Sunday, February 25, 2007

Henderson KOs Silva to win on sensational night for Pride

By Steve Sievert

On a night billed as the "Second Coming," American Dan Henderson walked away from the Pride Fighting Championships ring with his second title belt.

In a masterful performance that had middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva on the defensive most of the fight, Henderson floored Silva with a left hook to win by third-round knockout and strip the Brazilian of his belt in the main event of Pride 33 Saturday night in Las Vegas.

After the two traded shots throughout the first five minutes, Henderson, fighting for Team Quest, dominated the second round during which he had Silva on his back, peppering him with strikes and hammer fists. Henderson (22-5) kept pressing in the third, doing damage on his feet and ultimately landing the hook that connected cleanly and had Silva (31-7-1) out before he smacked the canvas.

Henderson now owns titles in two weight classes, as he came into the bout as the Pride welterweight titleholder. He also avenged a 2000 loss to Silva.

The loss raises some real questions about Silva, who has long been one of MMA's most compelling and competitive fighters. However, he's now been KO'd in consecutive bouts and is a pedestrian 2-3 in his last five outings. In his last two fights, Silva, 30, has simply not looked like the same fighter who ripped through opponents earlier this decade.

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for Silva as a truly elite mixed martial artist?

While Henderson's dramatic KO ended Pride's second U.S. show on an emphatic note, the battle between Nick Diaz and Takanori Gomi was actually the fight of the night. It was reminiscent of Hagler-Hearns and Griffin-Bonner, with both fighters throwing bombs from the get-go.

Gomi, a consensus top 10 world pound-for-pounder, appeared to be on the verge of victory when he dropped Diaz in the first round, but the American kept coming with his trademark doggedness.

Diaz took advantage of a withering Gomi and beat up the Japanese fighter, who made a critical mistake on a takedown that set up a beautiful gogoplata for Diaz that forced Gomi to tap at 1:46 of the second.

It was one of the best fights I've ever seen, and featured a truly spectacular performance from Diaz in his Pride debut. He was cut in the corner of his left eye in the first round and suffered a ghastly gash under his right eye in the second - a cut that will require plenty of stitches.

Diaz didn't look pretty at fight's end, but he was the one headed out of the ring with the trophy!

Pride's return visit stateside put a stake in the ground as the best MMA show of 2007 to date.

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