One of the main components of any MMA fight these days is the game plan or strategy. Long gone are the days in which fighters would just be able to train without much thought of what they would need to do inside the Octagon to get the win.

Head coaches are often given the task of devising a structure to their fighters’ training camps to ensure that by the time the fight comes around it won’t feel like they are implementing a predefined game plan, but it will feel like second nature.

In this feature, we will look to identify the underdog in an upcoming bout and examine what is required of that underdog in order to overcome the odds and predictions and get the all-important “W” in the win column. The point, then, is to step into the shoes of a head coach to break down the fight and provide a game plan for the underdog.

This week’s subject is Dan Henderson, who squares off with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for a second time at UFC Fight Night 38 in Natal, Brazil on March 22.

Both men have struggled for consistency in recent fights, and there is a real sense of curiosity, when approaching this Saturday’s fight, to see if either man is showing the distinctive signs of slowing down in their advancing years.

Henderson is on a three-fight losing streak. He is most recently coming off a head-kick loss to Vitor Belfort in November. As a consequence, Hendo’s punch resistance will be scrutinized in this fight, as it is often the case that one knockout loss can then lead to several others.

Shogun, meanwhile, is coming off a win against James Te Huna in December. That win will give Rua, who was previously on a two-fight losing streak, some much-needed confidence. Whilst, at 32, Shogun might not be considered generally old, the amount of fights he has been in and the punishment he has taken are sure to diminish his longevity in the sport at some point.

When the two legends battle it out in the Octagon in Brazil this weekend, it will finally conclude the sordid ordeal that is the era of testosterone-replacement therapy. After the ruling to ban therapeutic-use exemptions in Las Vegas, many other athletic commissions have followed suit and the UFC has promised to uphold that decision as well.

All of this means that Henderson will most likely be the last man to receive a TUE, for the foreseeable future at least, given he started his training camp and license application prior to the commission’s ruling. The decision to allow Henderson to proceed is definitely the correct one, as it would be unfair at this point to alter the conditions under which he is licensed.

The Breakdown

When these two fighters met at UFC 139 in November 2011, what followed was perhaps the greatest single fight in UFC history, if not all of MMA.

For five rounds, both men gave everything they had. The eventual winner was decided to be Henderson for his early efforts, despite Shogun coming on late and turning in a final round that was especially dominant for the Brazilian.

The worry in the rematch is that too much expectation is placed on it to live up to the first fight or even surpass it. Whilst that is a lofty goal, the styles of both fighters remain unchanged, so the end result should theoretically be the same or at least broadly similar.

One of the first things to go for any fighter is their chin. Shogun and Henderson have been in some of the craziest battles in MMA, and the accumulation of all those blows in the cage and in training must take their toll at some point. As such, the punches that Henderson landed on Shogun early on could have a much more devastating impact upon the Brazilian fighter this time around, now that Rua has been gradually weakened by the sheer torture he has put his body through in the past. The same goes for Henderson, who has been around the MMA game for what seems like an eternity. Given his recent losing streak, Henderson must be wondering if his time is quickly coming to an end.

The Strategy

For many years, we have seen Henderson rely upon his “H Bomb,” which can end the fight within a split second. He has a tendency to keep it glued to his cheek, cocked and ready to fire, and therefore has the ability to land it in any position.

In the first fight, he managed to land some heavy shots on Shogun early. Henderson did so generally when he was in close, “fighting in a phone booth,” as they say. If Henderson is to come out of the rematch as the victor, he must keep to this tactic and look to constantly step on the feet of Shogun so that the Brazilian cannot extend on his punches or get any room with which to fire off any leg kicks.

In this test of true legends of the game, it might come down to the overall conditioning. This is why Henderson should look to compliment his up-close striking style with a few takedowns. This strategy is not just to keep Shogun guessing, but an effort to tire him out so that his punches become more labored as the rounds progress.

Shogun is perhaps the favorite heading into this one, but that is a bold prediction. How either fighter can be considered a favorite in this fight seems strange, given the wild and chaotic first fight which could have ended with either man unconscious at several points throughout the contest.

Recent results do lie in Shogun’s favor, undoubtedly, and this may be the sole basis of those odds. If these odds are to stand up and Shogun gets the victory, could we possibly see a third fight to settle the score once and for all?

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer

Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.