SAN JOSE, Calif. – Dan Henderson doesn’t see much point in watching his first fight with Renato “Babalu” Sobral as preparation for their second meeting at December’s “Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu” event.
The reason, he said, is that he and Sobral bear little resemblance to the competitors they are now.
“There are just so many more tools we both have now that weren’t there before,” Henderson told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) of the Dec. 4 fight, which takes place in St. Louis and airs live on Showtime. “So it’s almost like it’s not a rematch.”
Henderson (25-8 MMA, 0-1 SF) met Sobral (36-8 MMA, 2-1 SF) more than 10 years ago in the finals of RINGS’ “King of Kings” tournament. Henderson won a split decision over “Babalu” after previously besting Gilbert Yvel and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on that same night of Feb. 26, 2000.
Back then, Henderson was a decorated collegiate wrestler who did fighting as a part-time gig. He and Randy Couture had just founded Team Quest in Oregon, and the two had just begun to call in submission and striking specialists to help them compete in the “no-holds-barred” tournaments of the day.
“I had really had just started sparring right before that tournament,” Henderson said. “(I) had never sparred before, just hit pads and bags before my first four or five fights.”
Henderson has a few faint memories of the fight with Sobral.
“I think he had submitted all four guys that he fought before that,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t get submitted by him – ‘stay on my feet, outstrike him, and avoid takedowns.’ That’s basically how the fight went.”
When it comes to breaking down the Sobral of today, though, Henderson said he’s going to focus on “six or seven” of the Brazilian’s most recent fights.
Sobral surprised many observers when he met Robbie Lawler at June’s “Strikeforce: Los Angeles” event and outworked the hard-slugging veteran on the feet en route to a unanimous-decision win.
Henderson believes Lawler failed to keep the pressure on during the fight and vows he won’t do the same.
“I stalk guys down and make them trade punches with me,” he said. “But (I’m) not over-agressive to get taken down. I might get in there and take him down. He’ll probably take me down, as well. I’ve just got to make sure I get back up.”
That’s a lesson Henderson learned the hard way in his promotional debut at the CBS-televised “Strikeforce: Nashville” event in April. The former UFC fighter took on the promotion’s then middleweight champion, Jake Shields, and lost a unanimous decision when Shields controlled him on the mat for the majority of the five-round title fight. (He was also in the cage when Shields and members of the Cesar Gracie fight team brawled with Jason “Mayhem” Miller following the decision.)
“I didn’t stress it with my corner before the fight … that if I get taken down and lose a round because he’s on top (that) I need to change up my game and just outwrestle him at that point,” Henderson said. “(I needed to) get on top and play his game a little bit to make sure I win the rounds. I didn’t change it up.”
The former two-title PRIDE champion said he wanted to get back into the cage “a few months” after the disappointing setback but waited in limbo as Strikeforce negotiated a return to CBS. He accepted the fight with Sobral when talks stretched for several months and a 2010 return appeared unlikely.
While Henderson hopes to fight again on the Tiffany Network, he’s happy fighting on Showtime, as well.
“I think CBS will be back before my next fight, but if they’re not, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I like all the Showtime staff and the way they put on a good show.”
Meanwhile, he’s begun the process of getting back in shape and has ramped up his sparring schedule in preparation for the Dec. 4 bout.
It’s going to look a lot different than the first one.
“I think the fight’s going to be very exciting based on our background and history, and the fact that we’ve been in there for a long time,” Henderson said.
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