Strikeforce, Henderson Vs. Babalu: What a Victory Means for Main Event Winner
Tonight on Showtime, Strikeforce presents its final event of the year, headlined by veterans Dan Henderson and Renato "Babalu" Sobral in a rematch of their first fight that took place just over 10 years ago.
Since that time, both fighters have become household names in the sport, but there is also a general feeling that both are approaching the twilight of their careers. Henderson turned 40 earlier this year, and Babalu is 35. Not exactly spring chickens.
But that only raises the stakes of this fight. A win would mean many things for both fighters, but most of all it would mean that they aren't finished.
Henderson is coming off an upset decision loss to Jake Shields in his Strikeforce debut. The first round saw Henderson hurt Shields repeatedly with his heavy hands, but Shields recovered and out-grappled Henderson for the remainder of the five rounds.
Babalu is just one win removed from a devastating first-minute knockout to Gegard Mousasi, losing his Strikeforce light heavyweight title.
But that is certainly not the only incentive in winning this fight.
For Henderson, of course it would mean he is back in the win column. But for Babalu, it would be the biggest win of his career.
Really, Babalu is most famous for the fights that he lost. His two bouts with Chuck Liddell in the UFC—the first being for the top contender spot and the second for the light heavyweight championship—both ended in first-round knockouts and rank near the top of Liddell's storied wins.
To this point, the highest moment of Babalu's career came when he defeated Trevor Prangley, Mauricio Rua and Jeremy Horn all in the same night to win the IFL light heavyweight tournament in 2003.
Of course, Rua could be ranked as the biggest win of Babalu's career, but it was a Rua that had only fought four times, not the champion we have come to know these days. Nonetheless, it was a tremendous accomplishment.
But that tournament win is not well known to the general American public, and to most fans watching tonight, he will be remembered for his failed bids in the UFC. A win tonight would be a major step in changing the lasting images in the heads of the fickle MMA audience.
A successful main event tonight would also be a step towards proving that neither fighter needs the UFC to remain a top-level competitor. This is a tremendous matchup, and fans should recognize that Strikeforce is adding some terrific fights to the sport that we otherwise wouldn't get to enjoy.
Babalu was booted from the UFC in 2007 for holding on to a choke over David Heath for a second or two after he tapped. Babalu had dominated the fight, but apparently Heath's pre-fight trash talk had brought about an angry side of Babalu, and that mistake cost him his job and $25,000.
He quickly found a home at Strikeforce following the incident, and has put it behind him.
Henderson was on a three-fight win streak in the UFC, capped off with one of the most shocking knockouts in MMA history over Michael Bisping at UFC 100, before the promotion refused to meet his price in a new contract or give him an immediate shot at their middleweight title. Henderson left the UFC for budding promotion Strikeforce, but lost his debut to their middleweight champion Jake Shields.
Now, Henderson has moved back to light heavyweight, and his matchup with Babalu tonight has been deemed for the No. 1 contender spot for the Strikeforce title, currently held by Rafael Cavalcante.
With a win over Cavalcante, for Babalu it would mean he gets his old title back. For Henderson, it would mean another title added to his record two Pride world championships.
But, more important than anything else, a win will put the winner back in the spotlight. And it seems that Strikeforce is starting to get the hang of this matchmaking stuff.
The UFC has excelled at making matchups that are a win-win for the promotion, meaning whoever wins will benefit the company. Strikeforce has had a hard time using this concept with matchups like Bobby Lashley against Chad Griggs, where Griggs upset the applecart but the company had no plans to do anything with his future.
The matchup tonight creates a star in Strikeforce that they can push in future main events, no matter who wins. Both fighters realize that. Let's just hope they fight like it.