Legendary MMA Superstar Dan Henderson, former STRIKEFORCE World Champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral and STRIKEFORCE CEO Scott Coker participated in a national media conference call to discuss the highly anticipated rematch between the fighters in the main event of STRIKEFORCE: Henderson vs. Babalu on Saturday, Dec. 4 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO., live on SHOWTIME® (10 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast).
A two-time U.S. Olympic wrestling team member (’92, ’96), Henderson is the only fighter in the sport’s history to simultaneously hold two different titles in two different weight classes (welterweight and heavyweight) for a major fight promotion (PRIDE Fighting Championships). A former UFC star and coach on The Ultimate Fighter reality series, Henderson is also one of the most decorated fighters in MMA history.
Sobral is fresh off a unanimous decision victory over knockout artist Robbie Lawler on June 16 at STRIKEFORCE: LIVE in Los Angeles, his first fight since losing the STRIKEFORCE title to Gegard Mousasi on Aug. 15, 2009. Prior to the defeat, Sobral had reeled off five consecutive victories.
In other televised fights, former world champ “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler will face 2000 Olympic Games silver medalist Matt “The Law” Lindland in a matchup of 185-pound contenders; former world heavyweight champion Antonio “Big Foot” Silva faces Valentijn “The Python” Overeem, the older brother of STRIKEFORCE heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem; Paul “Semtex” Daley faces Scott “Hands Of Steel’ Smith in a battle of explosive welterweights; and football legend and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker will face Scott Carson in a heavyweight bout.
Highlights of what they said on Tuesday:
Q: How much do you feel conditioning and your layoff played a factor in your performance?
Henderson: “Not much really. I felt like my conditioning was great in that fight but it didn’t show. I had other things going on in that fight that affected me and my weight cut.”
Q: Is 205 your weight from now on?
Babalu: “As I said before, it is up to the matchup. Just give me a good fight and I will fight at that weight.”
Q: Were weight cut and the fatigue what contributed to your previous performance? Was there any hesitation to fight Babalu?
Henderson: “It’s hard to say for sure, but knowing the condition I was in. I just didn’t have the energy I should have had. Halfway through the first round I was so tired and with my conditioning there is no reason I was so tired. Babalu is not close to the same style as Jake Shields. He has an exciting style and he is well-rounded. He has not had a problem standing up and trading punches. He throws a lot of kicks and obviously submits a lot of guys here and there but they are two totally different styles as far as I am concerned.”
Q: Is this a must-win type of situation?
Henderson: “I feel like I am out there to win, and to make sure I win every fight. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but I don’t feel like it’s a do-or-die situation. I am not going to retire if it doesn’t go my way, but I feel very confident in my training for this fight. Hopefully it won’t be an issue.”
Q: Did you guys ever imagine being able to make a living off of fighting after the first time you guys fought?
Henderson: “I think after we fought, we went in two different directions and didn’t give a rematch a lot of thought. I am pretty happy to have been involved in the sport for so long. The fans that have been following for a long time will have more knowledge about mine and Babalu’s career. I am just excited to get in there and fight again and perform well.”
Babalu: “I never thought about this in the past. It wasn’t a dark age; it was just different. It was exciting then and now we have an opportunity to go out there and put on an exciting fight. It is an exciting match up for me, Dan and the fans.”
Q: Has changing weight made a big difference in preparing for the fight? Has being older made the jump in weight difficult?
Henderson: “I have always felt comfortable at 205. I have never felt weak or out-powered. I can eat a good meal the night before the fight. It means it’s one less thing I need to worry about before the fight. I am hanging out at 203, 204. I don’t think the age is an issue, just trying to get smarter with my training and making sure I am really listening to my body and getting enough rest. ”
Q: Do you look back and think, “Wow I have been in this sport for 10 years?”
Henderson: “No. I had no idea I would be in this sport for this long. My first fight was in 1997, so it’s been 13 years. When I quit wrestling in 2000, I was going to fight full-time for a couple of years but at that time my body felt more beat up from wrestling than it did two or three years later after I quit wrestling and focused on fighting, which has prolonged my fight career.”
Q: Does fighting at 205 vs. 185 make a difference?
Babalu: “When you get lighter you get quicker but that is the only difference.”
Q: When you fought Robbie Lawler, you showed improvement in your stand-up game. Does being at 205 make you stronger?
Babalu: “I just decided to finish him on the ground because I had the opportunity but if I could finish the fight with a punch in the face I would do it. The secret to MMA is submit him and don’t get hurt, that’s about it.”
Q: Dan, you said there were other issues happening in your life prior to the last fight. How does that impact your mindset going into a fight?
Henderson: “I have always been one to always focus on the positives. I try to put the negatives out of my mind. It’s tough to do and I felt I could still pull through and handle the fight just fine but I kind of got a little tired in the process. It’s the way it goes sometimes. I tried to pull through and I learned from mistakes, but it won’t happen in the future. I have been focused on making sure my body feels good for this fight.”
Q: Are you concerned about the long term impact of injuries from MMA?
Henderson: “Not really. It’s not a new thing for me competing in a combat sport. I grew up wrestling since I was five-years-old. In wrestling, my body felt a lot worse than it does now. I don’t focus on that. I am doing OK and my body is feeling good so I can still enjoy my job.”
Babalu: “I try to take care of myself to try to make my career longer. That’s all I focus on.”
Q: Watching your fights you have a lot of power in your hands and it seems like you are willing to take three or four shots from another guy as long as you get off your one shot. Is that the strategy you usually have or does it depend on the fighter? Do you make any adjustments based on Babalu’s stand-up style or are you pretty confident in your striking power?
Henderson: “That is obviously something that has helped me finish fights in the past, and one of the things that makes me dangerous. I usually try not to get hit but in the process sometimes that happens. I am pretty confident on my feet with most people, and I am pretty confident that Babalu and I will be striking a lot as well as being on our feet. It will be a true MMA fight.”
Q: You have a good ground game and striking, but is there anything you are doing different for a guy who might be harder to get to a mat?
Babalu: “I wrestle myself and Dan is a good wrestler as well. I have been training a lot in wrestling but I am very confident.”
Q: Dan, what is the key to winning the fight?
Henderson: Conditioning. And I have enough experience in all the different aspects of MMA and where the fight can go, so I am confident anywhere. I just need to make sure the conditioning is there.”
Q: Babalu, what is the key to winning fight?
Babalu: “Conditioning is always a big thing. I have been working on my technical drills, and looking at video.”
Q: Have you done anything in training for this fight focusing on conditioning?
Henderson: “I definitely do just conditioning training, outside of team practice. I have been focused on conditioning, so hopefully it will show when I fight.”
Q: In the boxing vs. MMA debate, people believe until the main MMA companies start co-promoting it won’t be official. Will Strikeforce combine with more companies?
Coker: “Our company philosophy is that we are not afraid of co-promoting. We did it with EliteXC, M1, DREAM. Each one of these relationships is different, so each comes with their own set of challenges.”
Q: Why take this rematch?
Henderson: “Excitement value. It will not be a boring fight. I am in this to perform well and I want to make sure it is exciting for the fans and to bring new fans to the sport. I did not do that in my last fight so I want to make sure this one is exciting.”
Babalu: “This is not revenge, just an exciting matchup. It’s a great fight for the fans.”
Q: How do you think your game has changed since the last fight 10 years ago?
Henderson: “I was primarily a wrestler trying to throw some punches before but I have gotten more training on submission stuff. I have learned and grown as a fighter and how to use my wrestling better for MMA. I have really enjoyed learning new things along the way.”
Babalu: “Conditioning training has changed a lot, and I have a lot of different professionals that work with me. I was more amateur then, a young guy. I am totally different today because of all the stuff that I have learned over the past years. I train well and make fewer mistakes while training.”
Q: Why do you think you will win this fight?
Henderson: “Because I believe in myself and that I am a better fighter. I am going to be ready to go, and conditioning should be all there. There is no reason in my mind why I should lose. I feel like I am as good as a grappler as Babalu, and I feel like I am a lot more dangerous on my feet and I just feel confident everywhere.”
Babalu: “Because I am speedy and smarter. You will see on Dec. 4 who is better at grappling and on our feet.”
Q: What is the deal with negotiations on re-signing Fedor?
Coker: “It has been quite a long road with the M1 camp and trying to get this done but I agree there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But we welcome Fedor to have a long term deal to fight with STRIKEFORCE on SHOWTIME.”
Q: Do you expect Dan to come out charging and to knock you out in the first round?
Babalu: “Hell, yeah. Who doesn’t?”