This Saturday the UFC is back in the Honda Center in Anaheim, California for UFC 157 which features the first ever women’s fight inside the octagon between Rondy Rousey and Liz Carmouche. As pumped as I am for this fight, everyone will be breaking it down from every angle, so I will instead dive into the co-main event bout between light-heavyweights Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson.’The Dragan” is one of, if not the best counter striker in the game today. He’s mastery of timing and distance give so many people problems and he’s only honing his skills with time. Dan Henderson is one of the all time greats. He has done more than enough to cement is legacy in MMA, beating the likes of Fedor, Wanderlei and Shogun, and is still going strong at 42 years old. So lets take a look at this outstanding match-up.
Lets start with former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champ Dan Henderson. His striking game is all about one thing: power. His patented ”H-bomb” right hand is his weapon of choice, and even though everyone knows it’s coming, he still manages to consistently plant it on his opponents’ domes. A large part of this is due to Henderson’s underrated hand speed, which helps him connect either before his opponents have a chance to circle away, or hit him. Henderson likes to wade in, keeping his shoulders high, relying on his granite chin, throwing his right over the top and/or right uppercuts. The combo that we see over and over from Henderson is a pawing left low kick, that helps him set up his big right. The kick isn’t meant to do damage, but rather keep his opponent in from of him and bring their lead hand down just enough for Hendo to land. A great example of this was when he knocked Michael Bisping into the land of wind and ghost, and his fight with Shogun.
In the “Countdown to UFC 157″ preview show, Hendo explained that his grappling is present in every one of his fights, which I think is very accurate. While we mainly see Henderson revert to his takedowns when he gets hit, he’s always using his Greco technique positionally. He has an advantage over anyone in the clinch and always has his elite technique to keep him out of trouble with subtle positional adjustments. A great example of this was in his fight with Fedor. Towards the middle of the first round Fedor clipped Henderson and got him back peddling, eventually causing Hendo to stumble to the mat. As Fedor dove on Henderson, we saw Dan scoot his hips out and get to Fedor’s back in a switch maneuver, which put him immediately in position to fire and uppercut to Fedor’s chin. Dan’s wrestling is always there to fall back on and helps him remain positionally aware in his fights.
As I mentioned earlier, we all know what Lyoto’s game is: avoid damage, use his speed and footwork to take angles, and use his mastery of timing and distance to land some of the most effective counterstrikes in MMA. He’s used it to beat some of the best in the game, stopping the likes of Thiago Silva, Rashad Evans, and Ryan Bader. He forces his opponents to chase him (something I’m sure Henderson is prepared for, and will gladly oblige to do), and while we’ve seen him become more active and offensive lately, it’s still in the context of engaging the striking battles on his terms. He’s techniques play into this game as well. Lyoto has a right calf kick that, like Hendo’s left low kick, kicks his opponent’s in place and sets up his straight left hand. The kick either force’s his opponents to remain stationary, or become off balance. We saw this repeatedly in his bout with Randy Couture.
While he may not be the best boxer, having a tendency to keep his hands at his waist as he jumps in to strike, Lyoto’s adaptation of straight forward karate techniques ties in perfectly with his use of angles and distance. The other technique we see consistently from Lyoto is jumping left knee to the body. To set it up he has both arms outstretched cause opponents to anticipate a straight left hand, often times ducking underneath to dodge or try for a takedown (see again his fight with Randy and Tito Ortiz), leaving them in perfect position for Lyoto to land the knee.
Grappling wise we haven’t seen much of Lyoto off his back, but his BJJ is definitely up to par just going off of his training partners. His use of foot sweeps is a little unique trick of his that he uses both to throw down his opponents, and keep them off balance. After Lyoto jumps into to close the distance, he will circle out, keeping his lead right foot behind the heel of his opponents pulling it out from under them. We don’t really see offensive wrestling from Machida, but his take down defense is excellent, primarily due to his ability to control the range of the fight. I’m interested to see how he will do in the clinch against someone like Henderson, but he was able to thwart Randy Couture’s attempts, he can do the same to Henderson, should Hendo decide to take the fight there.
Lyoto has said he will be the first to knock out Hendo which is a lofty claim, given the caliber of fighter’s Hendo has absorbed shots from and stayed upright. The other thing I want to draw attention to is the one time we did see Lyoto get KO’d, it was from a right hand over the top courtesy of Shogun Rua. This happened at close range, an area where Dan Henderson is more than comfortable, and all his needs is one. Really hard to pick a winner as usual. If Hendo wins it will be by KO or TKO, if Machida wins it will be by decision. IF Lyoto does KO Henderson, it would not surprise me to see Hendo retire, so that is my bombshell prediction this time.
Prediction: Henderson via TKO