Evan Dunham is at a crossroads.
Even with a UFC record of 5-2 (12-2 overall), Dunham is in a very tenuous position.
He has a lost his last two fights, and in the UFC, three in a row can mean the end of a fighter’s run with the promotion.
Working in Dunham’s favor is the fact the first of his two losses was a controversial decision to former lightweight champion Sean Sherk. Most observers, including UFC President Dana White, felt Dunham should have easily won the decision.
However, after the Sherk fight, Dunham stepped into the Octagon with Melvin Guillard. Three minutes later, Dunham left with his second straight defeat, but this time there was no controversy. Guillard unleashed a lightning-quick barrage of strikes to devastate Dunham.
With the loss, Dunham was no longer a hot, rising prospect. He went from “can’t miss” to “possibly did miss.”
In his first fight since the Guillard loss, Dunham is set to take on noted amateur wrestler Nik Lentz. The fight with Lentz will be his first opportunity to prove the Guillard fight was an aberration.
While Dunham has a reputation for exciting fights, Lentz has, well, the opposite.
While fighting live on the Spike prelims, Lentz' three-round decision win against Andre Winner at UFC 118 is regarded as one of the worst televised matchups in years.
“No,” Dunham said, when asked if he will change his style to ensure a more fan-friendly fight. “I’m not in very many boring fights, so hopefully this one will be exciting, and he’ll be in it.”
On paper, Lentz would appear to have the advantage in wrestling. Dunham, however, disagrees.
“He’s a good wrestler,” Dunham said, “but I’ve got better hands. I’ve got better ground, and I think I’ve got better wrestling.”
With a highlight-reel win over Lentz, Dunham could potentially jump back into title contention.
While many experts view the lightweights as the UFC’s strongest division, in truth, the promotion has recently set up fights where the top guys have been or will be knocking each other off.
Clay Guida recently lost to Ben Henderson in a classic fight. Jim Miller also lost to Henderson. Gray Maynard was defeated by the champion, Frankie Edgar, and surprisingly, Gilbert Melendez still is not fighting in the UFC.
Another elimination bout is set with former WEC champion Anthony Pettis taking on Joe Lauzon in February, and the winner of that fight could be next in line for the title. After those match-ups, the division is wide open.
“I’m not sure,” Dunham said, about the possibility of quickly regaining a high ranking. “I’m going to take it one fight at a time like I always do.”
The next lightweight title fight will also be on February’s UFC in Japan. Frankie Edgar will defend against Ben Henderson.
“I’ll be watching it,” Dunham said, when asked to pick a winner. “I think it’s a great fight. Both guys are gamers.
“If I had to pick somebody? I’d probably go with Frankie because he’s got more big-fight experience. But Henderson...he’s a bad dude.”
With a win over Lentz two weeks prior to the Edgar-Henderson showdown, Dunham would have more than a casual rooting interest in the championship fight. For his fight, Dunham is much more decisive with his prediction.
“He’s a tough kid, but all around, I’m better,” Dunham said. “I’m going to knock him out in the second round.”
Gary Herman is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.