Dominant.  Elite.  Unstoppable.  These are words that people are currently using to describe current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.

Prior to his successful title defense last Saturday, there were some skeptics in the crowd on whether or not “Bones” would make it out of Atlanta with the belt based on how he looked in the first round of his previous title defense against Lyoto Machida.  Those critics were silenced by the dominant performance that the champion displayed against former champ Rashad Evans.  But, as the saying goes, there is no rest for the weary, as immediately following the fight it was announced that Jones has a suitor for his title belt: former Pride welterweight and middleweight champion Dan Henderson.

At one point, those words that are now uttered in regards to Jones were said about Henderson.  After all, Henderson is the only person in the history of mixed martial arts to ever hold title belts in two different weight classes at the same time in a major promotion.  To say that the only reason he has been so successful in his career is his wrestling would be far from the truth, but it has definitely played a major role in his evolution as a fighter.

Wrestling always has been a major part of MMA, and it will continue to be.  A lot of the reason wrestling is so big in the sport has to do with dominant wrestlers that emerged in the sport’s infancy.  Guys like Matt Hughes, Randy Couture and Pat Miletich, along with Henderson, paved the way for current stars like Chael Sonnen, Ryan Bader, Cain Velasquez and Gray Maynard.  It is that wrestling among everything else that will give “Hendo” a legitimate shot at defeating Jones for the title.

It is no secret that Henderson has a lot of power behind his fists.  If there is any doubt that he is losing that power with his age, just ask Michael Bisping, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Rafael Cavalcante or Fedor Emelianenko about it, as all four of these fighters fell victim to the “H-bomb.”

But the light heavyweight champion has proven difficult to connect on.  The only fighter who has really hit Jones and got the better of the striking was former champion Lyoto Machida.  Even though he was choked out in the second round, “The Dragon” put the champion on his heels with his elite counter-striking, but he was unable to get the job done.

Former champions Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans looked timid across from “Bones,” which only made them look extremely vulnerable and ready to get hit by the champion, rather than looking for an opening to strike.  Henderson is capable of connecting with that devastating punch, but it will be difficult to accomplish against Jones.

That’s where the wrestling will come into play.  Guys like Rashad Evans and Ryan Bader were great collegiate wrestlers who Jon Jones handled rather easily, but Dan Henderson competed at the Olympics in both 1992 and 1996 in Greco-Roman wrestling.  Jones is known for throwing all sorts of unorthodox strikes while his opponents are standing across from him, but he won’t be able to get those strikes off against a fighter like Henderson, who will aim to close the distance, work the clinch and take him down.

It is easy to sleep on Dan Henderson when you talk about his age and how it may have caught up to him in the fifth round against “Shogun” in his last fight.  It is easy to sleep on him when you watch how he was handled rather easily by Jake Shields in his inaugural Strikeforce fight back in 2010.  But his wrestling is what won him the first round against Anderson Silva in their title fight back at UFC 82.  Sure, “Hendo” won the battle and Silva won the war, but that wrestling is the golden ticket in this fight.

Dan Henderson has a legitimate shot in this fight.  Don’t count him out.

Photo: Dan Henderson (L) battles “Shogun” Rua at UFC 139 (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.