by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Heading into this weekend’s UFC 88 in Atlanta, there will be an intriguing match-up in the middleweight division of two fighters headed in different directions at this point in their careers.

On one hand, you have former Pride dual titleholder Dan Henderson, nearing the twilight of his career and currently on a two-fight skid. On the other, you have Rousimar Palhares, in just his second year of fighting and on an impressive six-fight winning streak.

For Palhares in particular, this bout could very well be a turning point in his career. A win could springboard him towards title contention above the current logjam that is the 185-pound weight class.

“I am feeling very well and confident,” said Palhares entering the toughest task of his young career. “I worked hard for this moment.”

Coming from the legendary Brazilian Top Team, he is eager to showcase his skills, improve and further develop the foundations that his team preaches.

“I have been working the same; a lot of jiu-jitsu, takedowns and boxing,” he commented.

“I think I (am) getting better each fight, but I still have a lot to improve in my skills. That’s why I work so hard every day – I am hungry to learn everything I can.”

Along with his eagerness in training, Palhares also has the advantage of getting insightful information on fighting Dan Henderson from his coach and team leader, Murilo Bustamante.

“Yes, for sure, he has been giving me lots of advice,” he commented of Bustamante’s involvement. “He has been studying the strategy of me fighting Henderson, and what’d be best to use against him.

“It makes me totally confident in my game.”

Palhares seems intent to make the match-up an action fight by being aggressive.

“I think it will be a great fight,” he exclaimed. “I want to step in the Octagon ASAP and start the fight.

“I think he will try to fight standing – using his punches – but I am ready to fight everywhere. I can just promise I will push the fight all the time.”

With his focus squarely on UFC 88, Palhares doesn’t want to worry too much about his future in the promotion; but he does want to stay busy and continue to face high-caliber competition.

“I hope to fight again this year,” he said. “I am a professional, and I love what I do; I want to be in the Octagon as much as I can.

“I just want to fight the best opponents the UFC can give me.”

Currently the UFC’s middleweight division is in need of a clear-cut contender for champ Anderson Silva’s belt.

With a career that appears to be heading upward, Rousimar Palhares could very well find himself in a mix for the title shot, should he get past the waning Dan Henderson this Saturday in Atlanta.

“I would like to thank God, that has been helping me in my life; driving me on the way that made (it possible) to help my family,” he concluded.

**Special thanks to Murilo Bustamante for his help in making this article possible.