Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Henderson looks to make history at PRIDE 33

By Eddie Malone

For mixed martial arts fans who like to see fists fly, there's good news ahead of Saturday's PRIDE 33 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

California's Dan Henderson, who faces middleweight champion and world No. 10 Wanderlei Silva in the main event of a show billed as The Second Coming, fully intends to match the Brazilian nightmare punch for punch.

"I am looking to knock Wanderlei out," says the former Olympic wrestler and current PRIDE welterweight champion, sounding relaxed less than a week before the title bout. "I will be trying to stand up and trade with him."

Henderson has power in his hands, but it wasn't always that way. Early on his decade-long fight career, he used his world-class wrestling to dominate his opponents. When he moved down in weight to contend for the welterweight belt in 2005, Henderson showed the MMA world another dimension to his game, knocking out Ryo Chonan and Akihiro Gono in the same night.

In order to develop his hands further, Henderson recently acquired the services of Muay Thai kickboxing trainer Shawn Tompkins. The heralded Tompkins also trains the likes of UFC veterans Mark Hominick and Sam Stout.

"He has helped me put more punches together," Henderson says. "Stringing them out. Different combinations. He's a great asset to have. I've been working with Shawn my last three fights."

Henderson's commitment to trading punches doesn't mean that he plans to forget about his wrestling. "I'm confident on my feet with him, but that's where he's dangerous as well," he says. "I'm definitely going to stand up and strike with him. But where I think I'm going to make the biggest difference in the fight is with my wrestling. I think the wrestling will allow me to control where the fight's at."

This isn't the first time the two superstars have fought in a PRIDE ring. Six years ago, Henderson had the "Axe Murderer" dazed and hurt, but couldn't finish his foe. Silva recuperated and went on to dominate the fight and win a unanimous decision.

Henderson has watched tapes of their first encounter but doesn't believe he has much to learn from it. Both of them have changed as fighters, he says. Instead, he's watched tape of Silva's more recent fights.

As for talk that Silva's powers are on the wane (the Brazilian used to destroy opponents; he has struggled in recent title defenses and is 4-3 in his past seven matches), Henderson argues that it's not that Silva has weakened as a fighter. The competition has just gotten stiffer.

"Some of that is that this sport is just getting so competitive. When he was walking through people, they weren't his caliber," he says. "This sport is getting so much better and so much tougher that it's hard to walk through everybody."

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