HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. – Today's MMA landscape is vastly different than when Fedor Emelianenko
and Dan Henderson
fought in Pride.
And while a superfight between the two former Pride
champs was not beyond the scope of possibility five years ago thanks to the promotion's open-weight philosophy, it never happened.
On Wednesday, both Fedor and Henderson said fighting each other, as they'll do in the main event of Saturday's Strikeforce
card outside Chicago, is something they never really considered until it came up earlier this year.
"Maybe it crossed my mind (in Pride), but Dan was in the light heavyweight division, so I never really thought about it hard," Fedor (31-3, 1 NC, 1-2 Strikeforce) told MMA Fighting through his translator after a workout at the Chicago Marriott Northwest, just down the street from the Sears Centre Arena in which they'll meet in Saturday's main event.
Henderson (27-8, 2-1 Strikeforce) said it wasn't until he signed with Strikeforce after leaving the UFC
in 2009 that he looked at it as a possibility. And even now, Henderson believes a big reason for the fight happening, apart from Fedor being upset in the promotion's heavyweight tournament, is a lack of challengers for his light heavyweight title.
"Honestly, I haven't given it much thought," Henderson told MMA Fighting. "When I first signed with Strikeforce, the media and the fans were talking about it just because we were both in the same organization now. There wasn't a huge amount of depth (at heavyweight) at the time, so it was a possibility. But that's about all I thought about it – just being a possibility. After my last fight, with the lack of a No. 1 contender at light heavyweight, I think that's why this fight came about."
Henderson, who was a welterweight and middleweight champion in Pride and fought for the Japanese promotion exclusively between December 2000 and February 2007 before returning to the UFC, said beyond making light of it after beating Wanderlei Silva
for the Pride middleweight title, such a superfight with Fedor was, not surprisingly, never really on the table.
"There were a ton of guys in Pride and a lot of depth in the different weight classes there," Henderson said. "They weren't limiting you to just the one weight class, but it was never offered to me and never even talked about in Pride. I think I made a joke about fighting at heavyweight after I won my second belt against Wanderlei, but that's about all it was – a joke. I didn't really plan on going to heavyweight to fight Fedor."
But now that the fight is a reality, both said they are primed for the opportunity to knock off a fellow legend.
"I'm excited about it for sure," Henderson said. "The opportunity to fight a legend like that and really test myself against him – he looks like he's in good condition for this fight – I'm excited."
And though Fedor wouldn't say what Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has said – that this could be the biggest fight in the promotion's history – the always reserved heavyweight legend admitted to being excited for the fight. It's a win that may be more crucial for him than Henderson since he's coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in his long career.
"I won't comment on the organization's (biggest fight) – that's up to the fans and everyone else," Fedor said. "But the fight with Dan – I respect Dan a lot. He's a very famous title fighter. I'm looking forward to it – I have a lot of respect for Dan."
Henderson said he plans to come in in the 205-pound range for the fight. He said he believes Fedor ramping up his training camp for this fight has helped make a noticeably slimmer version of the Russian superstar.
"He seems a little trimmer," Henderson said. "I'm sure he's 5, 6, 7 pounds lighter. Not a huge amount. But I probably think it's just a matter of him actually training a little bit harder for this one. The last few fights, it didn't look like he was really focused on his training. He's probably in better shape now, which probably isn't the best thing for an opponent to be. But that's the Fedor I want to fight, is him being in shape."
Fedor and Henderson fight as the main event of Strikeforce's card Saturday at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, a northwest suburb of Chicago. The main card, which also features a women's 135-pound title fight between champion Marloes Coenen
and Miesha Tate
, as well as a middleweight scrap between former title challengers Tim Kennedy
and Robbie Lawler, airs live on Showtime at 10 p.m. Eastern.