It was two years ago that Henderson knocked out Michael Bisping at UFC 100 and then surprised the MMA world by spurning the UFC to sign with Strikeforce, the up-and-coming rival promotion. Although Henderson's Strikeforce debut was a disastrous loss to Jake Shields, he's been spectacular since then, defeating Babalu Sobral, Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante and now, on Saturday night, Fedor Emelianenko.
Henderson has done all he has to do in Strikeforce. It's time for him to sign with the UFC.
The win over Fedor was the final fight on the four-fight contract Henderson signed in 2009, and now he'll go into negotiations with the UFC having a strong hand to play. Henderson isn't a draw on par with Brock Lesnar or Georges St. Pierre, but it was clear at the Sears Centre on Saturday night that the fans love him and are happy to pay to see him. The UFC understands that the Dan Henderson business is a good business to be in.
Henderson has always had a knack for turning in his best performances at just the right time. He won his second Pride belt just before the UFC bought Pride, which meant the UFC gave him back-to-back title fights to unify both the middleweight and light heavyweight belts. He won the Knockout of the Night award at UFC 100, the biggest UFC event ever, in the last fight on his UFC contract -- right at a time when Strikeforce was looking to sign a big-name free agent. And now he has beaten Fedor Emelianenko just as his Strikeforce contract is expiring.
Strikeforce promoter Scott Coker said afterward that he hopes and expects to keep Henderson, and Henderson said he'd like to defend his Strikeforce light heavyweight belt. But that just doesn't make sense. Now that the UFC's parent company, Zuffa, is the owner of Strikeforce, what makes the most sense is for the best fighters in Strikeforce to migrate over to the UFC. That's what Nick Diaz will do when he challenges for the UFC's welterweight belt, and that's what Henderson should do, too.
The UFC's light heavyweight division is crowded at the top right now, so Henderson wouldn't get an immediate title shot in the UFC. But he should get signed by the UFC, and put into a big fight with a chance to earn a title shot. There's one more championship run in the 41-year-old Henderson, and it should start with his next fight in the UFC.
Notes from Strikeforce Fedor vs. Henderson
-- The Alexis Davis-Julie Kedzie fight on the undercard, which Davis won by unanimous decision, was a major disappointment. They spent most of the bout tied up together against the cage, with very little action either way. It's an unfortunate fact that women's MMA is at a crossroads right now, and the the crowd's negative reaction to Davis vs. Kedzie had to have the Zuffa folks in attendance taking notice. "I'm sorry that the fight wasn't more exciting for the fans and I'll be sure to put on a better show next time," Kedzie said afterward. But Zuffa may not give her a next time.
-- The Miesha Tate-Marloes Coenen co-main event had its slow moments, too, but it finished in great fashion, with Tate showing off tremendous technique on the ground in transitioning from side control to an arm-triangle choke that made Coenen tap. Tate and Coenen displayed a very high skill level on the ground, even if it didn't seem to excite the fans at the Sears Centre, at least not until that submission that ended it.
-- Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante beat Bobby Green by split decision on the undercard, for JZ's first win in more than a year, and only his second win since 2007. Unfortunately, JZ didn't look very good in the process, struggling to beat a young guy who shouldn't really be on JZ's level. JZ is only 28 years old, but the way he has looked recently, I find it hard to believe we're ever going to see him on the level he was a few years ago, when he was among the world's elite lightweights.
Quotes from Strikeforce Fedor vs. Henderson
--"I didn't want to pull a Shane Carwin and gas myself out." -- Gabriel Salinas-Jones, after winning the first fight of the night. You know Carwin's cardio is a problem when even unknown guys fighting on the un-televised undercard are bad-mouthing him.
-- "I don't agree with the decision, I thought that I took the first and third rounds. Tyron didn't do anything with the takedowns and I was a more effective striker and active grappler than he was. My ground and pound and submission attempt were enough to win the fight." -- Paul Daley after his loss to Tyron Woodley. Sorry, but Daley is wrong. He didn't deserve that decision, and until he learns how not to spend most of a fight getting out-wrestled, he's going to lose a whole lot of decisions.
-- Herb Dean was correct to stop the Fedor-Henderson fight as soon as he saw Fedor go limp and fall face-first to the canvas. Fedor didn't like it, but fighters don't always know when they've suffered a flash knockout. Dean made a good call.
-- Judge Salvatore D'Amato gave Tarrec Saffiedine a 10-8 second round over Scott Smith, the only judge to do so. Saffiedine definitely won the round, but it wasn't lopsided enough to warrant a 10-8.
-- Derek Brunson looked absolutely outstanding in his victory over Lumumba Sayers on the undercard. The 27-year-old Brunson, who trains with Greg Jackson, is now 8-0 in his MMA career and looks like he's ready for some big-time fights. He has a wild style and needs some fine-tuning, but that will come: He's only been fighting professionally for 14 months. Brunson is a name to remember.
-- Scott Smith did not look good at all in his unanimous decision loss to Tarec Saffiedine. According to CompuStrike, Saffiedine landed 67 power strikes to only 14 for Smith. At age 32, Smith looks like he just doesn't have it anymore.
Fight I want to see next
Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida. It wouldn't be fair to let Henderson leapfrog Rashad Evans and get the first place in line for the UFC light heavyweight title, and so I think Henderson should have to win one UFC fight first. Let him take on Machida, the best light heavyweight who doesn't already have a fight lined up. If Henderson wins that one, he gets to fight for the UFC light heavyweight belt.