So far the most discussed fights of 2008 have been about selling the sizzle. Promoting huge but unranked fighters like Bob Sapp, Brock Lesnar and Kimbo Slice, who appeal to the fantasy of what people think a badass fighter is supposed to be, has done huge business.
But Saturday night's Dan Henderson vs. Anderson Silva matchup is the genuine prime rib steak.
The main event at UFC 82 in Columbus, Ohio's Nationwide Arena, pits Yahoo! Sports No. 1-ranked, pound-for-pound fighter in UFC middleweight champion Silva against PRIDE champion Henderson, who is ranked No. 7 in the poll.
Since the PRIDE Fighting Championship no longer exists, it will be the last time any PRIDE championship will be contested, and most insiders agree it will determine the true world champion in the weight class.
Neither the pound-for-pound top ranking, nor the PRIDE vs. UFC arguments don't seem much of a concern to Henderson
"I don't know (about the pound-for-pound top spot), there's a lot of top fighters that you can argue could have that title," said Henderson. "I've got no pressure on me mentally as far as that (PRIDE vs. UFC) goes, because I came from PRIDE. I plan on doing well for me, my family and my team."
Silva earned the top ranking because for the past three years, he's been a devastating finisher. In his past nine fights, aside from one DQ loss to Yushin Okami, he's scored seven knockouts or TKOs and one submission.
Henderson, on the other hand, has only been stopped twice (by submissions to each of the Nogueira twins) in a 28-fight career that has been filled with matches against physically bigger men and a high percentage of top-level fighters.
So you've got one man used to dominating and knocking people out early against a survivor who has never been knocked out. Henderson is experienced in long fights, and there is potential of five rounds here – something Silva has never experienced in his MMA career.
"Anderson Silva's a little bit smaller than Quinton Jackson, but naturally, he's a little bit bigger than I am," said Henderson, who left his familiar Team Quest training camp in Murietta, Calif., for high altitude training in Big Bear. "I don't mind fighting guys at 205 at all, but 185 isn't bad. I'm comfortable in both weight classes. I don't make an issue of how strong guys are at 205. Being at 185, most of the time I still don't feel like I'm way stronger than the guys."
Henderson concedes Silva is the more skilled stand-up fighter. Silva is as good as anyone in MMA today when it comes to the ability to use all-around stand-up skill. He's got a full Muay Thai style of attack that includes strong punches and kicks from a distance and knees in the clinch.
It's that same clinch that Henderson, as a Greco-Roman wrestling specialist, is comfortable in. They'll have different strategies when they get there. Henderson uses the clinch to control his opponent, wear him out physically and use dirty boxing. Silva, who destroyed Franklin in that position by shocking the former UFC champion with his ability to overpower him, uses it to control and bring down the head of his opponent, trying to devastate his foe with lethal knees.
Although Henderson comes from an Olympic wrestling background, his striking is feared in MMA. Again, it's very different from Silva. Henderson is like the old-school boxing warrior who relies on his chin, a devastating right hand and a willingness to take several shots for the ability to retaliate with knockout power.
"He's definitely a more refined striker and has a little bit of a reach advantage on me," he said. "His strength is getting into the clinch and beating up guys from there, but that's my strength. I think my style matches up pretty great with him. I'm pretty comfortable in the clinch with anyone. I have a lot of power. I can still knock him out even though he's a better striker.
Henderson's clear edge is in wrestling. He's among the more decorated wrestlers in the sport, with several national championships to his credit dating back to winning two junior nationals titles at 17. He represented the U.S. in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics and was the 1990 teenage world champion in Greco-Roman wrestling at 163 pounds.
"I don't think it (wrestling)is his strong point, but I'm not expecting to take him down at will," said Henderson. "But I've fought better wrestlers than him."
Henderson's entree to MMA in 1997 was through then-training partner Randy Couture. With little going for him but his wrestling background, he won a tournament in Brazil, the first of four he's won during his career, attesting to his durability. At the time, he had no aspirations for world championships, and MMA was just a way to fund his quest for an Olympic medal. While most think of him as a PRIDE fighter, he actually won a UFC under-200-pound tournament in 1998 to earn a shot at then-middleweight champion Frank Shamrock. The match never happened though, as Henderson's goal was his wrestling career.
MMA didn't become his prime sport until two things happened.
The first was winning a Japanese open weight RINGS King of Kings tournament, where he won decisions over three much larger heavyweights – feared striker Gilbert Yvel and Brazilian submission specialists Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Renato Sobral &ndash all on the same night in early 2000. Then, he failed to make the 2000 Olympic team.
The PRIDE promotion was starting to take off as the Japanese MMA boom period started in 2000, and they lured the RINGS champion to an even bigger stage.
When PRIDE created the 183-pound division in 2005, Henderson scored devastating knockouts of Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono, then won a split decision over Murilo Bustamante on Dec. 31, 2005, to become PRIDE's first champion.
He's lost only once in that weight – a non-title match with Kazuo Misaki on Aug. 26, 2006, where he said he simply came in flat and spent the fight looking for a knockout standing and getting outpointed in the process.
Henderson won his second PRIDE title Feb. 24, 2007, knocking out Wanderlei Silva in Las Vegas.
When PRIDE was purchased by the owners of the UFC last April, UFC management pegged Henderson vs. Anderson Silva as the direction it wanted to go, but Henderson said he wanted to fight as a light heavyweight. As someone unconcerned with the size of his opponent, he saw light heavyweight as UFC's deepest division, which meant more challenges and more money. He fought champion Quinton Jackson close in their unification match on Sept. 8 in London, England, but lost a unanimous decision after five rounds. Although he first resisted, he agreed to UFC president Dana White's request to drop to 185.
"Typically, I get up for the challenges," said Henderson. "At the time, the bigger challenge was at 205. I was a little bit stubborn at first when Dana asked me to cut to 185. But when he asked me to fight Anderson Silva, that was a big challenge, and the more I thought about it, the more excited I got about it. So it was a no-brainer to go down."
- Anderson Silva