In this three-part series, we honor the impending UFC retirement of the all-time great Anderson Silva with a look at three of his most important victories: today, his battle with the patron saint of the right overhand, Dan “Hendo” Henderson.
There’s a good argument to be made that Anderson Silva’s resume is somewhat lacking. Certainly, large swathes of the opposition on his famous 16 fight streak likely would not cut it in the UFC today, if they brought the skillsets they had then. There is one exception, of course. Even the most ardent Silva haters do not deny the achievement of his defeat of Dan Henderson. That victory is the crown jewel in the streak, and the lynchpin of Silva’s legitimacy.
Hendo and The Spider Ascendant: The Trial of Anderson Silva
Henderson was simply a terror. A threat in every division he fought in – the Greco-Roman wrestler fought from middleweight to heavyweight. Likely to the astonishment of many newer fans, during his early career Henderson was mocked as “decision Dan”. This was because of his victories in the 1999 Rings King of Kings tournament that included a split decision and two majority decisions. But when Henderson discovered his legendary power he became a knockout artist par excellence. By the end of his PRIDE run, not only had he triumphed over the PRIDE Welterweight (UFC middleweight) tournament, but he held both the PRIDE 185 and 205 straps.
“Hendo”‘s game could often look awkward. But his wrestling was top class in all areas, takedowns, top control and against the cage. His striking was sometimes crude but always effective; using leg kicks to weaken an opponent’s stance and get them to forget the threat of that terrible right overhand that would turn off the lights.
When we last left Silva, he had achieved his first victory of note. After defeating Sakurai, Silva went on a fairly mediocre PRIDE run. He had achieved his first truly great knockout, flooring former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton with a flying knee. But otherwise his achievements there were fairly unremarkable. But after a stint in the UK promotion Cage Rage, Silva would burst onto the UFC scene, his style now fully formed. He thrashed the popular banger, Chris Leben, then defeated the dominant champion Rich Franklin twice. Simply put, no one in the organization had the striking skills to trouble Silva and all too often they played right into his game.
But Henderson would be the ultimate test. He had just lost an extremely competitive decision to the UFC light heavyweight champion, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Now he would fight without that size disadvantage, against Silva.
Henderson opened with his usual, awkward leg kicks. Then he stepped in with his first right overhand of the night. Silva stayed clear, and responded with his own leg kicks. But Henderson burst in again, this time throwing two more right overhands. The story of the fight was very clear. Silva tried to keep Henderson back with flicking high kicks. But soon “Hendo” found a bodylock, and the Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler hurled Silva to the ground. Over the next two minutes, Henderson delivered a slow but steady stream of ground and pound, keeping Silva on the bottom till the end of the round.
Silva opened up with some kicks and punches in a few initial exchanges. Now he was clearly wary not just of Henderson’s power but his wrestling.
Henderson hefted up a kick and then threw an overhand, but Silva smoothly pivoted out from him and blasted him with a southpaw jab. But Silva’s weakness with leading would cost him. As he threw a leg kick too close, Henderson caught it and then caught Silva with one of his massive overhands. As Silva sought to clinch, a second overhand missed by inches. Henderson then landed a big right uppercut before breaking the clinch. Hendo had shown he could land on Silva with his power. But at the same time, Silva had shown he could take it. Silva went right back to the attack, pounding in a high kick.
Then Henderson dragged Silva to the floor in a guard pull. An odd maneuver, but it paid dividends as Henderson then got up in the clinch and drove Silva to the fence. As Silva sought to turn away from the fence, Henderson hit him with a knee to the body, then a missed left hook and a clean right straight to the head.
But then Silva decisively turned the tide. As Henderson began to furiously swing sending himself almost off balance, Silva caught him twice with a left straight, then snatched a clinch. Silva pounded in a left knee then a monstrous right knee that both landed clean on Henderson’s chin. Henderson backed off and Silva pursued with punches, stopping just short as Henderson made another attempt to swing back. Henderson, still rocked, dove desperately at Silva’s ankles, but the Brazilian simply posted on his head and started throwing down punches. Soon, Silva was in mount and Henderson was on the receiving end of ground and pound. As Henderson tried to get up after catching his breath, Silva took his back and got him in a body triangle. Finally, Silva went for the rear naked choke and got the tap ten seconds before the end of the round.
Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson: Aftermath
Silva was only the third fighter to finish Henderson – he had been submitted twice before, once by each Nogueira brother. And he had unified the PRIDE and UFC titles in his own hands. Certainly, it had been a difficult fight, and before the knees Henderson had been in the lead. But Anderson Silva had defeated Henderson more resoundingly than even the UFC’s light heavyweight champion had managed, and this victory more than any other would serve as the pinnacle of his resume.
Henderson would go on to have success further afield – though he would never hold a UFC belt, he would go on to have fights like his legendary war with Shogun Rua and knockout wins over Michael Bisping and Fedor Emelianenko.
As for Silva? He would continue his streak, sometimes achieving awkward decisions, at other times spectacular knockouts. And we will see about the most spectacular of those knockouts next time…
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