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Strikeforce Preview: Fedor’s Future On The Line Against Henderson

Fedor EmelianenkoThe future of Fedor Emelianenko is on the line in Saturday night’s “Strikeforce: Fedor vs Henderson” main event on Showtime.

The former heavyweight kingpin faces Dan Henderson, the gritty Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, in a fight that will likely tell us if Fedor still has what it takes to be a competitive mixed martial artist.

This novel battle of legends is supplemented by a women’s title bout between champion Marloes Coenen and Miesha Tate, a middleweight showdown between former title challengers Tim Kennedy and Robbie Lawler, and a clash between Paul Daley and Tyron Woodley that should dictate the future of Strikeforce’s welterweight division. Sound good? Let’s dive into the fights.

Heavyweight Bout: Fedor Emelianenko (31-3, 1 NC) vs Dan Henderson (27-8)

Breakdown:  No one will dispute the fact that these are two of the sport’s greatest legends.  This fight, however, means little in the grand scheme of the sport today as it is merely a novelty fight.  That doesn’t make it any less interesting.  Fedor has everything to lose in this fight.  He is coming off of losses to Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva, and a loss to a middleweight/light heavyweight that he significantly outweighs will kill any hopes of title contention.  The lack of a clear cut contender in the Strikeforce light heavyweight class made Henderson’s decision to take this fight much easier.  Hendo thrives on challenges like this and enters the fight riding a tidal wave of momentum stemming from back to back knockouts over Renato Sobral and Rafael Feijao.

The long-time king of the heavyweight division, Fedor was feared for his explosive punching power, lightning fast submissions, and his stoic demeanor.  “The Last Emperor” has certainly slowed down as of late, and showed signs of vulnerability in wins over Andrei Arlovski and Brett Rogers.  In his two losses, Fedor has been uncharacteristically reckless. He dove right into Werdum’s guard and into a triangle and futilely attempted to trade punches with Silva, who outweighed him by thirty pounds.  Fedor needs to enter this fight with a gameplan, and protect himself from Henderson’s murderous right hand.  Fedor can find great success in this fight working from top position, where his significant size advantage will come into play.

Henderson shook off his tough loss to Jake Shields and rebounded with the KO’s of Sobral and Feijao.  Even though he’s a two-time Olympic wrestler, Henderson prefers to take part in dogfights standing.  When he chooses to utilize his wrestling, Henderson can be very effective in controlling his opponents, but lately he’s become more reliant on that lethal right hand.  What concerns me about Henderson’s style is that he tends to fight out of control and lose his balance, often putting him in bad position.  That’s not a good thing when you’re fighting Fedor.

The outcome:  The X factor here is Fedor’s mental state.  If Fedor is a “reluctant fighter” and does not come into this fight properly prepared he will get hurt and ultimately have to face his mortality in the sport.  I’m banking on a refreshed Fedor.  He’s not fighting the typical giants of the heavyweight division and should have a significant size advantage here.  Henderson will get out of control and end up on his back and Fedor will finish from top position.  Fedor Emelianenko will defeat Dan Henderson by second round TKO.

Women’s Welterweight Championship Bout:  Marloes Coenen (19-4) vs Miesha Tate (11-2)

Breakdown:  It will be exciting to see two of the most talented female fighters on the planet lock horns on Saturday night.  With the absence of Cris Cyborg and Gina Carano, it’s up to Coenen and Tate to carry the banner for women’s mixed martial arts until their respective returns.

Coenen is a Dutch fighter who trains out of Golden Glory and like most from that camp she is quite skilled at kickboxing.  Yet Coenen is much more than a standup fighter as her submission skills and heart are second to none, as evidenced by her win over Liz Carmouche in March.  Coenen found herself mounted twice and absorbed strikes from the powerful Carmouche.  Coenen has a very active and tricky guard, and used that pull of a fourth round triangle of Carmouche.  Roxanne Modafferi and Sarah Kaufman are also submission victims of Coenen, who has rightfully been nicknamed “Female Rickson” and “Rumina.”  I’m concerned about Coenen’s tendency to get pushed around on the fence as well her willingness to give up position for sub attempts.  I’d like to see her work her striking at a distance when facing a wrestler like Tate who can give her problems.

Tate has both solid wrestling and striking skills.  Her tendency to push the pace and work for takedowns should work in her favor, especially in this fight.  Coenen will have a three inch height advantage, so Tate will need to work in close quarters to negate her reach and pull off her duck under takedowns.  Tate is a member of Team Alpha Male (does that make her the Alpha Female?) and will surely have some tricks up her sleeve for Coenen.

The outcome:  You’d have to think that Tate was encouraged by watching the success Carmouche had against Coenen.  Now it’s up to Tate to employ Carmouche’s game plan to the fullest.  I think Tate’s wrestling skills will play a significant factor in her controlling the fight.  Coenen will offer up a number of submissions, but I feel Tate will be able to advance positions and finish the job.  Miesha Tate will become the new Strikeforce Women’s Welterweight Champion with a fourth round TKO of Marloes Coenen.

Middleweight Bout:  Robbie Lawler (18-7, 1 NC) vs Tim Kennedy (13-3)

Breakdown:  When “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler steps into the cage, it’s a guarantee he will swing for the fences.  While the former Elite XC Middleweight champion has used his crushing punching power to best the likes of Matt Lindland, Melvin Manhoef, and Scott Smith, Lawler has had trouble with submission-based fighters.  Lawler has tasted submissions at the hands of Jacare Souza, Jake Shields, and Jason Miller.  While Souza and Shields are two of the best in the game in terms of getting a tapout, the key for Lawler is to keep his fights standing where he can use his superior athleticism and punching power to overwhelm his opponents.

Tim Kennedy is not only a gritty and talented fighter, he is a bona fide war hero who was awarded a Bronze Star medal for valor under fire.  While Kennedy has no problem standing up and striking with his opponents, he excels in the submission aspect of the game.  Kennedy’s submission skills were put on full display in his Strikeforce wins over Manhoef, Trevor Prangley, and Zak Cummings.  Kennedy looks better and improved in every fight as it’s clear that his training with Greg Jackson’s team has paid dividends.

The outcome:  Kennedy will need to use the same strategy against Lawler that he did against Manhoef.  In that fight, Kennedy weathered Manhoef’s early storm and steadily maneuvered him to the ground for the submission.  Kennedy will have to work hard to smother Lawler against the cage because one shot from the “Ruthless” one could end his night.  Tim Kennedy is a survivor, and he’ll survive Saturday night by exploiting his opponent’s weakness.  Tim Kennedy will defeat Robbie Lawler by second round rear naked choke.

Welterweight Bout:  Paul Daley (27-10-2) vs Tyron Woodley (8-0)

Breakdown:  Paul “Semtex” Daley possesses some of the heaviest hands in the welterweight division.  Yet “Semtex” has had one weakness in his MMA career – wrestlers.  Jake Shields and Josh Koscheck were both able to wrestle Daley to the ground and prevent him from throwing strikes.  The brash and cocky Daley is looking to erase the sting from his loss to Nick Diaz, and can throw himself back into the title picture with a win over Tyron Woodley.  Daley holds a significant experience advantage over Woodley and can end the fight with a single punch.

On the surface it appears Woodley is exactly the type of wrestler who can give Daley problems.  Woodley, a wrestling teammate of Bellator stars Michael Chandler and Ben Askren at the University of Missouri, has effectively added a very dangerous submission game to his arsenal.  Training out of American Top Team in Florida, Woodley has quickly emerged as a top welterweight prospect.  His takedowns are very good and his top game is especially dangerous as he is always looking to improve his position.  Woodley’s hands have gotten better as well, as evidenced by his KO of Andre Galvao.

The outcome:  The winner of this fight will have their sights set directly on the Strikeforce welterweight crown that was vacated by Diaz.  I find it hard to believe that Woodley can hold Daley down for a full three rounds like Koscheck did.  At some point Daley will land a shot, and Woodley will be staring at the lights.  Paul “Semtex” Daley will defeat Tyron Woodley by KO (punch) in round two.

Welterweight Bout:  Scott Smith (17-8, 1 NC) vs Tarec Saffiedine (10-3)

Breakdown:  Scott “Hands of Steel” Smith is never out of a fight.  Smith is known for his legendary comebacks against Cung Le and Benji Radach.  In both fights Smith took a serious beating, only to rebound in each with a third round desperation knockout.  Smith has a lot of heart and can take some serious punishment.  His striking is not very polished, but he hits quite hard.  Smith’s ground game is a definite weakness.

Tarec Saffiedine is a Belgian fighter who trains with Dan Henderson at Team Quest.  Saffiedine is 2-1 in the Strikeforce promotion with the only loss coming at the hands of Tyron Woodley.  Saffiedine is a talented, tricky striker who put those skills on full display in his knockout of Nate Moore.  Saffiedine used his striking and footwork to shut down Brock Larson and James Terry.  Quietly, Saffiedine is becoming a legitimate contender in this champion-less division.

The outcome:  If Saffiedine can mix up his strikes with the occasional takedown and submission attempts to keep Smith off balance, he’ll have an excellent Saturday night.  The last thing you want to present Smith is a stationary target.  Smith is a relatively one-dimensional fighter, yet he refuses to give up and that alone makes him dangerous.  Saffiedine will take the next step in his career here.  Tarec Saffiedine will defeat Scott Smith by unanimous decision.

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