Thursday, March 1, 2007

Five Ounces of Pain: An interview with Dan Henderson

By Sam Caplan

On Feb. 24, following an upset victory over Wanderlei Silva at Pride 33, Dan Henderson became the first fighter in a major mixed martial arts promotion to hold titles simultaneously. Henderson, already the promotion's welterweight title holder, gained Pride's middleweight title by knocking out Silva in the third round.

Henderson ruined visions of a potential dream match between Silva and UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell. We recently had a chance to ask Henderson to touch on a number of topics, including the UFC and whether he's willing to fight Liddell.

Q: You said after the fight that you had been planning to take some time off. Did you not anticipate that you would beat Wanderlei Silva?
DH: No, I thought I could beat him all along. I wouldn't have been in there if I didn't think I was going to win.

Q: Is it true you broke your hand during the fight?
DH: Yes it is, and I'm on my way to the doctor right now to get it X-rayed by my orthopedist to see what the damage is as far as my recovery time.

Q: It's tough enough to be champion of one weight class, let alone two. Do you have any intentions of relinquishing one of the belts?
DH: Not right now. I just got two. It will be a little while. I think I'll defend both belts once and see where it goes from there.

Q: If you had total control in picking your next opponent, who would it be?
DH: I thought at welterweight that I would probably fight (Kazuo) Misaki, but he just lost. I think a good guy for me to fight at that weight class would be Paulo Filho because I think he's the next guy in line. ... I think "Shogun" (Mauricio Rua) would be the guy in line for the middleweight class.

Q: You've been in the ring with Silva twice now. What was the difference in him between the first and second fight?
DH: I thought he came to fight to win, he was throwing some bombs, trying to knock me out. I just felt that after a couple of exchanges on the feet when I tagged him a couple of times, I don't think he was as confident after that. I think the biggest difference that won me the fight was my conditioning. I didn't have any conditioning the first time I fought him. I just wasn't prepared for that (first) fight for various reasons. That was probably the fight I came in least prepared for in my whole career.

Q: Leading up to the fight with Silva, did you change anything from your normal training routine in specific preparation for him?
DH: Due to various injuries, I had to cut back a little bit on certain things I was doing. I listened to my body and I was pretty smart about not pushing through if I was hurting, trying to recover a little bit but still getting in my conditioning for the fight. As far specifics technically for him, I worked on a lot more ground and pound and a little more on my takedowns, which I was working on when I had fought Vitor (Belfort) as well so I just continued that, doing more takedowns and more ground and pound than normal and that definitely mixed it up and helped in the fight.

Q: There are reports that Silva was suffering from strep throat. Do you feel like that made the difference in the outcome of the fight?
DH: I highly doubt it. I had issues for this fight as well. I've been sick for fights before in the past, and it didn't seem to matter. It is what it was. The fight happened and I knocked him out, and if he didn't have strep throat he probably would have still got knocked by that punch. Regardless of how sick he was, a punch is still going to knock you out.

Q: You landed a pretty nice spinning back fist on Silva. When did you add that to the playbook?
DH: I've done that before in fights. Not very often but when I fought Misaki the first time, I did it a couple of times. I do it all the time in practice over the course of the past few years. It's not something I look to do specifically in a fight because it's not one of the basic things that land all the time, but it definitely fit at the time and I went with it, and it landed nicely.

Q: You've fought on both Pride cards in the U.S. What are some of the big differences between the U.S. and Japanese crowds?
DH: The booing that is there in the U.S. isn't there in Japan. That's probably the biggest difference. That, and the crowd is just much more louder in the U.S. the whole fight rather than just when action happens. In Japan, they're pretty quiet until something happens and then they all go, "Ohhh" and "Ahhh" at the same time. It's pretty neat, but they both have their likes and dislikes about the crowds but overall, I think the fans around the world are pretty adamant about the sport and they like the sport. I'd fight anywhere for the MMA fans.

Q: Do you have a preference?
DH: Well, obviously I'd rather fight in the U.S. because it's close to my house, all my friends and family can come, and more of my team can be there. It's definitely better for me to fight in the U.S., but if I was only to fight in the U.S. for the rest of my career, then I'd miss the Japanese fans as well.

Q: How long would you like to keep fighting?
DH: I think a couple of years, we'll see.

Q: There had been a lot of speculation of an eventual inter-promotion matchup between Silva and Chuck Liddell. Would you be willing to step in for Silva against Liddell?
DH: Well, I wouldn't be stepping in for him. It would be champ vs. champ, which is what they were trying to do. I would be more than happy to do that fight.

Q: How would you see a bout with Liddell playing out if you were to get in a cage or ring with him?
DH: It would be a great fight as well. He's well known for his knockouts, same as Wanderlei was. Chuck also has a good chin and good takedown defense so it would be a tough fight for anybody. But I'm a tough fight for anyone as well, and I got a pretty good chin, so I'd love to have an opportunity to test myself against somebody like him.

Q: Can you address rumors that the UFC is interested in bringing you back?
DH: I haven't had any talks with them about coming back, and I've never been offered a deal with them for a long time. I know that they've always like watching me fight, but a while ago, a couple of years ago, it didn't make sense for them to bring me back because of how much I was being paid. They weren't bringing in a lot of money back then, but now that they're starting to make some money and there's a lot more people watching the UFC than in the past, now would make sense for them to bring me there. Who knows what's going to happen? I'm just happy to be in the sport at this time with it growing so much, and to be where I am in the sport.

Q: What's your current contract situation with Pride?
DH: My current contract situation is that I'm obligated for a couple more fights probably through the end of this year with them.


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