Facing a third straight loss, Fedor Emelianenko tried some new tricks before and during his fight against Dan Henderson. But his opponent was simply better and a little more resilient in the main event of Strikeforce's event at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Just seconds away from possibly losing the fight after a Fedor barrage, Henderson kept his wits, pulled off a nifty escape and landed an uppercut that changed the fight. That one punch plopped Fedor straight down on his face where Henderson landed three more shots and referee Herb Dean chose to save the fallen former champ at 4:12 of the first round.
From 2000-08, Emelianenko was considered one of the top three mixed martial arts fighters, if not the top fighter, in the world. He reeled off 31 wins without a legitimate loss (only loss due to fight stopped because of a cut) .
But it's been a rough run recently for the former PRIDE king. He lost via shocking submission to Fabricio Werdum, was dominated by a massive heavyweight in Antonio Silva and Saturday, he was stopped via strikes for the first time in his career by the Strikeforce light heavyweight champ, who came into the fight giving away 16 pounds.
Henderson (28-8) fought 18 times in PRIDE in Japan, so he's well aware of Fedor's place in the sport.
"I've been a huge fan of Fedor forever and I respect him so much as a fighter, and what he has done for the sport," Henderson told Showtime's Gus Johnson. "For me, [this win] is a huge accomplishment compared to a lot of the things I've done in this sport."
Henderson, 40, got off to a quick start, but Emelianenko seemed to get back into the fight when he drilled his opponent with a nice combination that backed him up. Then Fedor landed a thudding left uppercut that dropped Henderson near the cage. Emelianenko went in for the kill without securing top control. He got off three shots that grazed Henderson, but the former Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler used his grappling to grab Fedor's right knee and pull him off. Henderson immediately jumped behind him and unleashed a vicious right uppercut under Fedor's right arm. The impact was delayed for a split second and then Fedor fell flat on his face. Henderson jumped on top, landed two more rights and a left. That's when the referee arrived to save Fedor. All that in roughly nine seconds.
Fedor (31-4, 1 NC) told Johnson, he thought the fight was stopped prematurely.
"I think it was early. I don't want to say anything bad about the referee, but it seemed to me like it was early," Emelianenko said through an interpreter. "I was clearly hit, but wasn't hit flush, directly. It seems like I could've continued."
It was hard to say either way. Fedor did appear stunned as he sat up after the finish, but far from rocked.
Fedor, 34, was non-committal about his future, saying it's God's will whether he fights again. Ultimately, it probably won't be Emelianenko's choice. Emelianenko was reportedly making $1.5 million for this fight. With three straight losses, it's hard to imagine Dana White and company retaining his services.
Henderson's future is also in doubt. This was the last fight on his contract and he'd be a natural to slide back over to the UFC where he was 5-2 during two stints with the bigger promotion. Henderson left the UFC back in 2009, signing a big deal with Strikeforce. He could easily move back into the UFC's 205 or 185 division and be an immediate title contender.
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