This Saturday night (June 15, 2013), the Octagon hits Winnipeg for the first time in history as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) host their latest pay-per-view (PPV) event --UFC 161: "Evans vs. Henderson-- from the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
A light heavyweight contenders contest receives top billing at the event, as former UFC champion Rashad Evans looks to rebound from a career-worst two-fight losing streak to take on one of the most decorated competitors in the sport's young history, Dan Henderson.
There are several interesting storylines to follow going into and coming out of the event, but only four can make the "burning" list.
That being said, here are four burning questions going into UFC 161: "Evans vs. Henderson" this weekend:
4. How Will Jake Shields Perform In His Move Back Down To Welterweight?
After a one-fight stint in the middleweight division, Jake Shields will go against the grain once again by switching weight classes for a second time in the UFC and returning the welterweight division to face Tyron Woodley in preliminary card headliner on FX.
Shields had a disappointing run in his first UFC stint at 170 pounds, going 2-2 with his lone victories coming against Yoshihiro Akiyama and Martin Kampmann in underwhelming fashion. However, he will look to rediscover the successful he found earlier in his career when he went on a run of 15-straight wins over the likes of Dan Henderson, Carlos Condit, Yushin Okami and more.
When he's on his game, the high-level wrestling abilities and outstanding jiu-jitsu talents of the Cesar Gracie product makes him a threat at any weight class, regardless of the opponent put in front of him.
It has been a few years since Shields looked in true top form. And perhaps at 34 years of age his time as an elite competitor regardless of weight class is over, but if the American can return to his peak, he has a good chance at causing a lot of problems for fighters in the division.
3. Does Roy Nelson Have Anything To Gain By Fighting Stipe Miocic?
Following Roy Nelson's brutal knockout of Cheick Kongo at UFC 159 in April, fans were expecting him to face a top-five or top-10 opponent after three-straight first-round finishes.
What "Big Country" supporters got instead, though, was a last-minute fight against the unranked and unheralded Stipe Miocic, who is coming off a loss, just eight weeks after defeating Kongo at UFC 159.
The reason for Nelson competing on the UFC 161 fight card is twofold. Firstly, the UFC needed another well-known name for the PPV line-up after the headliner of Renan Barao vs. Eddie Wineland fell off the card and secondly, the fight against Miocic will be the last on Nelson's original UFC contract he earned by winning The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 10.
UFC President Dana White has stated that Nelson has opted not to renew a deal with the UFC until after UFC 161, likely because the 36-year-old believes he would get an even better contract offer than what's currently on the table should he defeat Miocic in impressive fashion.
That's risky game to play.
If Nelson is defeated by a huge underdog in the fight, his stock will plummet and he can be sure that whatever contract offer is currently on the table will be either gone or significantly reduced.
One can only hope that Nelson is taking this fight seriously because a win over Miocic doesn't help him move up the rankings whatsoever and appears to be more of a risk than the reward is worth.
2. Who Will Rebound From An Underwhelming Loss In The Main Event?
Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson were both chastised by mixed martial arts (MMA) fans for their disappointing efforts in their last fights against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Lyoto Machida, respectively, and need to win, and win in impressive fashion to remind fans they are still top contenders in the light heavyweight division.
Evans was completely flat against "Minotoro" and showed no urgency when it was abundantly clear the fight wasn't going his way. The defeat marked the first time in Evans' 21-fight career that he had lost two bouts in a row and now facing the pressure of a three-fight skid, "Suga" needs to regroup from his last loss and do it quickly.
Henderson's loss and performance against Machida was much more forgivable, though, due to the fact "The Dragon" has participated in several unappealing fights over the years and has an extremely difficult style to solve. Henderson chased the Brazilian around the cage as best he could, but his speed disadvantage and inability to close the distance in an effective way prevented him from inflicting any significant damage.
Nevertheless, it was Henderson's first loss in nearly three years and caused him to drop from the spot as the top title contender at the 205-pound weight class, a position he had secured prior to the now infamous UFC 151 event cancellation fiasco.
After coming out on the wrong ends of their last fights, only one man will be able to get back on track and begin working towards title contention.
1. Is This The End Of The Line For Rashad Evans Or Dan Henderson As A Title Contender?
Speaking of title contention -- the loser of Saturday's main event could very well have their UFC championship aspirations wiped away for good.
With Henderson on the wrong side of 40 and Evans on the wrong side of 30, there is absolutely no room for error going forward. For one man, though, they are about to commit a huge error and suffer what will arguably be the most significant loss of their career.
Just over a year ago Evans was pegged as the man with the best chance to dethrone 205-pound champion Jon Jones, but after a five-round domination at the hands of "Bones" and the subsequent defeat to Nogueira, the notion he could beat the champion seems laughable.
"Suga" still has the skills and athleticism to contend with the best in the world, but one just has to wonder if he is still completely in the game mentally after admitting his mind went blank in his last fight.
A third consecutive loss would send Evans' career into a tailspin and would force him to change his goals from becoming a world champion to simply figuring out how to keep up with UFC level competition.
As for Henderson, he had a title shot locked up on two separate occasions and blew both opportunities. Once when he pulled out of UFC 151 at the last minute with an injury and the other when he was defeated by Machida.
At 42, Henderson is at the stage in his career where any fight could be his last. The former dual-division PRIDE champion doesn't have the luxury of time and needs to rack up impressive wins --and fast-- if he has any hopes of reestablishing himself as the division's top contender for a crack at Jones.
While both men have had legendary careers that are unquestionably Hall-of-Fame worthy, Saturday night could very well mark the end of one's time as an elite competitor.
Who will it be?
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