by Mick Hammond
If there is one fight that could produce a stunning finish in Pride’s Bushido Welterweight GP it could be the match between Ryo Chonan and Dan Henderson. Both fighters have gone into the majority of their fights with the strategy of standing first, then going to the ground if need be. Both have shown solid power and for the most part both have shown they can take a shot. It’s where the two differ and how well each can withstand the strengths of their opponent that will decide who moves onto the second round and possibly the finals in Pride’s attempt to crown their first ever champion at 183lbs.
For Dan Henderson this tournament represents his chance at redemption. For the better part of the past few years he’d always seemed like he was one step away from a title shot but never quite got there. Then earlier this year when he had a chance at Pride’s Middleweight GP he made a most unexpected quick exit in the first round of his fight with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
It wasn’t always “close but no cigar” for Henderson. When he debuted in 1997 Henderson took a Brazil Open 4-man tournament title and followed that up by winning UFC 17′s middleweight tournament. These two tourney victories quickly established this original member of Team Quest as one of the top fighters in the world.
Next, thanks to his performances in the Open and the UFC, Henderson was invited to the Rings King of Kings 1999 tournament and took the title winning all five of his matches. On his way to this victory he defeated Hiromitsu Kanehara, Gilbert Yvel, Renato Sobral, and handed future Pride Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira his first loss ever.
After losing his Pride debut to Wanderlei Silva, Dan rebounded taking his next three wins in a row before running into a roadblock on his way towards another showdown with Silva. Matched up with Ricardo Arona and rematched with Rodrigo Nogueira in consecutive fights, Dan suffered two straight defeats that placed his contender status up in the air again.
Upon winning his next four in a row, it became clear again that Henderson deserved an opportunity to challenge for a title, thus he was included in Pride’s 2005 Middleweight GP. But for the third time in his last four matches against the BTT, Henderson couldn’t escape defeat as Nogueira finished him off with an arm bar 8 minutes into their fight.
So the question remains, can Henderson become a champion in Pride where it seems he cannot match up to past glory? With the inception of the 183lb division Dan has possibly his best shot ever to answer that question. No longer being forced to face heavier competition, Hendo now has a more level playing field and with his power and wrestling ability he becomes an early favorite to take the first ever Pride Welterweight Championship.
Standing in Henderson’s way is possibly Japan’s best hope in the winning the tournament, Ryo Chonan, and if past performance is any forbearer of what could come, it could be Chonan’s tournament to lose.
At 10-5 heading into the tournament you would think that Chonan wouldn’t be a favorite, but he is. Even though he’s had at times an inconsistent career, he’s perfectly capable of putting together all his tools and making a serious run of multiple wins in a row.
It is because of his varied skills that Ryo has been able to succeed more often than not. After losing three of his first six bouts in MMA, including a loss to fellow Welterweight GP participant Masanori Suda, Chonan turned his career around winning his next three straight, earning his way into Pride’s revamping Bushido series.
After losing his first bout in Pride to then Middleweight King of Pancrase Ricardo Almeida, Chonan won his next four bouts with wins over Pride vets Carlos Newton, Anderson Silva, and Nino Schembri. In particular Chonan’s wins over Newton and Silva made him a fan favorite in Japan. Against Newton, Chonan survived a deadpan arm bar to come back to blast Newton with a ton of shots on his way to a win. Then against Silva he pulled off one of the most talked about submissions of the year when he segued from a scissors takedown into a heel hook.
Dubbed one of Bushido’s “Four Aces,” Chonan perhaps let his overconfidence become the better of him as he stood and traded with “New York Bad Ass” Phil Baroni at Bushido 8 and got knocked out for the first time in his career. Looking to rebound after the devastating loss, Chonan now sets his sites on another American in Dan Henderson as Ryo looks to become the first Japanese fighter to win a title in Pride’s 8 year history.
With both Hendo and Ryo you get fighters who love to stand and trade. While Chonan is more of a complete striker using both hands and legs effectively, Dan represents pure power with his trademark overhand right. If Chonan isn’t willing to exchange shots with the heavy-handed Henderson, look for Ryo to try to get Dan to the ground for a submission, but it won’t be easy. Henderson is one of the best wrestlers in Pride and unless Chonan can pull another slick submission similar to the one he caught Silva with, he may not be able to take Dan down.
As the race to determine Pride’s first champion at 183lbs heats up, both Henderson and Chonan look to have a big role in determining just who gets the belt. No matter what, whoever wins this bout will be considered a favorite not only to make it to the finals, but win the whole tournament. With pressure like that and Pride’s mandate to be exciting and put on a good fight this could be a proverbial barn burner as both Henderson and Chonan look to guarantee themselves a spot at Shock Wave 2005.