In a time when mixed martial arts was more spectacle than sport, many critics and fans alike were ignorant to the value of what this sport would eventually become. Not simply value in dollars and cents but the value found in what MMA was really all about.
At first glance, MMA was thought to be a controlled altercation between knuckle-dragging, bar-brawling neanderthals. As time has pressed on and valuable knowledge has been gained, fans and critics alike have realized nothing could be further from the truth.
There have been certain athletes that have shaped the opinions of an entire generation as to what it takes to not only be a fighter in this business, but a legendary champion as well. The benchmark-type fighters are many; the list includes the usual suspects of Hughes, Couture, Liddell even St. Pierre.
All of those names saw their glory days played out inside the world famous Octagon under the UFC banner. But as any longtime fight fan can tell you, while this game may be fairly exclusive at the mainstream level today, it was not always a sport saturated in the flavors imposed by the UFC.
The words Pride Fighting Championships should bring a tingle to the spine of any knowledgeable fight fan. If those words do not induce a nostalgic feeling of amazing memories, then someone needs to do a little homework on the glory days of this sport.
Two monumental examples of what Pride was all about are Dan Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko. Both men saw some of the most amazing performances of their careers featured under the Pride logo. Like Liddell and Couture were to the UFC, guys like Hendo and Fedor were equally important to Pride.
As many know, Hendo roamed the ranks of middleweight (Pride WW) and light heavyweight (Pride MW) as a Pride competitor and Fedor of course was the perennial Pride heavyweight to beat. With open-weight Grand Prix tournaments being a staple for Pride and its athletes, it is quite surprising that Hendo and Fedor never met in battle.
Hendo recently stated that the fight was never even offered as a potential matchup. Hindsight being 20/20, perhaps that match should been given closer consideration. But up to this point, it simply was not in the cards.
As the sport has evolved, that door to a superfight between the two seemed to have closed as they both went their separate ways when the Pride promotion came to a close and the fighters were forced to move on to the other promotions.
Fedor would go on to fight almost a mercenary's career as he roamed from promotion to promotion seeking out what he and his management felt were the right fights for his career. Notable promotions included Affliction and of course, now Strikeforce.
Hendo, on the other hand, looked to fight his way back to a UFC title as he found himself in the Octagon many years after he had once been a champion there. Eventually, that path led him to a fork in the road that saw him decide to leave the UFC yet again and test the Strikeforce waters, where he failed to earn a middleweight title, but prevailed when he turned his sights to the Strikeforce light heavyweight strap.
So now, here, many years later, after both men have allowed the destiny of their historic careers to run their course, they once again find themselves competing under the same banner. Their Strikeforce allegiances have led them to one another many years after it had seemed the door for them to compete had been closed.
Here today—this Saturday night, to be specific—in Chicago, Illinois, Dan Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko will finally touch gloves, and unleash the beast on each other.
When we talk about superfights, this is the stuff they are made of. Many of us would love to see Bones Jones fight Anderson Silva, or to see Silva fight GSP. Who wouldn't love to see a catch weight fight between Frankie Edgar and Dominick Cruz?
While all of those are amazing matchups, they are not realistic options at this time—not for the fighters or the organizations they compete for. Somehow, it is just simply in the cards for Hendo and Fedor to hook 'em up. The math is simple, both fighters are willing and why not make this fight?
Well it has been made, and it is just around the corner. Two of the sport's most successful and entertaining athletes are going to put on a once-in-a-lifetime show for their fans and the sport. The matchups fans want to see are many but rarely does the math work out.
In this case, the math is simple: Take two of the most dangerous overhand rights in the business, divide by two, subtract ego and hype, insert a weight variable and multiply by millions of rabid MMA fans and that all equals Fedor vs. Hendo in Chi-Town.
It seems fitting that in their careers, for the sake of both the past and the future of this sport, they are finally meeting in competition. Where will you be on this historic night, fight fan? What stories will you tell about the night you saw two of the greatest ever go to war for you?
Hendo and Fedor are as real as it gets. There are plenty of opinions and rhetoric to perpetuate the fans' own self-importance when it comes to these two. But the fact of the matter is if fans celebrate them or criticize them, they are at the forefront of many people's scope of vision.
That did not happen on accident. They earned it by building up this sport for many years as the type of warriors that truly exemplify the value and worth of this sport. To see them compete will be an honor and represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see what happens when two truly great athletes compete on one of the biggest stages this sport has known.
What turns will their storied careers take? No one really knows, but for one more event we can rest assured that greatness is on tap and we can still order one more round.
Actually, let's make it a double.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA.