Saturday, February 24, 2007


By Jeff Haney

1. Second time around
The Pride Fighting Championships, which is based in Japan and commands a loyal international following, puts on its second show in the U.S. after making its stateside debut last October at the Thomas & Mack Center. That production, which drew a crowd of more than 11,000, was declared a success by officials from both the arena and the mixed martial arts organization. In Saturday's headliner, Dan Henderson, who defeated Vitor Belfort on the October card, tries to add the Pride middleweight (205-pound) title to the welterweight (185-pound) belt he already owns.

2. Anticipated rematch
The main event is a rematch of Wanderlei Silva's unanimous-decision victory against Henderson, a result considered controversial by some fans. Henderson, 36, a native of Apple Valley, Calif., who lives in Temecula, sees the second meeting as a career-defining fight. "Careerwise, this would be the biggest," the former Olympic wrestler said. "It's got the most on the line. To be able to hold two belts at one time, it's never been done. It sets a new precedent."

3. Live underdog?
A versatile fighter who packs a punch - his powerful right-hand delivery has become a trademark - to go with his wrestling skills, Henderson brings a cool confidence into Saturday's bout, even though oddsmakers installed him as a betting underdog of nearly 3-1, according to host property Caesars Palace. "I'm sure Pride is doing their best to make (the second U.S. show) just as good as the first," Henderson said. "I know this fight is the fight that fans have been wanting for a long time, and me being Pride's only American champion right now, it made sense to put me in that spot. Especially because I'm going to beat him."

4. Respect for foe
Silva, a Brazilian whose disturbing nickname "The Axe Murderer" belies his friendly demeanor outside the ring, is a Muay Thai master known for his stinging striking attack and ultra-aggressive fighting style. He said he concentrated on wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in training, and gave credit to Henderson for having "a lot of courage" in stepping up to a heavier weight division. That's the kind of thing a "real fighter" would do, Silva said in an example of the good sportsmanship so often seen in mixed martial arts.

5. Proud of Pride
Although American mixed martial arts fans might be more accustomed to the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, Silva believes Pride could match its rival circuit in popularity. "The crowds here (in the U.S.), the fans here, have a different energy, (as if) they are together with the fighter," Silva, 30, said. "In just a little bit more time, the fans are going to see the real Pride - the (biggest) event in the world, and (the biggest) here in America."


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