This weekend’s UFC 139 (6 p.m., online Facebook stream; 8 p.m. ET, Spike TV; 9 p.m. ET, pay-per-view) card in San Jose includes three bouts involving six former champions: light heavyweights Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua; middleweights Cung Le vs. Wanderlei Silva; and Brian Bowles vs. Urijah Faber. But they earned most of their accolades before UFC absorbed them.
Henderson leads the pack as the reigning light-heavyweight champion of Strikeforce and one of the most accomplished American fighters in mixed martial arts. He was a beltholder in two divisions for Japan’s Pride Fighting Championships when UFC parent Zuffa bought that brand in 2007, though he subsequently lost title-unification bouts in both weight classes.
His main-event bout against Rua starts the third UFC stint for Henderson, who has had occasional disagreements with Dana White, president of Zuffa, usually during contract negotiations.
“I heard that Dana bought Strikeforce because he missed me,” Henderson joked Thursday.
Rua used to be UFC’s 205-pound champion, but he first became a star in mixed martial arts by winning a Pride tournament in 2005. Henderson also took part in that grand prix; the man who eliminated him, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, lost to Rua in the second round of the tourney.
Like Henderson, Rua and Silva signed with UFC in 2007 after the Pride acquisition.
Faber and Bowles became champions in World Extreme Cagefighting, a brand that Zuffa bought in 2006. The company retired the WEC brand at the end of last year and moved its top talent to UFC.
The winner of their bout likely gets a chance for a rematch with bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, who has beaten both men.
But Strikeforce will be represented most of all when UFC makes its debut in northern California’s most populous city. Strikeforce started in San Jose and it used to employ Le, who was the promotion’s middleweight champion from 2008 to 2009. A resident of San Jose, Le was a Strikeforce star going back to the late 1990s when the company promoted kickboxing rather than mixed martial arts. They entered the sport together in March 2006, when Le debuted in mixed martial arts by fighting on Strikeforce’s first MMA show.
Yet he’s more than happy to be fighting for UFC these days.
“UFC’s top of the food chain,” Le says. “It’s like going from the CFL to the NFL.”
By Sergio Non, USA TODAY