Just one week after the UFC gave fight fans an action packed main event for UFC 171 as Johnny Hendricks captured the welterweight strap via a unanimous decision victory over Robbie Lawler, the promotion comes right back with UFC Fight Night 38, which takes place in Brazil.
And though no title will be on the line for this card’s main event, rest assured the featured bout is one of the most highly anticipated rematches in UFC history.
Back in November of 2011, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (22-8) faced off with Dan “Hendo” Henderson (29-11) in what turned out to be hailed as one of the best MMA fights of all time. Henderson won that bout via unanimous decision with all 3 judges scoring the bout 48-47, but many argued the fight should have been at least declared a draw.
Fight stats do support fans of Rua who claim he won that night as he landed 19 more strikes, had 4 more take-downs, and passed Henderson’s guard a total of 8 times. So it should come as no surprise that bookmakers are currently serving up Rua as a 225 betting favorite, with the take-back on Henderson +185. Personally, I expect this line to climb between now and fight night based on the recent form of both men leading into the rematch, and more importantly the location of the bout.
In fact, that win against Rua was the last time Henderson had his hand raised inside the Octagon, having lost 3 straight fights against some of the biggest names at 205 lbs, Machida, Evans, and Belfort. But a closer look at those bouts shows that except for the devastating knock-out suffered at the hands, or rather leg, of Belfort in the very 1st round, his fights with both Machida and Evans were by way of “split-decision” losses or he could very well be entering the cage having won 6 of his last 7.
His opponent Rua, had also lost 3 of his last 4 before a 1st round knock-out this past December against the always difficult to finish James Te-Huna, which many believe signaled that at only 32 years of age, “Shogun” still has some big fights in him. With that said, many believe this bout may very well be the real proving ground for whether Rua’s got another championship run in him, or whether he’ll simply become a gatekeeper for the light heavyweight division’s elite.
Stylistically, Rua appears to have the advantage, especially if the fight remains standing. He’s one of the most dangerous Muay Thai strikers in the sport, and has proven to be much more efficient both offensively and defensively than Henderson. Rua has connected on 51% of strikes compared to 48% by Henderson, and he’s been able to avoid over 55% of strikes, while “Hendo’s” opponents have landed a little more than half.
There’s no debate on who is the better wrestler, since Henderson’s always been one of the best in MMA, and in a grappling match against Rua, he’ll definitely have the advantage. Statistically he’s both been more successful in his take-down attempts and in take-down defense, and once the fight hits the mat, Henderson prefers to use his ground and pound to finish. On the flip side, Rua will have the edge in the submission game being the much more accomplished Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner.
Bottom line, I expect Rua will look to stay away from Henderson early on and fight at a distance, using his potent leg kicks to try and slow him down when trying to shoot, and simultaneously avoiding Henderson’s fight-ending over-hand right. Though Hendo’s one of the best at taking a fight to the mat, I don’t think he’ll have an easy time against Rua, ultimately making this a stand-up bout.
At 43, I expect Henderson to be much easier to hit than he once was and Rua should be able to get well ahead on the score-cards. Eventually, I think Henderson will be trying to land that big right hand in an attempt to end the fight, allowing for Rua to continue piling up points and dishing out punishment. Don’t get me wrong, Henderson will have his moments and may even land a bomb or two, but Rua should still be able to take them and systematically break his opponent down to win the fight.
PICK: “SHOGUN” RUA
Vegas-Runner, a pro sports bettor in Las Vegas, has been featured on CNBC/ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @vegasrunner, at Pregame.com and on AM 1100 ESPN (also FM 98.9) on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. when he co-hosts First Preview. Contact Vegas Runner at [email protected].