A crash course to UFC 161: Rashad Evans vs. Dan Henderson
Crash Course: Henderson vs. Evans
Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.
Forty-two-year-old Dan Henderson is coming off a February loss to Lyoto Machida. (AP)
It will be a meeting of two of the top light heavyweights in the UFC -- both at career crossroads -- when Dan Henderson faces Rashad Evans on Saturday at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (10 p.m. ET, PPV, $54.99).
The 42-year-old Henderson (29-9), who ranks No. 4 among 205-pounders in the SI.com MMA rankings and No. 3 in the UFC’s official media-voted tally, is a two-time Olympic wrestler who was the last man to wear the Strikeforce light heavyweight title belt. Before that, he was champion at both middleweight (205 pounds) and welterweight (183) in the Pride Fighting Championships. He was scheduled to challenge Jon Jones for the UFC belt last September but was injured in the final days of training, and when the champ declined a late-replacement opponent, UFC 151 became the first event ever canceled by the promotion. Henderson might still have gotten his title shot if not for his Feb. 23 loss via split decision to Lyoto Machida in a No. 1 contenders’ showdown.
Evans (17-3-1), No. 5 among light heavies in the SI.com rankings (and No. 6 in the UFC’s), is a former champion of the promotion’s 205-pound division. In December 2008, three years after winning Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter at heavyweight, he knocked out Forrest Griffin to claim the light heavy belt. Evans relinquished it in his first title defense, though, as a Machida KO dealt him his first career loss. In April 2012 Evans attempted to regain the title but lost a unanimous decision to Jones. Then, on Feb. 2, he dropped a unanimous decision to Antônio Rogério Nogueira.
In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on FX (8 p.m. ET) and two will stream on the UFC’s Facebook page (6:35 p.m.).
Both of these men would rather be doing something else. Both had their sights set on the shiny brass-and-leather strap around the waist of Jon Jones. Now that glimmer is off in the distance.
Of more immediate concern is survival. It might seem ludicrous to think this way about a pair of highly ranked elite fighters, but two careers could be hanging in the balance when Henderson and Evans meet on Saturday night.
For Henderson, a second straight loss would push him farther out to the fringes of the title picture, leaving him little to fight for -- or at least little that’s attainable in the time left for a battle-worn man in his 40s. “Hendo” has never talked retirement, but what he does say is that he still fights because he has goals, the UFC championship being the one that remains. To reach your goals, you need to be moving in the right direction.
Evans already has two defeats in a row at the top of his resume. A third straight loss? For a top-dollar guy on a fighter roster that the UFC is trimming by the minute? It’s unfathomable that Rashad would be cut … unless he puts on a plodding, crowd-displeasing performance like the one he sleep-walked through against Nogueira. Lately, Evans has talked about how, rather than focusing on a championship run, what’s most important to him is to love what he does. Will he embrace that this weekend?
And what about the fans’ embrace? A little less than a year after an ill-fated UFC fight card in Calgary, Alberta, lost its main event and several other bouts to injury, another card in the vast plains of Canada has been hit hard. The original main event, in which Renan Barão was to defend his interim bantamweight title against former WEC champ Eddie Wineland, was canceled after Barão injured a foot. Then, after Henderson vs. Evans was moved up to top billing, the co-main event between Nogueira and Mauricio Rua was scrapped after “Little Nog” was injured. But the card did get punched up, so to speak, when Roy Nelson was brought in to face heavyweight Stipe Miocic.
Official weights announced at Friday's weigh-in (5 p.m. ET, Fuel TV)
Other Numbers To Count On
16:10: Average fight time for Dan Henderson, fourth longest in UFC history. (All stats according to Fight Metric.) Notwithstanding that, two of his last four wins were first-round knockouts.
49: Takedowns landed by Rashad Evans over his UFC career, seventh most in promotion history.
3.54: Takedowns per 15 minutes by Evans, compared to 1.8 for Henderson. The two-time Greco-Roman Olympian tends to use his wrestling chops to keep his fights standing, where his explosive right hand comes into play.
1: Number of Evans’s fights, among his five since 2009, that have not gone the distance (TKO of Tito Ortiz in 2011). Henderson is coming off two decisions, but scored three straight KO’s before that.
0: Knockouts suffered by Henderson in 38 career fights.
Henderson KO of Michael Bisping:
Evans KO of Chuck Liddell:
Speed vs. power. There’s the simplified scouting report.
But when you look just a little deeper, you recognize that Henderson, the guy known for his power, is effective with his crushing punches because of the speed with which he delivers them. And Evans, the one with the now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t foot speed, has always known when to stand in and put everything he has behind one of his fists.
So, yes, both fighters have it all. But what will each use against the other? Expect Henderson to be the stalker, as he always is, throwing big shots every time his prey is within range. And expect Evans to craftily keep a measure of that range, closing it to rat-a-tat a few punches, then retreating to safe ground. Always on the move.
Will the “Hendo” hunting expedition bag another trophy? Will the “Suga Rashad” bicycle tour cause an old man to go flat?
"Honestly, the whole title shot, it’s not on my mind. I just want to go in there and fight. And whatever happens after that happens after that. But honestly I don’t care." --Rashad Evans, asked during a conference call with MMA media whether he’s aiming for a shot at Jon Jones
"One day I would like to fight Jon Jones. I feel like I have unfinished business there. But I’ve been 100 percent focused on this fight -- not really even concerned about what happens after. So that’s pretty much it. Rashad’s extremely tough and very dangerous." --Dan Henderson, asked the same question during the conference call
Evans is a slight favorite at some sportsbooks, and the fight is even at others. Odds on Rashad range from -115 (bet $100 to win $87) to -130 (bet $100 to win $76.90), and odds on Henderson range from -115 to +108 (bet $100 to win $108).
Evans has a lot of intangibles on his side. He’s faster. He’s more athletic. He might not be the more powerful man, but he packs a punch. He’s not as decorated a wrestler as Henderson, a two-time Olympian, but Rashad uses his grappling skills more offensively. These are the kinds of things that could swing a close fight in his favor.
But I’m swayed by a different intangible: Evans seems to be searching for meaning. He’s not focusing on a title shot, he says. He’s no longer expressing a desire to have another go at teammate-turned-nemesis Jon Jones. He just wants to walk out of the octagon knowing he performed at his best. Fine. Maybe that’ll work for him. Maybe his head will be clear on Saturday night and he’ll fight the best fight of his life. Maybe he’ll be the first to KO Henderson. Or maybe not. Maybe navel gazing is too soft-focus for this sport. Maybe they’re called prizefighters because they have to have their eye on a prize.
Any fight can go either way, but this is a clash of guys who truly are evenly matched. The difference between winning and losing could very well come down to the respective mental states of two fighters trying to halt a downward slide. Henderson by decision.
Rashad Evans must make sure he’s not in the way when Dan Henderson unleashes his big fists, as Michael Bisping was in this 2009 fight. (Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
The Tweet Beat
Join the conversation about Henderson-Evans on Twitter. Track the hashtags #HendersonEvans or #ufc161 to see who's tweeting what about Saturday's fight. And get blow-by-blow coverage on SI.com via Loretta Hunt's live blog.
· Alexis Davis vs. Rosi Sexton, women’s bantamweight
· Pat Barry vs. Shawn Jordan, heavyweight
· Non-PPV fights (8 p.m. ET, FX): Jake Shields vs. Tyron Woodley, welterweight; Sam Stout vs. James Krause, lightweight; Sean Pierson vs. Kenny Robertson, welterweight; Ronald Delorme vs. Eddie Figueroa, bantamweight.
· Facebook fights (6:35 p.m. ET): Mitch Clarke vs. John Maguire, lightweight; Yves Jabouin vs. Dustin Pague, bantamweight.
· Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow for the PPV and prelims on FX and Facebook, with Joe Rogan on analysis. Jay Glazer will host an hour-long postfight show on Fuel TV, beginning at 1 a.m.
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