Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight champion, Rashad Evans, is set to scrap with ex-Pride FC and Strikeforce kingpin, Dan Henderson, this Saturday night (June 15, 2013) in the main event of the UFC 161, which takes place at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
After an arduous decision loss to mixed martial arts (MMA) wunderkind and personal nemesis, Jon Jones, at UFC 145, Evans' fight future was uncertain. Luckily for the Blackzilian-trained fighter, he had the possibility of earning a Middleweight title shot in his next fight against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156.
"Suga" entered the bout as a huge favorite, but looked unmotivated, losing a dull and uninspired decision to "Lil Nog."
This Saturday, Evans will look to prove that he's still among the best fighters in the world. Despite a two-fight losing skid, a victory against "Hendo" -- widely regarded as the last major challenge for Jones's world title -- would shoot Evans right back into the proverbial "mix."
But, does Evans still have the ability -- and desire -- to knock off top competition?
Let's take a closer look:
Evans is not a supremely technical boxer or kickboxer. However, he is one of the fastest fighters in the division, whose ability to blend striking and wrestling is second to none.
More often than not, Evans begins his combinations with his lead hand. He alternates between the left hook and jab, routinely following them up with a hard overhand or straight right. In particular, Evans is phenomenal at covering distance with his left hook. Additionally, Evans almost exclusively uses his lead hand for countering, particularly the hook.
Evans' most dangerous punch is clearly his overhand right. In addition to famously stealing Chuck Liddell's soul, Evans' overhand has dropped Quinton Jackson and landed on "Bones" Jones.
Evans almost always sets up the overhand the same way. He'll whip out a quick jab or two, and then follow it up with the overhand. "Suga" is very good at throwing it with speed and power, while covering an excellent amount of distance.
Most important, Evans' overhand sets up his wrestling and vice-versa.
Against Tito Ortiz, Evans demonstrated how far his clinch striking had evolved. He repeatedly landing strong Muay Thai elbows and punches to the head and body. One excellent trick Evans used was to control one of Ortiz's forearms with his own arm, often his left, and land power punches with his free hand. This both prevented Ortiz from returning punches and allowed Evans to line up his shots easier.
Evans has successfully incorporated kicks into his striking game. He doesn't throw them frequently, but Evans possesses hard leg and body kicks. In addition, Evans owns one of the most devastating head kick knockouts in UFC history.
Complementing his blinding speed, Evans' head kick attempts are greatly aided by his wrestling. Many of Evans' opponents are forced to lower their hands to prevent incoming takedowns, which opens up kicks to the face.
One factor to consider about Evans' kicking arsenal is his current training camp, Imperial Athletics. Imperial Athletics' Dutch kickboxing-style is well known and has been displayed by many of their fighters. Dutch kickboxing puts a heavy emphasis on ending combinations with kicks. This could be an important factor in Evans' upcoming bout against Henderson.
Despite Evans' evolution into a smooth power striker, he has one large defensive flaw. Put simply, Evans is very easy to counter if a fighter can match his speed. The reason for this is that Evans doesn't move his head as he throws combinations.
This was never more apparent than in his title loss to Lyoto Machida. The Karate striker repeatedly landed a hard straight left as "Suga" pushed forward. Over and over, Evans started combinations, but Machida finished them brutally.
Evans wrestled four years at Michigan State University. While Evans never achieved All-American status, he came close and has become well known as one the best MMA wrestlers ever.
In fact, his blast double is far and away his best takedown. Evans excels and lowering his base before literally running through his opponents. What makes Evans' blast double unique is his ability to mix it in with his striking.
If you look back at the overhand with which Evans dropped "Rampage," you'll notice he is in perfect position to shoot for a takedown. This isn't by accident -- Evans' low, coiled stance is perfect for both takedowns and power punches. In addition, "Suga" aggressively pressures his opponent when he throws combinations, so he's already moving forward, which makes the initial takedown explosions much easier.
Evans' ability to blend striking and wrestling was a nightmare for once-rival "Rampage" Jackson. Jackson made a career out of blocking his opponents strikes and returning a devastating hook. Evans took advantage of this by landing combinations and then ducking under Jackson's vicious counter hooks. The takedown below is an amazing example of timing, speed and explosion.
Against Phil Davis, an NCAA Division 1 champion wrestler, Evans had to change his game to out-wrestle the bigger, and on paper, better wrestler. Instead of shooting his blast double, Evans capitalized on Davis' robotic kickboxing to catch his legs and trip him onto the canvas.
In addition to has takedowns in the center of the cage, Evans has proven that he's capable of grinding opponents into the fence before taking them down. Even when fighting along the cage, Evans is an expert at distracting his opponents with punches before getting in on their hips.
Evans has a very well-rounded top game, meaning he is capable of controlling his opponents and dropping heavy ground-and-pound. Most of the the time, Evans is content to control an underhook with one arm, while dropping small punches with his free hand.
However, when Evans gets the space to posture up, he's absolutely violent. Forrest Griffin can attest to the fact that a single error with Evans can end a fight in an instant.
Evans has pretty good, not great, takedown defense. However, Evans is excellent at getting back to his feet after he has been taken down. Not even wrestling-minded opponents like Davis and Ortiz managed to keep Evans down for more than a short time after dragging him to the mat.
More often than not, Evans will attempt to wall walk. He'll work for at least one underhook while leaning against the cage, and then inch his way up the wall. As he stands up, Evans will look for an opportunity to spin away and get back to the center of the cage.
Evans earned his black belt in Gaidojutsu, Greg Jackson's submission grappling system, and was controversially given his black belt in jiu-jitsu by Rolles Gracie the morning of his fight with Thiago Silva. Despite his credentials, Evans submission grappling is a mystery.
According to FightMetric, Evans has never attempted a submission in his UFC career. Never. I've seen most of Evans' fights and cannot disagree with them. In Evans' 21-fight professional career, one fight has ended by submission -- he finished Dennis Reed by anaconda choke in his debut.
One thing that is definite about Evans' grappling game is his guard passing ability. When Evans decides to pass, he'll heavily pressure his opponent until he can slip his legs out of their guard.
Fans have been calling for Evans to drop to middleweight for years. "Suga" barely cuts weight and wrestled at 174 pounds in college, where he competed against MMA Lightweights and Welterweight fighters such as Jacob Volkmann, Gerald Harris and Josh Koscheck.
However, in exchange for a size and strength advantage, Evans carries a significant speed advantage. Evans moves on another level than the majority of his competition, which he can attribute to his smaller frame. This speed is precisely what allows Evans to chain together his strikes and takedowns.
Looking at Evans' losses, it's only fighters that can eliminate his speed advantage that beat him. Machida is very much like Evans in that he doesn't really cut weight, and Jones is so lengthy that Evans' speed is irrelevant. The only anomaly is Nogueira, which was because of a lack of motivation (not skill).
Best chance for success
The No. 1 rule for Evans: Do not circle into Henderson's right hand.
Evans needs to pressure "Hendo" early and often. Henderson is at his best when he's hunting his opponent and slinging his right hand, so if Evans can force him backward, Henderson won't be nearly as dangerous.
Evans should use his standard game plan against Henderson. If he can keep Henderson guessing with punches and takedown attempts, he'll make it easier to avoid Henderson's overhand. Furthermore, Evans will be able to take over late as Henderson tires.
Last, and certainly not least, Evans needs to stay out of the clinch at all costs. In the clinch, Henderson can control Evans and eliminate his speed advantage, which would be very problematic for the 33-year-old.
Can Evans out-hustle the aging Henderson or will another "H-Bomb" land?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Henderson be sure to click here.