Saturday, October 31, 2009
Dan Henderson is the Mixed Martial Arts version of Bobby Hull.
For those unfamiliar with the career and biography of "The Golden Jet," Hull was one of the NHL's preeminant stars, sniping goals from the left wing for the Chicago Blackhawks in larger quantities than anyone before him, including Maurice "The Rocket" Richard.
But in 1972, Hull grew unhappy with being chronically underpaid and threatened to sign with the upstart WHL. Even though his contract demands seem unreasonable, the owners banded together, came up with the money and landed one of the marquee names in the sport to help sell their brand.
Dan Henderson is Strikeforce's version of Bobby Hull.
Sure they already have the consensus top heavyweight the sport has to offer in Fedor Emelianenko, but ask anyone invested in the Mixed Martial Arts industry and they'll confirm for you that Joe Smith in Springfield has no idea who "The Last Emperor" is and therefore, his value is somewhat limited.
But thanks to The Ultimate Fighter, even the most casual of MMA fans is fully aware of Dan Henderson, even if only in his capacity as the coach of Team USA in their battle against Team UK.
While Strikeforce has been busy assembling a talented roster, including their recent signing of DREAM Welterweight Grand Prix champion Marius Zaromskis, having a stable full of unknown talents isn't going to convince the average fan to tune in to Showtime.
Though names like Emelianenko, Mousasi and Shields may be the true mark of talent in the organization, Henderson is without question the biggest name outside of the hardcore fans. He is a fighter that people who spend minimal amount of time reading blogs like this can name and a recognizable addition that could bring new fans to the growing organization.
At this stage in their development - and Strikeforce is still very much in the developmental stage and not yet near equal footing with the monolith that is the UFC - acquiring names to attract fans is part of the plan. Why else do you think the UFC was signing everyone under the sun over the summer? It sure wasn't to capitalize on all the Phil Baroni merchandise sales...
But now, the UFC is taking an undoubtedly well-calculated risk, as fellow Bleacher Report writer Darren Wong accurately broke down in his most recent effort. For them, Henderson is not worth the large financial commitment he is seeking, as despite his name recognition, he is not a major PPV draw.
With Henderson, Strikeforce gains the one thing they need most right now: a recognizable name that can draw the attention of casual MMA fans away from the UFC vacuum. Once you're watching, the even more talented members of the roster have the capability to captivate you.
Henderson wasn't heading into this round of contract negotiations with the intention of becoming the MMA version of Bobby Hull. Up until ten days ago, he still believed a deal could be worked out with the UFC and a change of address would not be necessary.
Bobby Hull probably thought the same thing when he told the Chicago Blackhawks he would leave if they didn't pay him what he thought he was worth.
But "The Golden Jet" flew to Winnipeg, bringing name recognition to the otherwise unknown World Hockey Association.
Can Dan Henderson do the same for Strikeforce?