by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
In what was a dream match for many fans throughout the years, Rich Franklin, a former UFC middleweight champion, and Dan Henderson, the former Pride welterweight champion, will finally meet at UFC 93 in Dublin, Ireland. But while much of their fame comes at fighting at 185 pounds, the two warriors will meet at 205 pounds instead with the winner going on to coach opposite Michael Bisping on the latest installment of the “Ultimate Fighter”.
The match-up has been dissected numerous times over the years when the two fighters lived in different promotions, but the time is now and Rich Franklin vs. Dan Henderson is finally going to happen.
This is a strength for both fighters in this bout, but in much different ways. Rich Franklin has shown to have tremendous striking skills in all of his bouts, with the exception of his losses to 185-pound king Anderson Silva. Franklin is very technically sound when striking with his opponents, and the Cincinnati native has no problem letting his hands and feet go.
In many fights, Franklin has used his superior kickboxing to out point or knock out a great number of top fighters including Nate Quarry, the late Evan Tanner, and Yushin Okami. The one knock on Franklin’s stand-up game would be his style of throwing looping hooks that sometime leave him open to take damage down the middle, but he is very well rounded when throwing punches, kicks and knees from the clinch.
As for Dan Henderson, the Team Quest member has always worked to break away from the notion that he’s a wrestler with decent stand-up. His knockout of Wanderlei Silva in early 2007 left many fans with their jaws on the ground after he landed a thunderous right hand that put the Brazilian down and out for good.
Henderson’s right hand is by far his most dangerous weapon, and he will throw it with reckless abandon in almost any fight. While he is not nearly as technically sound as Franklin on the feet, his right hand could be the great equalizer in this fight if his opponent isn’t careful.
Franklin has the edge standing though, just based on overall skill and technique, but he needs to avoid any kind of flurry that Henderson might throw looking for that knockout shot.
GRAPPLING AND SUBMISSIONS
On the grappling side of things, Dan Henderson will have a decided advantage when it comes to wrestling, as he is a former NCAA championship and Olympic level wrestler. Henderson has shown tremendous strength when working his opponent’s over with his wrestling and clinch game.
Henderson has always been seen as a freakishly strong fighter, who has in the past been able to use that to keep opponents down or basically wherever he wants to put them. His grappling skills have developed tremendously over the years as well, but he has fell victim in the past to a few submissions. The California native works hard to improve his submission game with every fight, but his is more of a defensive technique as he rarely will go for any kind of hold that would end a fight.
Rich Franklin has worked for many, many years with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Jorge Gurgel, in his school in Cincinnati, Ohio. Franklin has submitted a number of his opponents, and also has a tremendous ability to fend off submissions as he showed in fights against Travis Lutter and Yushin Okami.
If the fight goes to the ground, it will likely be Henderson that takes it there, but Franklin has the edge when it comes to submissions, although he may have a tough time catching a very game and veteran fighter like Dan Henderson.
This is a category that will really only be defined by which fighter is able to control where the fight ends up. If Franklin does a good job of peppering away at Henderson with jabs and other punches, he will likely keep the Team Quest fighter off base for much of the fight. Franklin has the power and technique to knock Henderson out, he just needs to work from the outside, while moving away from the dangerous right hand of his opponent.
Dan Henderson is always aggressive though and shows no fear in any fight, so he may have a better presence all around when it comes to Octagon control. He has always had a dangerous clinch and wrestling game to back him up whenever needed, and if he can cut the cage off and make Franklin avoid him then he will have the advantage in this area as well.
This is a major factor in every bout, but if past experience shows anything, both Franklin and Henderson have tremendous conditioning. While fighting as a champion or for the championship, Franklin has fought in five title matches, which obviously put his conditioning to the test as he prepped for a five-round fight in each contest.
Henderson is no slouch in this area either. As a Pride fighter, Henderson had to always prepare for a treacherous 10-minute first round in almost every fight, and then two more five-minute rounds in many of his bouts. Also as a wrestlter, Henderson prides himself on conditioning when heading into battle.
The true determining factor in this fight, as it is only scheduled for three rounds, is to see if one of these fighters can keep up such a feverish pace that it does actually tire out the other one. Franklin could us an elusive striking plan that forces Henderson to chase him, just waiting for a big shot to land (much like Rashad Evans did against Chuck Liddell) and if he baits him in well enough, Henderson could find himself in trouble cardio wise.
The same can be said for Dan Henderson though if he can continuously take Franklin down during the fight and make him work that much harder to get out form underneath him. There is little doubt that Franklin will not want to spend that much time under Henderson with his wrestling pedigree, so he could get tired just working to stand back up.
The overall conditioning for either fighter should not be a factor in this fight, but if one can expose the other in the endurance category it could make all the difference in this fight.
THE “X” FACTOR
With this fight taking place in Ireland, the travel could play havoc for a number of fighters on this card that have never had to fly overseas, or deal with a major time difference when getting ready to fight. Fortunately for Franklin and Henderson, both have traveled a number of times for fights. Franklin is one of the few fighters that is making a return trip to Ireland so he may have a little bit more awareness as far as foods and nutrition to bring with him or to pick up when fueling himself for the fight.
It could be argued that Dan Henderson actually has more to fight for in this bout, than Rich Franklin does. It’s no secret that Henderson wants to get back to another shot at UFC middleweight champion, Anderson Silva, and if he beats Franklin, he gets a coaching slot on the new season of the “Ultimate Fighter”. Following that stint he would then fight popular British fighter, Michael Bisping, and the winner would almost be guaranteed a title shot.
Franklin has been there and done that twice against Anderson Silva, with similar results both times. If he beats Henderson, Franklin has never sounded ultra enthusiastic about coaching another season of the “Ultimate Fighter” and a fight against Michael Bisping would take place at middleweight, which is the division he just left behind. Motivation wise, it would seem Henderson is fighting for more in this one.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
Both fighters coming into this bout have been on the biggest stages, in the biggest fights, so ultimately it will come down to skill in the cage and not much else.
For Franklin to win he needs to be smart when standing on his feet with Henderson by throwing a lot of jabs to use his reach, while not being afraid to keep him off balance with a few leg or body kicks. The former math teacher has to know his danger from Henderson standing will come by the way of a big overhand right, so if he can circle away from that side and make his opponent come after him, Franklin should be able to frustrate him while landing good punches of his own.
Henderson needs to close the distance in this fight, plain and simple. Whether he intends on standing or going to the ground with Franklin, it’s Henderson’s ability to stay close to Franklin and not give him any range that will be the key to his victory. If Henderson can take the center of the Octagon early and the move to trap Franklin against the cage either in the clinch or simply by a takedown, he will show his advantages in this fight.
Henderson has the ability to take anybody in MMA down to the ground, but will he have it in his head that he wants to stand and trade with Franklin, looking for that knockout blow? The Team Quest fighter may be better served to take Franklin down early, and then make him think about the wrestling game so the next time Henderson ducks for a takedown and Franklin is looking to sprawl, he could unload that right hand and end the fight right then.
Both fighters have a tremendous amount of skill and big fight experience, that they are simply too evenly matched to say anyone has a clear advantage going in. The fans will be the real winners when Franklin and Henderson square off.