by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
The term “undisputed” is a relatively new moniker in the world of mixed martial arts. In March of 2007, Dan Henderson found himself holding two championship belts in two weight classes after the demise of Pride Fighting Championships. He had the respect and status that came with the yet unmatched feat, but nowhere to prove it.
After signing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Henderson was the focal point of a movement to unify the titles – however sentimental that distinction became – as an active champion who would step into the Octagon and put his Pride silver against UFC gold.
Henderson came up short in his bid to capture the light heavyweight title from Quinton Jackson last September, but has been given a second chance in facing Anderson Silva. He admits there were mistakes against Jackson; he wasn’t aggressive enough, and waited too often for the perfect opening.
“It won’t happen this time,” Henderson said at his Team Quest gym in Temecula.
It’s a second chance few, if any, fighters have gotten so soon. It came out of a simple necessity: there weren’t any other serious contenders out there.
“Dana White asked me to cut down to 185 (pounds), and without this fight in mind, he told me I should cut down in weight,” Henderson said. “I said I want to stay at 205. I feel I can beat everybody there. Then he offered me this fight, and the more I thought about it, the more I got excited about it.”
Silva is widely considered to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now. He’s obliterated the top-tier middleweights in the UFC. But if there’s one thing that Henderson has proven before, it’s that hype doesn’t mean a thing to him.
“When I hear that, it puts a smile on my face,” he said. “I don’t consider him the top MMA fighter in the world. He’s definitely beaten some good guys, (but) the guys in the UFC have definitely complimented his style. In my heart I know I’m going to beat him up.”
Following a three-week training camp in Big Bear, Calif. – the first time he’s trained in the popular location – Henderson ramped down his schedule on his home turf. French Pride veteran Cyrille Debate was on hand to replicate Silva’s style and reach, something that took a little adjustment for Henderson.
“It’s been good to get a feel of getting hit from a farther distance than what you’re normally comfortable at,” he said. “It’s given me a better look at how Anderson Silva’s going to be.”
The clinch plays a central part of both fighters’ games. Silva is known for his Muay Thai skills, while Henderson brings a Greco Roman approach to the position. It’s ground zero for the momentum of the fight, a place where Henderson feels he has the advantage.
“With being on two Olympic teams in Greco, I don’t see myself getting out of position in the clinch to let him have his position.”
Silva’s position, one where knees have ended many fighters’ nights, is not a place Henderson wants to remain. But he feels confident his power will overcome Silva’s technical mastery.
“I’m not going to out-slick him on my feet, but I’m definitely going to land the harder shots,” he said.
For Henderson, the UFC title is about fulfilling a need for challenge. He’s tasked with beating up a bully, and playing the role of underdog. He’s unfazed with that role, and sees March 1 as the chance to attain a lifelong dream.
“It would be a big achievement, to be the undisputed world champion,” he said. “It’s always been a question in the fans minds and fighters as well, who’s really the top guy in the world. It’s gonna be a good fight.”