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Captain America

Throughout history the United States has seen its fair share of battles fought on soil both at home and overseas. The conflicts we’ve endured were rooted in various causes ranging from the desire for independence to establishing equality to fending off foreign aggressors. Still, as diverse as the factors may have been in leading its citizens to arms, there has remained a universal underlying principle in every march towards war. This foundation has always been the nation’s collective desire to establish dominance against an enemy while remaining true to the core of what many feel it means to be American – a familiarity with hard work, an embrace of blue-collar sensibilities, and the possession of an internal fire burning to be the best in the world.

In many ways the upcoming skirmish between Dan Henderson and Rich Franklin at UFC 93 is as representative of those characteristics as the winner of their bout will be of the stars-and-stripes when he steps in front of the Ultimate Fighter cameras across from British posterboy Michael Bisping. Both competitors embody the American spirit in more ways than one, and while this proverbial “civil war” between countrymen will be contested thousands of miles away from the nearest amber wave of grain, the UFC could not have picked a better pair of individuals to carry the flag into Ireland and eventually onto TUF 9.

On January 17th, 2009, American red, white, and blue will not be the only colors on display when fans in attendance at UFC 93 take in the main event. Rich Franklin’s wardrobe has proven time and time again that carnation pink is not a shade of the spectrum reserved only for Pepto-Bismol or strawberry-flavored milk. Incredibly, Franklin has finished more than 90% of the opponents he’s beaten since debuting in 2000 and more than half of those victories came in the first round. In 27 professional fights “Ace” has only fallen to Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, both of whom are considered to be among the pound-for-pound best in MMA by most followers of the sport. The former middleweight champion’s reputation is of enough quality to even have Miami Vice’s Sonny Crockett deferring to him were proof ever needed that “real men wear pink”.

Beyond his in-ring accomplishments, “Ace” also has a master’s degree in education, is well-spoken, previously taught high school mathematics, and heads a foundation advocating non-violence and youth education. He was born and raised in the Midwest and carries with him the simple values generally associated with the region. Franklin’s dedication to every endeavor he undertakes has paid off in making him as much a success in life as he has been in the UFC. He’s fought through injuries, both emotional and physical, and managed to rebound from every devestating knockout he’s encountered. From his philanthropy to his clean-cut persona to his “never give up” attitude, few fighters embody the land of opportunity as well as Rich Franklin. For those reasons coupled with his outstanding ability as a Mixed Martial Artist, he is an ideal coach for the ninth season of the Ultimate Fighter’s “UK vs. USA” format.

On the opposite end of the personality spectrum (and country), but still an equally good candiate to head the American group, “Hollywood” Henderson grew up in California with long hair and a surfboard. As an amateur wrestler he tested his skill at every level and is no stranger to representing the United States in competition, as his experience on the mat even extends to participation in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympics. He heads one of the premier MMA gyms in North America, owns a huge ranch where he often hunts game, then grills it, and has been known to throw back an alcoholic beverage or three when time and training permit.

Whether tending to a six-shooter in the Wild West, storming the beach at Normandy, trekking through a jungle in Vietnam, or plopped smack dab in the middle any other genre associated with United States’ history, one can easily envision “Hendo” being very much the same person he is in 2008. Henderson is the personification of “old school” American in both the way he lives his life and the way he makes a living inside the ring. There is no jiujitsu trickery to his game. When it comes to Dan Henderson and MMA, unlike his front teeth, what you see is what you get. His lone submission win in thirty professional contests came via a few well-placed knees to Bakouri Gogitdze‘s ribs. Instead, Dan’s preferred methods of victory involve either using his superior grappling skills to grind his opposition into sausage over the duration of a bout’s allotted time period or by simply separating an opponent from his consciousness by means of a legendary
right hand. And yet, for all his willingness to stand and trade shots with opponents, Henderson has never been knocked out in a career that dates all the way back to 1997! That’s right, the Team Quest patriarch hasn’t gone down since the “Titanic” sank…James Cameron’s version, that is. If that sort of iron-jawed aggression along with his entrepreneurship, Olympic credentials, and overall approach to life don’t make Dan Henderson a prime candidate for the American captain on the Ultimate Fighter Season 9, there seems to be little else he can do to prove such to be the case outside of perhaps rearing a family of bald eagles or single-handedly capturing Osama Bin Laden.

While Franklin may be more of today’s “modern” man and Henderson may be more of a throwback to a different generation of Americans, each is a tremendous representative of both Mixed Martial Arts and the United States based on the roads respectively travelled. UFC 93 might not boast the strongest overall card in the company’s history, but next Saturday night’s main event is a “must see” showdown between two of Mixed Martial Arts’ classiest competitors, each of whom has a well-rounded set of skills, has beaten the bulk of his peers in the sport, and knows the feeling of strapping a significant championship around his waist. It is a match-up that should put some additional wear-and-tear on the fronts of viewers’ seats given the level of the athletes displaying their talents. It is a pairing that, based on the involved parties’ status as promotional icons, many fans would have labeled as being of the “dream” variety prior to the UFC purchasing PRIDE. And, perhaps even better, it is going down less than a week from today!

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