We’re going to try to do an almost daily “On This Day in MMA History” series starting with this appropriate first installment that features one of the sports most popular and successful fighters, former Pride welterweight and middleweight and current Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson.
14 years ago today “Hendo” made his MMA debut in Brazil against Crezio de Souza in the opening round of the Brazil Open ’97 lightweight (176lbs and below) tournament. Henderson’s bracket of the one-day grand prix also featured Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons, while the heavyweight side featured Kevin Randleman and Tom Erickson.
He recalled the circumstances surrounding his foray into MMA in the CagePotato Retrospective Interview Ben did with him a few months back:
“I’d only been training MMA for about two weeks when I had my first fight. Randy Couture called me and said he was going to do the [Brazil Open ’97] tournament. They had a heavyweight division and also a lightweight division. Plus, there was going to be some other wrestlers there — [Rico Chiapparelli was] trying to manage some guys, and started a team called the RAW Team.
But then Randy ended up getting a call from the UFC — he’d already put an application in, and ended up getting a call because somebody got hurt last-minute — so he fought in the UFC instead. I was pretty much just training with some local guys, preparing for the tournament. When they shut the cage and it was just me and the other guy and the ref in there, I said ‘oh shit.’”
After defeating de Souza by first-round TKO, Dan went on to face fellow American Eric Smith, who had beaten Pele in his opening bout, in the event final. Avoiding the Hammer House fighter’s initial bum rush, Henderson locked on a tight arm-in guillotine that Smith refused to tap to and paid for by being put to sleep.
(Video courtesy of YouTube/gersman20)
With those two fights began an impressive career and an impressive win-streak that would last three-and-a-half years and nine fights, including nods over Renato Sobral, Gilbert Yvel, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Alan Goes and Carlos Newton.
At age 40 and with a solid 27-8 record under his many belts, Henderson is showing no signs of slowing down.
After knocking out Rafael Cavalcante in March with his trademark right hand, the consummate moneyweight fighter will now move up to face Fedor Emelianenko as a heavyweight on July 30 in Chicago at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson.