opinion, I have not freaking idea.