Dan Henderson vs. Jake Shields and 15 Matchmaking Decisions That Backfired
When Dan Henderson defeated Rafael Cavalcante this past weekend, you can bet that the executives at Showtime and Strikeforce breathed a big sigh of relief.
It's been over a year now since Strikeforce pulled the Brinks truck up to Henderson's house, and just now, that investment is finally starting to pay off.
He's gone 2-1 so far in Strikeforce, including two devastating knockout wins. That's not so shabby, but when you consider what Strikeforce has invested in him, you should realize that they're not paying him to knock out Babalu Sobral on Showtime for a few hundred thousand viewers.
For what they're paying Henderson, they need him drawing big gates, fighting big names and looking competitive doing so.
Henderson is now in a position to do all of that. With a light-heavyweight title in hand, he's ready to step into marketable matchups against the likes of Fedor Emelianenko or Mo Lawal, should Lawal get back in the mix.
However, this all could have happened much sooner had Henderson defeated Jake Shields last April.
Strikeforce, along with just about everybody else, thought Henderson could keep the fight standing and get an easy win over Shields. Because of that, Strikeforce let Shields enter the fight without getting him to sign a champion's clause or contract extension.
All of that backfired when Henderson tired out and would up getting dominated for the final four rounds of the fight.
It was a very expensive loss for Strikeforce and Showtime.
As much as Dana White and Scott Coker will tell you otherwise, fight promoters have their favorites, their chosen ones and their desired outcomes.
While White is always the first one to say "I told you so," when a marketable fighter loses, it's ridiculous to think he doesn't have some vested interest in the outcomes.
There are some MMA fights where there isn't really one outcome that is so much more desirable than the other. On the other hand, any time the more popular or more promoted fighter loses, it's a bit of a setback for the promotion.
Some setbacks are bigger than others.
Here are 15 fights that backfired on the promoters who set them up, with a conclusion to follow.
Chuck Liddell Vs. Keith Jardine
Before the fight, it was announced that a win for Chuck Liddell would set up the long awaited matchup with former Pride FC star, Wanderlei Silva.
Keith Jardine wasn't seen as a particularly dangerous striker, and was thought to be an easy target for Liddell's heavy-handed style.
Much to everybody's surprise, Jardine was able to use kicks very effectively throughout the fight. He also managed to hurt Liddell with punches, en route to a fairly decisive decision to all but the most die-hard of Chuck fans.
To this day, Liddell still thinks he won the fight, further proof of the risk of brain damage in MMA.
Also to this day, GIFs of Wanderlei Silva shaking his head at the decision have been posted all over threads in which the poster expresses dismay or disagreement. Please post such GIFs below.
Despite the loss, Liddell would fight Wanderlei Silva anyway at UFC 79 in what would become one of his most memorable performances.
Josh Koscheck Vs. Paulo Thiago
Despite Koscheck's loss to Thiago Alves, fans were still quite stoked at the possibility of a St. Pierre vs. Koscheck rematch.
It was for that reason the UFC decided to give Koscheck some fights to put him back into the title picture.
Paulo Thiago was seen as a good prospect, but mostly just a submission fighter who was no real threat to Koscheck while the fight remained standing.
This was supposed to be an opportunity for Koscheck to work on his standup before being put up against more threatening opposition.
For the first few minutes, everything was going as planned and Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg were basically calling for the knockout punch to happen at any second.
Just as Rogan was criticizing fundamental flaws in Thiago's punching technique, Thiago lit up Koscheck with an uppercut hook combo that sent Koscheck's brain into another dimension.
As a result, Koscheck's title run was derailed and it would take wins over Anthony Johnson, Frank Trigg and Paul Daley before Koscheck finally earned his rematch with St. Pierre.
He probably wishes it never happened.
Stephan Bonnar Vs. Mark Coleman
It is my personal guess that Joe Silva never expected, nor wanted Jon Jones to beat Bonnar at their meeting at UFC 94. Despite Jones' obvious physical abilities, I was among those who assumed Bonnar would be able to use his veteran savvy to grind out a win.
Instead, Bonnar lost in his long-awaited return to the Octagon, putting him in a precarious position within the promotion.
So the UFC threw Bonnar a softball: Mark Coleman.
Coleman had looked fairly dreadful in his bout against Mauricio Rua, and so most people felt that Bonnar would find a way to submit the dilapidated former champion once Coleman had tired.
Instead, Coleman's conditioning was better than expected and he managed to control position on Bonnar long enough to earn the decision.
Roger Huerta Vs. Patt Curran
Roger Huerta was added to Bellator's lightweight season last year to bring some much-needed star power.
Given the relative lack of depth in the tournament, Huerta was heavily favored to win the tournament and go on to face Eddie Alvarez.
Instead, Patt Curran squeaked out a somewhat controversial unanimous decision, foiling Bellator's plans.
Roger Huerta would go on to fight Alvarez anyway, losing in lopsided fashion.
British Contenders Vs. American Gatekeepers
Whenever I see a British contender or prospect fighting opposite a mid-level American, I always feel as if the British guy is supposed to win.
The UFC is hoping to expand the popularity of the sport in the UK, and they know that's only possible if some more homegrown UK fighters can emerge as contenders.
Thus, you see Michael Bisping's record get padded with wins over the likes of Jorge Rivera, Elvis Sinosic, Jason Day and Charles McCarthy.
Sometimes things don't turn out so smoothly.
John Hathaway's loss to Mike Pyle stands out as one of those where a highly touted British prospect couldn't handle the veteran abilities of a solid fighter.
The same goes for Ross Pearson's loss to Cole Miller.
It's understandable that the UFC brass would treat their UK prospects with a bit of care, considering how valuable they are in building the sport. The only problem is they haven't protected their UK assets enough.
Chuck Liddell Vs. Pride FC
Once upon a time, the UFC didn't own the MMA landscape and a slimmer, less-bald Dana White gambled by putting Chuck Liddell in the Pride FC middleweight tournament.
In the semifinal round, Chuck Liddell struggled with Jackson's mix of wrestling and punching power.
Dana White sat in the commentary booth and struggled to say much more than, "He's not following the game plan. The game plan was leg kicks."
Liddell would lose to Rampage Jackson in devastating fashion.
After this fight, Jackson would get knocked out by Wanderlei Silva in the finals later that night.
Chuck Liddell would return to the UFC where he would become the most popular fighting in the sport, not losing again until his rematch to Jackson years later.
When considering Liddell's legacy, people always ask me what it would been like had Liddell trained a bit harder and partied a bit less.
On the other hand, what would Liddell's legacy have been like had Jackson been fighting in the UFC instead of Pride? Maybe Liddell would never have been champion at all.
The UFC Lightweight Tournament
Also once upon a time, the UFC once wasn't against the idea of a tournament to decide a title.
A four man tournament featuring Caol Uno, BJ Penn, Matt Serra and Din Thomas was assembled to crown a new lightweight champion after Jens Pulver left the UFC for Japan.
In the finals, Penn came in heavily favored over Caol Uno, who Penn had destroyed in their first fight.
Things would go differently this time, as Penn and Uno would fight to a draw.
As we've learned, there are few things aside from Tim Sylvia that MMA fans hate more than draws.
Rather than calling for a rematch, the decision would eventually lead to the UFC scrapping the lightweight division entirely, before eventually reinstating it at UFC 58.
Matt Hughes Vs. BJ Penn 1
Matt Hughes was already the most dominant welterweight of all time, and BJ Penn was a lightweight who, despite having shown flashes of brilliance, had yet to live up to his talent.
The welterweight title fight was signed on short notice, without Penn having signed any sort of long-term contract.
Penn would win the fight and like Randy Couture, Jens Pulver and other champions before him, he went to Japan.
Situations like these are exactly why champions clauses are absolutely necessary for the UFC.
Chuck Liddell Vs. Mauricio Rua
After suffering a devastating loss to Rashad Evans, the UFC was looking for a marketable fighter for Chuck Liddell to bounce back against.
After seeing Rua looking dreadful opposite Mark Coleman, Dana White surely thought he'd found his man.
White asked Rua about a matchup with Liddell that very night.
At UFC 97, a fitter, sharper Shogun showed up and put an end to any future title aspirations for Liddell.
Fedor Emelianenko Vs. Fabrico Werdum
Given the styles at play, Fedor was expected to waltz over Werdum.
It didn't happen that way, as Werdum shocked the world in just over a minute..
Fedor's loss would lead to the restructuring of M-1 Global, and effectively ended Strikeforce's heavyweight year. Werdum would recover from injury, while Alistair Overeem would go on to win the K-1 World Grand Prix.
The silver lining was that this upset did provide a nice lead in to this year's Strikeforce Grad Prix. But then again, that hasn't gone as planned so far either.
Jens Pulver Vs. Joe Lauzon
After re-signing with the UFC, Joe Lauzon was just meant to be someone for Pulver to beat before facing off against BJ Penn as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter season five.
Lauzon upset the applecart by knocking out Pulver early in the fight.
Not having any better option, the UFC decided to plod on anyway and Lauzon was added as a member of team Penn.
Due to his loss to Lauzon, much of the hype surrounding a Penn vs. Pulver rematch was killed and Penn was rightly seen as a huge favorite.
Chuck Liddell Vs. Rashad Evans
Prior to the bout, Dana White didn't even bother to give the fight a proper setup.
He was already drooling over the possibility of pitting Chuck Liddell against the then-new champion, Forrest Griffin.
Most MMA minds felt as though Rashad Evans' wrestle-heavy game was tailor-made for a Liddell knockout.
Instead, Liddell would get overly aggressive in the second round, ultimately getting shocked by one of the better knockouts thus far in MMA history.
Luckily for the UFC, Rashad Evans become a very polarizing figure, having knocked out everybody's favorite redneck superstar.
Evans would turn out to be one of the biggest draws in the UFC over the next few years, headlining some of the UFC's biggest events ever, UFC 92 opposite Forrest Griffin and UFC 114 opposite Quinton Jackson.
Chuck Liddell would lose to Mauricio Rua and Rich Franklin before finally hanging up the gloves for good, or so we hope.
Jake Shields Vs. Dan Henderson (And Strikeforce: Nashville in General)
Valerie Macon/Getty Images
As already stated, the outcome was disastrous for Strikeforce, as it would leave them without a champion and temporarily damaged Dan Henderson's marketability.
Yet the fight itself wasn't the only disaster that night.
The night was also marred by the post-fight brawl that ensued when Jason Mayhem Miller decided to spoil the party and demand a much undeserved rematch.
Aside from that, the three title fights that night lacked the kind of excitement necessary to hold a Saturday night audience on CBS. More damaging than the brawl were the poor ratings, which are probably why Strikeforce hasn't been on CBS since.
Fedor Emelianenko Vs. Antonio Silva
Antonio Silva was supposed to be too slow and plodding for Fedor Emelianenko.
To most observers, the only concern for Emelianenko would be whether his hands would survive pummeling Antonio Silva's Easter Island head.
Silva would win in dominant fashion, ruining Strikeforce's planned summer PPV main event that would have pitted him against the winner of the upcoming (but now far-off) bout between Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum.
Kimbo Slice Vs. Seth Petruzelli
Kevin Ferguson, AKA Kimbo Slice, was originally supposed to fight Ken Shamrock, but Shamrock pulled out at the last minute due to a cut sustained during sparring.
Ken Shamrock's withdrawal is a whole other story unto itself, but in any case, ProElite was forced to come up with a replacement fighter on short notice.
Seth Petruzelli wasn't known as the greatest fighter, but he was an entirely different style of fighter than the one Slice had been preparing for. He was generally far more dangerous than a dilapidated Shamrock would have been.
Petruzelli would drop Ferguson with a teep-jab combination and much Gus Johnson screaming would ensue.
Seth Petruzelli's post-fight comments indicating that he'd been told to keep the fight standing launched a series of corruption charges against Pro-Elite.
Despite Jared Shaw's insistence that the promotion was healthy, this would be the end for ProElite's promotion, EliteXC.
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There's nothing wrong with a promotion having a fight where one outcome is more favorable than the other.
But when you're dealing with a sport as unpredictable as MMA, putting all your eggs in one basket is a huge mistake.
Always have a backup plan, or be prepared for the worst possible outcome becoming a reality..