Let’s begin by saying that two mixed martial arts fighters stand out above the rest regardless of what happens tonight.
Dan Henderson, 41, and Jon Jones, 24, were absolutely the most impressive MMA fighters over the past 12 months.
Jones beat Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Ryan Bader and Lyoto Machida while Henderson beat Rafael Cavalcante, Fedor Emelianenko and Shogun Rua. Both beat Rua but there are some major distinctions:
Henderson is only 5’10” in height and weighs roughly about 200 pounds soaking wet. Jones is 6’4” in height and is an athletic marvel. Plus, Henderson is nearly twice Jones’ age. In 17 years will Jones be able to do what Henderson accomplished this year?
I think not.
Adding up all the variables and wins it’s easy for me to decide that Southern California’s “Hendo” Henderson (29-8) is the MMA Fighter of the Year for 2011. The master grappler with the blockbuster right hand earned the distinction the hard way.
Last year more than a few fight experts determined that Henderson had seen better days after losing to Jake Shields. But that was last year. This year he rallied back behind that right hand bomb to quickly turn things around.
“It’s always gratifying to tell people you are not done yet and then to go out and show them as well,” said Henderson by phone.
The former Victorville native beat Brazilian Cavalcante by bludgeoning the 30-year-old and forcing a stoppage in the third round to win the Strikeforce light heavyweight title earlier in the year.
Next up was Russia’s great prizefighter Emelianenko who at one time participated in 28 consecutive fights without a loss. But this was Henderson’s moment to shine and he performed flawlessly.
“He’s just tough. He hits hard and he’s pretty tough. Both of those things were concerns in my mind going into the fight,” Henderson said of Emelianenko, who fights as a heavyweight. “I wasn’t worried about the weight.”
All through Henderson’s career the overhand right has been his signature punch and most lethal weapon. He’s also refined his combination punches and fires with fluidity and accurate precision. It was a right hand that led to a victory over the great Emelianenko.
“It was definitely one of the biggest accomplishments of my career,” said Henderson, who stopped Emelianenko in the first round of their match.
On Nov. 19, in San Jose, Henderson met former light heavyweight champion Rua in a non-title fight with title implications. Going into the fight Henderson’s plan was to utilize his sledgehammer right hand to decide the fight. Immediately he landed the blow and staggered the Brazilian, but though Rua teetered, he did not crumble.
“I didn’t expect him to take a punch like that. I figured if I hit him I had a good chance to KO him, but he proved me wrong on that one,” Henderson said.
Rua survived a shaky first round and the effects of Henderson’s thunderous right hands to rally and close the distance. After five tumultuous and riveting back-and-forth rounds the ageless Henderson was deemed the winner by unanimous decision in the physically exhausting match.
The crowd pleasing win also showed that Henderson has a lot more to offer in the Octagon.
“This has been one of my top years for sure,” Henderson said.
Henderson is this year’s Fighter of the Year.
Heavyweight contender Brock Lesnar (5-2) fights Alistair Overeem (35-11-1) in a scheduled five rounds tonight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Ultimate Fighting Championship fight card is also available on pay-per-view.
Also fighting are Nate Diaz versus Don Cerrone, Jon Fitch against Johny Hendricks, Vladimir Matyushenko and Alexander Gustafsson, and Nam Phan against Jimy Hettes will be on the pay-per-view portion.
Lesnar and Overeem have prepared well for this big moment to see who fights new heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos.
“Well I've had plenty of time to train and being healthy and once again, I’m motivated. I've been able to just work on a lot of different things,” said former champion Lesnar.
Overeem has been training in England.
“Yes so I can just say I feel good mentally and physically. I am strong, I'm heavy, I am sharp. I'm sparring and wrestling guys and it's going well,” Overeem said.
Fights on television
Fri. Spike, 6 p.m., Ross Pearson (14-5) vs. Junior Assuncao (14-4)
Fri. pay-per-view, 7 p.m., Brock Lesnar (5-2) vs. Alistair Overeem (35-11-1); Nate Diaz (14-7) vs. Don Cerrone (17-3), Jon Fitch (26-3-1) vs. Johny Hendricks (11-1).
Fri. Showtime, 11 p.m., Jermain Taylor (28-4-1) vs. Jesse Nicklow (22-2-3).