Cormier and Henderson: The Yin and Yang of Wrestling

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

UFC light heavyweight Daniel Cormier insists he cannot be taken down. Cormier is so serious, in fact, that he seems offended at the mere suggestion of penetrating his take down defense.

A two-time member of the U.S.A. Olympic wrestling team (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008), the undefeated Cormier has spent the majority of his life on the mats, and is adamant that his freestyle pedigree gives him a distinct advantage over any other 205-pounder out there.

But what would happen if Cormier were to be matched against an equally decorated wrestler?

Well, that’s exactly what we’ll find out, when Cormier faces Dan Henderson, another veteran of multiple Olympiad (Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996), in the UFC 173 co-main event.

“I spent a lifetime developing that skill and I’m not getting taken down,” sternly commented Cormier while doing the media rounds for UFC 170. “When I look at a fight against another wrestler, this is how I approach it. In the sport that we all chose, I got to the top.”

Examining Cormier and Henderson is a unique study, as never before have two male Olympians squared off inside the Octagon. [Ed. note: Rousey vs. McMahon was the first female matchup, and Randy Couture/Van Arsedale were Olympic alternates.] In addition to a comparison of their fighting styles and aggresive, pugilistic tendencies, is an interesting examination into the demeanor of these two gifted athletes.

Sure, there are some obvious similarities between Dan and Daniel, beyond their induction into the distinguished fraternity of ex-Olympians: both are former Strikeforce titlists, who share a given name, and train in California; however, that is where their similarities end. Cormier and Henderson are the Yin and Yang of the MMA wrestling.

Cormier, who wrestles freestyle, is defensive about what he doesn’t have. He publically lobbies, constantly, for UFC title fights from the FOX broadcast booth, and once sat between Ronda Rousey and Sara McMann, a pair of UFC female bantamweights and Olympic medalists, making self deprecating, hilarious, and awkward comments about his lack of gold, silver, or bronze.

“I’m the only one without a damn medal if you want to bring that shit up,” interjected Cormier to Rousey, McMann, and a collection of reporters.

Conversely, Henderson is a glass-half-full type of guy, despite never finishing higher than tenth place in the Olympics, where he competed in the Greco-Roman category. Perhaps it’s his age, 43, his nonchalant Southern California cool, or the pair of PRIDE titles that line his trophy case, but Henderson just seems calm and at peace with the world, never for a second alluding to his lack of anything. (In Cormier’s defense, he was in the middle of his first weight cut to 205 pounds when he joked around with Rousey and McMann.)

Aside from their differences outside of the Octagon, the two Dans are entirely different beasts inside the Octagon, despite their common wrestling link.

A spontaneous wild streak is Henderson’s hallmark, evidenced by his recent blatant disregard for takedowns altogether, instead favoring the “H bomb,” his signature right hand that has silenced Shogun Rua, Michael Bisping, Wanderlei Silva, and the great Fedor Emelianenko. Henderson has calmly channeled all his aggressive energy into that right fist, and while his reliance on the one-punch knockout may not be the best strategy, it sure does look pretty when he connects.

Polar opposite to Hendo’s go-for-broke game plan is Cormier’s penchant for a more sluggish grind, securing underhooks, pinning opponents against the fence, and slowly breaking them down. One of the less favored tactics in MMA, "the grind" will potentially put Cormier in hot water with with the less serious fans, should his winning streak ever come to a halt. Still, his competitive drive, and the stark stylistic matchup will surely bring out the best in him.

Inside and out, Daniel Cormier and Dan Henderson two of the UFC’s most accomplished fighters, world-class athletes who may both be just a win away from a future title shot against light heavyweight king Jon Jones. But despite their Olympic lineage as two of America’s greatest wrestlers and their ultimate aspiration to hoist the UFC light heavyweight title, Cormier and Henderson share little else in common—which will surely make for an interesting fight.


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