Photos: Esther Lin/STRIKEFORCE
COLUMBUS, Ohio – One of the most decorated and widely respected fighters in the history of Mixed Martial Arts, Dan Henderson, knocked out defending champion Rafael “Feijao’’ Cavalcante at 0:50 of the third round to capture the STRIKEFORCE World Light Heavyweight Championship in Saturday’s main event live on SHOWTIME® before 7,123 at the Nationwide Arena.
For the remarkable 40-year-old Henderson, the only fighter to simultaneously hold two world titles in two different weight classes with a major promotion, it was his fifth MMA world title and, perhaps, the sweetest.
“Leading up to this fight there was a lot of talk about fighting for the title but I didn’t give it much thought,’’ said Henderson, who left the UFC on a three-fight winning streak to sign with STRIKEFORCE in December 2009. “But now that I have it, it is really nice.
“I wanted to be real patient. Feijao is a tough, real powerful guy especially in the first round. Hopefully, now, I can break that curse.’’
By winning, Henderson (27-8), of Temecula, Calif., became the fourth consecutive challenger since November 2008 to dethrone a defending champion in the deep, talent-laden STRIKEFORCE 205-pound division. It began with Bobby Southworth losing to Renato “Babalu’’ Sobral, who was dethroned by Gegard Mousasi, who in turn was ousted by Muhammad “King’ Mo’’ Lawal, who fell to Feijao.
“I’m just thankful it turned out like this,’’ said Henderson, a two-time United States Olympic Games wrestler before turning pro. “I want to thank Feijao for giving me the opportunity.’’
A winner of five of his last six, Henderson threw what appeared to be a glancing right hand that landed on Feijao’s head. While off-balance, Hendo pushed Feijao to the mat. Feijao landed face-first, and from there Henderson pounced. After five huge right hands, the referee stepped in and stopped it. Going into the third, Hendo was ahead 20-18 on one of the scorecards. The other two had it 19-apiece.
“I made a lot of mistakes,’’ said Feijao (10-3), of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. “You can’t make these kinds of mistakes. I’ll go home, and come back stronger than ever.’’ Feijao entered the fight having won three in a row and six out of his last seven.
In other televised action on STRIKEFORCE: Feijao vs. Hendo presented by Rockstar Energy Drink, Marloes Coenen (19-4) of the Netherlands turned back a determined challenge by late substitute and previously undefeated Liz “Girl-Rilla’’ Carmouche (6-1), of San Diego, Calif., to retain her 135-pound title with a come-from-behind fourth-round submission (triangle choke) in the opening half of a STRIKEFORCE World Championship Doubleheader.
Also, Saturday, on SHOWTIME, American military hero Tim Kennedy (13-3) of Austin, Texas, regained his winning ways with a 3:21, first-round submission (rear-naked choke) over Melvin “No Mercy’’ Manhoef (25-8) of the Netherlands in a middleweight (185 pounds) match and Jorge Masvidal (21-6) of Miami, Fla., dealt previously undefeated lightweight Billy Evangelista (11-1) of Fresno, Calif., his first loss on a unanimous three-round decision.
One of the top female fighters in the world, Coenen, a product of Holland’s Golden Glory team, was behind 29-28 on all the scorecards, heading into the fourth round. She rallied to tap out the game Carmouche at 1:29
“She was kicking my (butt), you must give her respect,’’ said Coenen, who won the STRIKEFORCE crown with an impressive third-round submission (armbar) over defending belt-holder Sarah Kaufman on Oct. 9, 2010. “My gameplan was to just get her tired but she got me on the ground a few times.
“When I had her in that choke I knew I had her, I knew it was over. I’ve been sick and I just wasn’t feeling well in there. If (STRIKEFORCE Women’s World Middleweight Champion Cris) Cyborg hits you, it’s hard to survive but these hits didn’t really hurt that much. I was just defending myself and waiting for my opportunity. Liz is a terrific fighter. She’ll be a champion one day.
“I want to face Miesha Tate next – I think she deserves it. I want to thank the American audiences, my sponsors, and of course (STRIKEFORCE CEO) Scott Coker for giving women a chance in MMA.”’
The virtually untested Carmouche, who replaced an injured Tate on less than two weeks notice, displayed a ton of skill, grit and determination en route to nearly pulling off a major shocker.
“Of course I’m frustrated, no one wants to lose,’’ said the 27-year-old Carmouche, a former Marine whose five-year stint included three tours to Iraq. “I thought I was dominant and that she wasn’t defending herself. I thought the ref was going to stop it a few times but he didn’t.
“I was expecting him to stop it and I was surprised he kept letting it go on. I absolutely want another shot at her. I’d take it next week if I could.’’
One of first things Kennedy, who’s toured the Middle East multiple times, did after the victory over Manhoef was jump on the top of the cage and salute two of his superiors seated near cageside– Leader General Tim Kadavy, the Deputy Director of The National Guard, and Colonel Rob Porter, the Chief of Guard strength director.
When asked by SHOWTIME’s Mauro Ranallo moments later about Manhoef and his immediate future plans, Kennedy said, “we’re talking about one of most decorated strikers (Manhoef) in MMA. I’m excited. There was no hidden game plan. He’s weak on his back.
“I just love being here and fighting for the crowds. I want to fight the best. If the matchmakers at STRIKEFORCE don’t think I’m ready for (current STRIKEFORCE middleweight champion) Jacare (Souza) again, give me the next guy, Robbie Lawler. They’re the two best in the world. I’d love fighting either.’’
Then, directing his attention to those tuning in to the Armed Forces Network, Kennedy said. “There’s only one thing I love more (than fighting MMA, and that’s) being overseas with those guys. Give me a little more time. I’ll be back, protecting your freedoms.’’
Masvidal won by the scores of 30-27 on the three judges’ scorecards. “I do well with strikers,’’ he said. “My timing wasn’t great and I was a little off my game plan but I pulled it out. I think the difference maker was my heart. If I need to go back and beat a few more guys before I get a title shot then that’s fine with me.’’
Said Evangelista, a veteran of the STRIKEFORCE Challengers series who was making his Saturday debut for SHOWTIME: “It was a close fight. I was definitely the aggressor and trying to fight. He used his reach to his advantage. He did what he needed to do to win. I didn’t focus on my grappling. Maybe next time I can get in better grappling shape.’’
Saturday’s event, STRIKEFORCE’s first in the state of Ohio, took place in conjunction with The Arnold Sports Festival, the nation’s largest health and fitness exposition founded by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The telecast will re-air as follows:
Tuesday, March 8, at 10 p.m. ET/PT SHO Extreme
The telecast also will be available On Demand beginning Tuesday, March 8, and running through March 21.
Ranallo called the action on SHOWTIME with MMA legends Frank Shamrock and Pat Miletich serving as expert analysts.
For more information on SHOWTIME Sports, including exclusive video, photos and news links on SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING and STRIKEFORCE mixed martial arts telecasts, along with access to the SHOWTIME Sports Facebook® and Twitter® pages, please go to http://Sports.Sho.com.