The main event on UFC 161’s fight card will be a deciding factor in the careers of both Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans. Prior to his defeat against the seemingly unstoppable Jon Jones, Rashad “Suga” Evans was arguably one of the top contenders in the light-heavyweight division. Following his loss however, Evans put up a dismal effort against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, losing in a unanimous decision. This next fight against “Hendo” could either turn things around for Evans, or promptly put him out of the running for another title shot.
Henderson’s career hangs equally in the balance as that of his next opponent, being that his earlier knee injury and tough split decision loss to Lyoto Machida puts him several fights away from seeing another shot at Jones’ title. With both fighters coming off a tough loss, we can expect them to be equally hungry for a chance to prove themselves worthy of a shot at the champ.
Although The Ultimate Fighter 2 winner Evans has more fights in the UFC, Henderson’s experience in PRIDE FC, Strikeforce, and Olympic wrestling could certainly give him a competitive edge. Evans’ great takedown ability and ground-and-pound style has worked for him in the past to dictate where the fight goes, but against Hendo’s combination of artful submissions, Olympic-level wrestling, and heavy hands, Evans might find himself in less favorable positions more often than he would like. Nevertheless, Henderson is nearly ten years Evans’ senior, and coming off a debilitating injury may have a seriously negative effect on his performance.
Age and experience aside, let’s look at the facts objectively. Hendo has successfully landed 343 out of 704 total strikes thrown, giving him a solid 49% success rate. Out of 1206 attempted attacks, Evans has landed 452, giving him a 37% success rate. Over half of Evans’ strikes are thrown while standing, while Hendo has been known to mix it up in the clinch and be a little more well-rounded. With roughly half of his blows finding their mark, Henderson certainly has the advantage in the striking department.
Although Henderson has a more impressive grappling career, Evans has nearly triple the amount of attempted takedowns. Both of them having about a 50% success ratio (Rashad being 1% lower), and both matching with a 65% chance of defending takedown attempts. This, to me, suggests that this match will be decided standing up, and Evans’ striking defense has been known to be a substantially superior to that of his opponent. With Hendo’s superior stand-up offense, and Evans’ extreme athleticism and defensive ability, this should prove to be an exciting and concussive contest between to skilled brawlers.
I’m going to give this fight to Henderson by way of big right hand knockout, simply because he has displayed more serious punching power than Evans, and his last fight was considerably less embarrassing than his admirable adversary. If Hendo can come off this last injury without letting it affect his performance, I believe he is more mentally and physically prepared to win this bout. Both of these fighters have proven they can go the distance, but Henderson is hungry to retire on a high note, while Evans is considering moving down a weight class. Henderson is fighting to win while Evans is fighting to not lose, and any athlete knows that this can make all the difference in deciding a close contest.