Two former world champions will clash tomorrow night (June 15, 2013) as former UFC Light Heavyweight champ Rashad Evans takes on former Pride and Strikeforce champion Dan Henderson in the main event of UFC 161 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Both veterans are coming off uninspired losses and are hoping to right the ship and get back into contention.
Record: 29-9 overall, 6-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Mauricio Rua (UFC 139), Fedor Emelianenko (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson), Michael Bisping (UFC 100)
Key Losses: Lyoto Machida (UFC 157), Anderson Silva (UFC 82), Quinton Jackson (UFC 75)
How he got here: Henderson started out as a Greco Roman wrestler, competing twice in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympic games for the United States. He had immediate success after transitioning to MMA
The first four events Henderson competed at were single night tournaments, and he won them all, winning nine fights overall in four nights. Afterward, he would sign with Pride FC, where he would have an up and down career, never really stringing together a huge run of victories. That is until the inaugural Pride FC welterweight (185-pound) Grand Prix. He would knockout consecutive opponents on one night to make it to the finals and then go on to win the tournament with a split decision victory against Murilo Bustamante.
After defeating Vitor Belfort at 205 pounds, he was offered a title shot against Wanderlei Silva, an opportunity to avenge his initial Pride FC loss from six years prior. He would capitalize on the opportunity with an incredible third round knockout to become the Pride FC champion in two weight classes.
Henderson would earn back-to-back title shots in his UFC return, losing to both Anderson Silva and Quinton Jackson, but would put up strong performances in both fights.
He bounced back with three consecutive victories in the UFC, including the 2009 "Knockout of the Year" against Michael Bisping, but instead left the promotion and signed a very large deal with Strikeforce. Henderson would lose his first Strikeforce bout to middleweight champion Jake Shields, but he would follow it up with consecutive knockouts of Renato Sobral and "Feijao" Cavalcante to become the Strikeforce light heavyweight champion. He capped off his Strikeforce career with an incredible knockout of MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko earlier this summer in Chicago.
He returned to UFC for a fight against Mauricio Rua and delivered with one of the greatest fights of all time, dishing out serious punishment before slowing down in the later rounds to eek out a decision. "Hendo" sat out a year waiting for a title shot against Jon Jones, but injured his knee just weeks before the title shot and has been sidelined since. He finally returned to the Octagon against Lyoto Machida but couldn't handle the Brazilians elusive style, losing a dull three round decision.
Now, he's looking to prove he still has it against another former champion.
How he gets it done: Henderson has a few solid methods to getting the job done. First, obviously, is to land that killer right hand of his. If he can knockout Fedor with it from an uppercut on the ground, he can put Evans to sleep, too. Evans will be looking for the right hand, as every opponent Henderson has ever faced in the last four years has been cautious of it, but they still keep getting tagged.
Henderson, despite his age, does a pretty good job of closing the distance. And, he's still got some explosion in him when he needs it. He could be looking to set up the right hand with a takedown attempt or perhaps just lunging in with a lead left jab.
Another advantage for Henderson would be in the clinch. He did a pretty good job of controlling Emelianenko along the fence and he could potentially attempt something similar to Evans. If he plays his cards right, it'll open up some dirty boxing attacks and he's always capable of throwing a huge right hand on the break.
No single fighter's game centers around a particular attack as Dan Henderson's does with his sledgehammer for a right. If that lands, no matter how much Evans is dancing around, the course of the fight could easily be altered.
Record: 17-3-1 overall, 12-3-1 in the UFC
How he got here: After a respectable career wrestling at Michigan State, Rashad Evans, under the wing of former UFC tournament champion Dan Severn, won his first five professional fights. This earned him an opportunity to compete on season two of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
Despite fighting at a weight class heavier than normal, Evans tore through the heavyweights on the show, eventually working his way to the finale where he earned a split decision victory over the significantly larger Brad Imes to become The Ultimate Fighter season two champion.
After some less than dominant split and majority decision victories over Sam Hoger and Stephan Bonnar, Evans finally found his groove, earning a technical knockout (TKO) over Jason Lambert with ground and pound and then scoring one of the UFC's all time nastiest finishes with the head kick knockout of Sean Salmon.
Evans would go on to have his now infamous draw with Tito Ortiz and would follow it up by defeating Michael Bisping via decision, sending him to the middleweight division. The victory would earn "Suga" a number one contender match against former champion Chuck Liddell and one massive overhand right would change his life forever, flooring Liddell, earning "Knockout of the Year," and earning him his first title shot against champion Forrest Griffin.
After a shaky first couple rounds against Griffin at UFC 92, Evans took advantage of a slip, pounced and pummeled his way to victory to take the title and stand atop the division. His title reign would be short, though, halted by Lyoto Machida in his first defense just five months later.
Since losing the championship, Evans rebounded nicely by defeating Thiago Silva and "Rampage" Jackson via decision, but an ill-advised choice to sit on the sidelines and wait for Mauricio Rua's knee to recover cost him badly. After nine months of waiting, "Suga" injured his knee while training and had to watch teammate Jon Jones crush "Shogun" and win the belt he'd had his eyes on for over a year.
Evans rolled through both Tito Ortiz and Phil Davis to earn a shot at his now former teammate, but would lose a decision to "Bones" last April. His rough streak continued when he showed up and played pattycake with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira for three rounds, losing an uninspired decision. Now, he'll be trying to prove his head is still in the game against Dan Henderson.
How he gets it done: Evans' secret weapon ever since losing his title was going back to his roots in the wrestling department. He was able to utilize it very effectively against Thiago Silva, Quinton Jackson and even former national champion Phil Davis, although he stepped off the gas against Jones and Nogueira.
Evans can also back up his wrestling with power. His ferocious knockouts of Liddell, Salmon and his title victory over Griffin should be a testament to that.
Expect "Suga" to dance around Henderson early, utilizing his speed and movement to perplex the veteran, perhaps lull him into a false sense of security. That's when he should pounce with takedown attempts. Evans has to remember what happened to Henderson against Jake Shields and that he's fully capable of more explosive takedowns than that.
If Rashad can take Henderson down, he needs to not only keep him down, but also to try and score some damage with strikes. As long as he doesn't give Hendo too big of an opening to get back to his feet or land that colossal right hand of his, he should be fine.
Who will come out on top at UFC 161? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!