On Saturday night inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., UFC fans will see a matchup between two of the greatest, and most heralded American mixed martial artists in the history of the sport when Daniel Cormier meets Dan Henderson in the co-main event of UFC 173.
Both Cormier, 35, and Henderson, 43, are former Olympians in the sport of wrestling. “DC” represented the USA in 2004 & 2008, and “Hendo” in 1992 & 1996, respectively. Over his 17-year career, Henderson has put together a list of accolades that would make even the most accomplished champion blush; former Pride FC two-division champion, former Pride FC 2005 Welterweight Grand Prix Champion, former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion, and once upon a time (in May 1999 to be exact) he even walked out victorious in a one-night middleweight tournament at UFC 17.
Talk about longevity.
Conversely, Cormier sits with an undefeated record of 14-0 and carries a nasty reputation for being a next-gen talent with a seemingly unsolvable skill-set up until this point. Despite getting a late start in MMA (Cormier was 30 when he began his career), the Louisiana-native has long been considered a fighter to watch as the next can’t-miss prospect.
So, when the match-up was announced earlier this year, it’s no wonder the MMA world went into a tizzy when Henderson was announced as an almost eight-to-one underdog against the former Oklahoma State Cowboy.
“That’s nonsense,” said Cormier on Thursday inside the MGM Grand when asked about the betting line. “This is a legend in the sport.”
Cormier speaks about Henderson with such reverence it hits like a breath of fresh air. He blankets the all-time great with praise and admiration. It makes you wonder what the oddsmakers were thinking when they released the line. Were they aware of who Dan Henderson was – because Daniel Cormier certainly is -- or did they just spin a bottle? Perhaps they just drew numbers from a hat?
Make no mistake about it: Dan Henderson should be the underdog at UFC 173.
But when you consider that Hendo is coming off a win in his most recent outing against MMA legend Mauricio Rua back in March, and given his two close split-decision losses to Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida, respectively in 2013, it’s not unreasonable to think that Dan Henderson still has plenty left in the tank. Take it a step further, and if you can look past his first-round knockout at the hands of a hulked-up Vitor Belfort in November of last year, fans haven’t seen Henderson lose decisively since Anderson Silva at UFC 82 all the way back in 2008. In short, to call the eight-to-one line ‘criminal’ would be an understatement.
For context, Cormier met UFC-newcomer Pat Cummins at UFC 170. At the time, Cummins was an upstart with a 4-0 record, and was working in a coffee shop the week before the fight, accepting the bout on just days notice.
He closed as a six-to-one underdog.
Meaning, Vegas had a virtual unknown/part-time barista as a more likely candidate to defeat Daniel Cormier than a former champion who had beaten the likes of Fedor Emelianenko, Shogun Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Vitor Belfort.
Rest assured for fans of Cormier, though; he may be fairly new to MMA, but the man knows combat sports. Having come up in the USA Olympic system when Henderson was making his runs to Barcelona and Atlanta, Cormier has gone as far to call his opponent on Saturday an “idol.” He’s well aware of the dangers his opponent presents, and he says that if Hendo must be an underdog, then he should be similar to what Rashad Evans was before dropping out of their scheduled meeting at UFC 170.
“If Rashad Evans was two, or three-to-one, then Dan Henderson should be somewhere along those lines, even if he shouldn’t be the favorite because they fought to a split-decision,” Cormier stated.
He will go one step further and admit that Henderson should probably be the favorite come Saturday – something even the biggest supporters of the aging legend may have trouble endorsing.
“I really do feel like these guys [Evans & Henderson] should be favored in these fights,” he exclaimed without a hint of sarcasm. “These guys are legends. These guys have done so much more than I have in my career. If I was a betting, obviously I’d bet on myself, but to see a line like that, I’d go drop some money on Dan Henderson.”
Coming from anyone other than Daniel Cormier, statements such as that may come off as patronizing when talking about such a massive long shot. But Cormier speaks with such conviction, and with such a matter-of-fact approach that one finds it hard to argue with his stance.
In no real surprise, Dan Henderson doesn’t have much to say on the subject. No arguments. No cares given. Just the solid, steadfast response that most would expect from the hardened veteran who has competed in three different decades of MMA competition.
“It really, honestly, didn’t phase me one bit,” said the 43-year-old former Olympian. “I ‘ve seen weirder things in the sport. I guess it motivates you in training, but I really didn’t pay much attention to it. I now what I’m capable of doing, and I think so does Daniel, and I plan on proving people wrong. I know what’s going to happen on Saturday and if you got your money on him then it probably wasn’t a smart bet.”
To ensure victory on Saturday, and prove the oddsmakers wrong, Henderson is focusing on wrestling; however, unlike previous fights, the future Hall-of-Famer will be focusing on his opponent’s ground attack, not the other way around.
“I think a lot of it will come down to game-plan and executing the game-plan; for me, making sure I don’t get stuck on my back at all,” said Henderson. “I’d like to defend every takedown he attempts.
“I can make him work hard to get him, and punish him along the way. I can get him frustrated so he doesn’t have any choice but to stand up with me.”
With the odds so heavily tilted in his favor, Cormier explains that he couldn’t possibly overlook his opponent; he prepares for monsters. Every time Daniel Cormier trains for a fight, he trains to battle his worst nightmare, so whatever happens in the cage will be of little significance. He explains that he will dictate the pace and control every corner of the cage en route to victory and an eventual showdown with UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones.
A fight he promises he will wait for if victorious this Saturday in the desert.
“Those guys can never be what I make them out to be in my training,” recited Cormier with a glare. “I make them out to be Godzilla. They have Mike Tyson’s punching power with Gracie Jiu-Jitsu – the wrestling of John Smith.
“I work hard because I care about what I’ve done accomplished so far. I care about being undefeated. I care about the dominance I’ve shown in all of my fights. I care about that. It means something to me, so I don’t want to risk that.”
Apparently it means something to the oddsmakers, too.
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