UFC Fight Night 38: Mauricio Rua vs. Dan Henderson Head-to-Toe Breakdown
Since losing via decision against Henderson, Rua has maintained relevance with knockout wins over James Te-Huna and Brandon Vera. However, he sits outside serious title contention, thanks to losses to Alexander Gustafsson and Chael Sonnen.
Henderson, meanwhile, has exclusive fought ranked competition since his last meeting with Rua. That has led to three straight losses for the former Pride FC champion, who was most recently knocked out by Vitor Belfort at UFC Fight Night 32.
With so much mileage, Henderson and Rua can't keep at this for much longer. This matchup could be the last opportunity for both men to spark a run at the light heavyweight championship.
So, here is a closer look at how they match up this time around.
Has Dan Henderson's 43-year-old chin finally had enough?
This important question emerged after the former Pride FC champion's most recent outing against Vitor Belfort. Heading into that matchup, Henderson had never been knocked out in his 39 prior MMA contests. Less than two minutes into their meeting, Belfort ended Henderson's streak with a head kick.
While he hadn't been stopped with strikes prior to his appearance at UFC Fight Night 32, Henderson has taken loads of punishment over the years. Now nearly 17 years into his MMA career, age and cumulative damage could be catching up with the Californian.
Mauricio Rua hasn't been looking as good as Belfort recently, but he is still as dangerous as almost any light heavyweight when standing. The Brazilian has picked up his past seven wins with knockouts.
Although Henderson was the only fighter to score a knockdown in their first meeting, Rua has a deeper striking arsenal. "Hendo" mostly uses kicks to set up his right overhands, whereas "Shogun" utilizes kicks more frequently and has scored a number of notable knockouts with knees in the clinch.
Those knees could result in Henderson's second knockout loss, and Rua's kicks should help him in staying outside the range of his opponent's big right hand.
Mauricio Rua scored five takedowns compared to Dan Henderson's one in their first meeting, but that paints an inaccurate picture of their wrestling abilities.
A closer look shows "Shogun" had only one takedown on six attempts through three rounds. It wasn't until Henderson began fading badly in the fourth and fifth rounds that Rua piled on the takedowns. Henderson's conditioning, rather than technique, caused him to be outwrestled at UFC 139.
While Henderson has become a headhunter since finding the knockout power in his right hand, he was once a world-class Greco-Roman wrestler. When he's fresh and in the clinch, he can take down most light heavyweights if he chooses to do so.
Since his previous fight with Henderson, Rua has been taken down eight times in three fights. Defending 34 percent of takedowns inside the Octagon, he is an opponent that Henderson should be looking to wrestle with all night long.
Did "Hendo" learn that when Rua took his best shots last time around, or will he continue to throw his "H-Bomb" against the Brazilian?
Either way, Henderson should rule the wrestling department in the early rounds.
Dan Henderson has not seen a fight end in submission since his March 2008 loss to Anderson Silva.
While "Hendo" has been submitted three times in his MMA career, Rua isn't likely going to be the one to hand him a fourth submission loss. Aside from Silva, the Nogueira brothers were the only other fighters to submit Henderson, and those submissions came back in the American's Pride FC days.
Rua is skilled on the ground, but with only one submission victory in 30 MMA bouts, he's not as big a threat as those who have stopped Henderson. "Shogun" will take risks and dive on leg locks, but he more often turns them into sweeps than legitimate submission threats.
If Henderson opts to use his wrestling more in this matchup, look for Rua to attempt leglocks to create opportunities for escapes.
Although Chael Sonnen recently submitted Rua, Shogun doesn't leave many openings on the ground. Forrest Griffin and Renato Sobral are the only other fighters to submit the former light heavyweight champion, and those losses occurred more than six years ago.
When Henderson and Rua do go to the ground at UFC Fight Night 38, don't expect either to finish unless one man is rocked.
Mauricio Rua and Dan Henderson both last competed late in 2013. So neither man should be rusty coming into UFC Fight Night 38.
Much like the first meeting between the light heavyweights, we can expect a fast pace right away on Sunday.
However, a high work rate could take a toll on both fighters over five rounds.
While Henderson had bigger issues with his conditioning the first time around, he was repeatedly unloading for the finish in the first three rounds. Now that he knows how hard "Shogun" can be to put away, "Hendo" might be more patient should he rock the Brazilian.
The first bout would suggest that Rua has a better gas tank, but both men are susceptible to fading in the later rounds depending on how the early rounds play out.
If Dan Henderson makes use of his wrestling, he could break his losing streak at UFC Fight Night 38.
Henderson doesn't seem interested in that route to victory anymore, though. He hasn't scored multiple takedowns in any of his past five UFC appearances. Considering he didn't attempt a single takedown against Vitor Belfort or Rashad Evans, it's hard to say he'll adjust his approach now.
A fighter's chin can go downhill quickly at 43 years old. So, following his first knockout loss at UFC Fight Night 32, Henderson's willingness to trade with dangerous strikers is troubling.
Rua was onto something with the uppercuts he threw in his first meeting with Henderson. The American leans into his punches and leaves himself open when he throws that right overhand.
While this fight could go in a completely different direction depending on Henderson's game plan, I foresee Rua sending the former Pride FC champion into retirement with a knockout in front of the Brazilian crowd.
Prediction: Rua defeats Henderson by (T)KO in the first round.
Statistics via FightMetric.com.