Rashad Evans can add Dan Henderson’s name to the list of MMA legends he’s defeated inside the Octagon after earning a split-decision victory over the former Pride and Strikeforce champion in the main event of UFC 161 on Saturday night in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Elevated to main-event status when interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao was forced to withdraw from his fight with Eddie Wineland due to injury, the former light heavyweight champion Evans rebounded from a shaky first round to collect the final two frames on two out of the three scorecards to halt his two-fight losing streak.
Henderson dropped Evans midway through the opening frame, catching the former "Ultimate Fighter" winner with a jab as he stepped in. After the bout, Evans acknowledged to Joe Rogan that he wasn’t sure what hit him, joking that he thought the referee had caught him with a kick. Henderson pressed forward for the finish, slinging wild power shots at the backpedaling Evans, but he was unable to connect with anything serious, leaving the door open for Evans to rebound.
In the middle stanza, Henderson looked to press forward, but Evans kept him at bay, looking for a takedown early and doing a much better job of letting go with his hands, unlike in his previous outing against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. In the lead-up to this battle, Evans talked about needing to get his swagger back, and late in the second, the playfully cocky side of “Suga” showed through, as he let his hands dangle around his waist while the two just eyed each other over the final 10 seconds of the frame.
While the first was clearly Henderson’s, the third was undeniably Evans’ round, as he was clearly the more energetic of the two, pressing the pace, and putting the former Olympic wrestler on the defensive. As Henderson became increasingly focused on landing his patented overhand right “H-Bomb,” Evans was content to be the more active of the two, outworking the veteran through the final horn.
One week after only two of 12 fights went to the scorecards, the main event marked the ninth fight on the 12-fight event that went the distance, with two of three judges seeing things in Evans’ favor.
After losing consecutive bouts for the first time in his career, Evans now is back in the mix at the top of the 205-pound weight class. Though he’s now tied with champion Jon Jones for the second-most win in the history of the light heavyweight division, there are five fighters ranked in the top 10 against whom Evans has yet to face off, leaving UFC matchmaker Joe Silva plenty of options going forward.
Henderson now sits at a career crossroads.
One of the best to ever step into the cage, the 42-year-old has lost consecutive contests for the first time since dropping back-to-back championship bouts to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Anderson Silva at UFC 75 and UFC 82, respectively. Henderson’s still a tough out, but in each of his past three fights he has faded the longer the fight goes on. Coming off two straight losses, the decorated veteran has limited high-profile options available, but Henderson said at the post-fight press conference that after a summer spent with his children, he’d like to get back into the cage before the end of the year.
Miocic halts Nelson’s win streak
In the co-main event, Stipe Miocic made the most of the opportunity handed to him when several fighters fell off the main card by putting a halt to Roy Nelson’s three-fight winning streak.
Originally scheduled to face veteran Soa Palalei, the Ohio-based heavyweight Miocic was moved up to the penultimate bout of the night when Nelson was tabbed as a replacement, in order to bring a little more star power to a card that lost two of the top three fights that were initially on it.
With Nelson coming in on the best run of his UFC career, and Miocic coming off the first loss of his career last September, many expected “Big Country” to push his winning streak to four, but right out of the gate, it was obvious that he was in for a real fight.
The 30-year-old Miocic showed why he was viewed as a quality prospect prior to his arrival in the UFC heavyweight ranks, picking apart Nelson with crisp, clean boxing without taking any serious damage on the way to earning a unanimous decision.
By dominating Nelson, Miocic propels himself into the conversation at the lower end of the heavyweight top 10. He’s now 4-1 inside the Octagon, 10-1 overall, and and coming off the most complete performance of his career against his toughest opponent to date, which should mean another high-profile opportunity for Miocic the next time he steps into the cage.
For Nelson, the loss comes at a very inopportune time. This was the final fight on his contract. While an extension was discussed following his win over Cheick Kongo at UFC 159, Nelson opted to fight out his current deal, and now enters free agency on the wrong side of a one-sided loss. He’s wildly popular but often at odds with UFC President Dana White, so it will be very interesting to see how things play out.
Jordan has Knockout of the Night
Though Miocic had the biggest heavyweight victory on the card, it was former LSU fullback Shawn Jordan who delivered the most explosive heavyweight performance of the evening.
Matched up with fellow Louisiana native — and good friend — Pat Barry in the pay-per-view opener, Jordan broke from his pattern of slow starts, catching Barry with a swift and powerful uppercut early in the first, forcing him to cover up, which prompted “The Savage” to press forward for the finish.
A flurry backed Barry into the cage, another uppercut put him on the ground, and a torrent of left hands prompted referee Jerin Valel to wave it off just 59 seconds into the first. The victory elevates Jordan to 15-4 in his career, and 3-1 since transition to the UFC from Strikeforce. Barry drops to 8-6 overall and 5-6 inside the Octagon.
The remaining two fights on the main card resulted in a pair of Canadians taking home unanimous decision victories, as Ryan Jimmo was able to grind out a win against Croatian Igor Pokrajac, while Port Colborne, Ontario native Alexis Davis scored a hard-fought win over Rosi Sexton in yet another highly entertaining scrap in the women’s bantamweight division.
James Krause collected the only finish on the preliminary card, catching Canadian veteran Sam Stout in a deep guillotine choke that forced him to tap with just 13 seconds remaining in what was a highly entertaining, back-and-forth affair. The duo took home Fight of the Night honors, while Krause added another $50,000 for Submission of the Night, netting a win and $100,000 worth of bonuses in his UFC debut. Jordan took home Knockout of the Night honors for his first-round finish of Barry.
Next up is UFC 162, the organization’s annual Fourth of July event in Las Vegas. The July 6 event takes place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and is headlined by middleweight champion Anderson Silva defending his title against unbeaten challenger Chris Weidman.