Dan Henderson had earned one final shot at a UFC championship and was scheduled to meet light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones at UFC 151, but he missed out on that opportunity due to injury and a loss to Lyoto Machida upon his return. Now, the 42-year-old Henderson is looking to scramble against time and regain his position as top 205-pound contender before retirement calls.
Similarly, Rashad Evans had his sights set on earning a rematch with Jones until suffering an unexpected loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Despite turning in the worst showing of his career against the Brazilian, Evans finds himself in a bout with Henderson that could allow him to return to title contention.
This is an extremely pivotal matchup for both Henderson and Evans. The winner could have an opportunity to end their career with a bang, while the loser could be on the fast track toward calling it quits.
As this UFC 161 main event approaches, let's take a look at which fighter is more likely to get their hand raised.
From being labeled "Decision Dan" in his early Pride FC days, Dan Henderson has evolved into and will likely be remembered as one of the most dangerous punchers the UFC has seen.
However, impressive technique and variety does not always come along with power striking. Henderson's knockout ability is almost exclusively stored in looping right hands, which he's really only been able to land against fading and slowish opponents since his notable finish of Michael Bisping in July 2009.
Henderson will have difficulty landing his wide power punches against a speedier Rashad Evans, who has only been knocked out as a result of the lighting quick straight punches of Lyoto Machida.
Evans is not the most accurate striker in the light heavyweight division, but he's more diverse than his opponent when standing and should be able to land frequently enough on Henderson, who has been hit by more than half of his opponents' attempted strikes.
Although Henderson and Evans are both solid wrestlers with punching power, neither has become particularly known for their ground-and-pound.
Inside the Octagon, Henderson has no knockout victories resulting from strikes on the ground. Evans has beaten Quinton Jackson, Tito Ortiz and Phil Davis on the ground in his past five fights, but he only finished Ortiz, and the most damaging of that fight-ending sequence came via knee while "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" was attempting to stand.
The odds of this fight ending with strikes on the ground are not high, so it's tough to give a significant edge to either competitor in this matchup.
Power and Durability
While Evans' quickness and more diverse striking should give him the stand-up edge over three rounds, Henderson possesses the great equalizer with his right hand.
It may not land often, but Henderson really only needs to connect once with his overhand right to put Evans down. Evans has only been finished once inside the Octagon, but even the seemingly unstoppable can be stopped when Henderson touches their chin.
Even with all the punishment he's taken over the years, Henderson has never been knocked out and possesses one of the best chins in the light heavyweight division.
While Evans does have power, the only highly ranked opponents he's finished were Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin, and those former champions showed their chins were no longer holding up by being knocked out again in their fights that followed.
Overall Striking Edge: Push
Takedowns and Takedown Defense
Dan Henderson's amateur wrestling credentials are much more impressive than those of Rashad Evans. There's no doubt about that, but in an MMA setting, Henderson and Evans are almost equals when it comes to wrestling.
Both light heavyweights hover around a success rate of 50 percent when it comes to takedown attempts. Henderson and Evans are also dead even when it comes to takedown defense, stopping 65 percent of takedown attempts against them.
Wrestling could play a large role in this bout. However, in a vacuum, Henderson and Evans would have a tough time separating themselves when it comes to grappling.
Control and Escapability
When Evans takes an opponent down, they stay down. Phil Davis and Quinton Jackson found that out the hard way when they dropped decisions to Evans. It is also difficult to stay on top against Evans, who was taken down twice by Davis only to spend a majority of the five-round bout in the top position.
Conversely, Henderson has trouble accomplishing much of anything when he is taken to the ground. This is often because he gets taken down when he runs out of gas, but Henderson nearly lost to Mauricio Rua after being put on his back and was completely shut down by Jake Shields for four rounds in a Strikeforce title fight.
Wrestling will play a larger role in the later rounds of this fight, and that's when Evans can take advantage of Henderson's fatigue to possibly grind out a decision win.
Submissions and Submission Defense
Henderson and Evans have combined for four submission victories in their MMA careers. Two of those submissions came via strikes and none of them occurred inside the Octagon.
Usually working from dominant positions on the ground, Evans has never been submitted. Henderson has only been forced to tap in bouts with the Nogueira brothers and middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
This fight could play out several different ways, but it's hard to envision a scenario where it ends with a submission.
Overall Grappling Edge: Evans
Yes, Dan Henderson has several more fights under his belt than Rashad Evans and an MMA career that dates back to 1997, but Evans is at a point in his career where any experience disadvantage is really a non-issue for him.
Evans has competed in multiple UFC title fights and has been one of the organizations biggest stars over the past several years. The magnitude of this fight will have no effect on him, nor should Henderson's extra bit of fight knowledge.
Even though he appears to be on the decline after his loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Evans still has much more bounce in his step than the 42-year-old Henderson.
A fighter who could be competing at middleweight, Evans has been one of the speedier fighters in the 205-pound division. While Henderson does have a history at 185 pounds, his plodding footwork and looping punches could make him an easy target for Evans.
Despite his lack of output against Nogueira, Evans was consistently active over the three rounds of that bout and actually slightly increased his strikes thrown over each stanza. Evans isn't the most well-conditioned fighter in the light heavyweight class, be he shouldn't have too much trouble storing energy in this three-round bout.
At 42 years old, Henderson's ability to keep up with younger competition is fading with every fight. Henderson had plenty left in the third round against Lyoto Machida, but that's likely because the first two rounds of that contest were so uneventful. Against Mauricio Rua, Henderson was spent in the later rounds, only throwing 30 total strikes over the final 10 minutes of the bout.
If Evans can keep Henderson working early, he should be able to take over the third round.
Overall Intangibles Edge: Evans
Anytime Dan Henderson steps into the Octagon, he has a chance to win with his right hand. However, should he have trouble landing a power punch on Rashad Evans, which is likely, he could be in for a second straight loss.
Evans speed will allow him to land more often than Henderson, while his youth should aide in him out-lasting "Hendo" in a fight that has a high probability of going to the judges.
As long as Evans is careful to avoid Henderson's most deadly weapon, he should be able to stick and move, as well as score a few important takedowns in the later rounds of this fight to get back into the win column.
Evans defeats Henderson by decision.
Statistics via FightMetric.com.