Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans Face Harsh Realities Ahead of UFC 161
The main event at UFC 161 this weekend not only pits two of the best light heavyweights in the world against one another, but it also showcases opposing competitors at a bit of a crossroad in their respective careers.
Former Pride and Strikeforce champion Dan Henderson comes into the bout off an ugly fight against Lyoto Machida in February. The entire 15-minute affair came down to Henderson pursuing the big knockout punch, while Machida was elusive and looked to counter attacks but never mounted any serious offense of his own.
Henderson lost a split decision that night, and with it went his hopes to secure a light heavyweight title shot against champion Jon Jones.
Three weeks prior to Henderson's stumble against Machida, former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans was sleeping his way to a unanimous-decision loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156.
Normally a very fast fighter with heavy hands, Evans looked slow and out of step during every minute of his fight against Nogueira, and when it was over even he couldn't excuse his wretched performance.
Now just over three months removed from a pair of fights that both men would likely rather forget, Henderson meets Evans in the main event of UFC 161 with a dire sense of redemption on the line.
Henderson admits he watched Evans' last fight against Nogueira but doesn't expect the same type of performance this time around from the former Michigan State wrestler.
"You can't chalk that up to how he's going to fight moving forward. I've had fights where I'm real flat as well, and it doesn't reflect very well what I'm capable of doing and what I might be doing in my next fight," Henderson told Bleacher Report recently. "I watched that and saw it, but I didn't take that as that's the Rashad I'm fighting."
When the book is written about Henderson's career, he'd probably prefer the chapter about his fight with Machida to be omitted the same way Evans does his bout against Nogueira. At 42 years of age, however, Henderson knows the clock is ticking on his goal to one day clasp the UFC title, and in this sport it all comes down to your last performance.
"That's just the nature of the sport. You're only as good as your last fight," Henderson stated. "People do judge in that way and don't look at an overall career, or a two or three fight average. It's just the way it is and you've got to deal with it."
In this fight there is no gold on the line or even the hope of a title shot with a victory, but what's at stake could actually be much bigger in terms of their individual careers.
Henderson and Evans enter this fight with the knowledge that another loss would be devastating with far-reaching consequences. For Evans it would mark his third defeat in a row, and while he's not likely anywhere near the cut line for losing his job with the UFC, his relevancy in the light heavyweight division would take a major hit.
Evans has commented that he is contemplating a move down to middleweight regardless of the outcome of this fight, but a loss would impact any potential shift and where he stacks up in a new division.
On the other side of the coin for Henderson, a loss to Evans would almost surely signify the end of his run to earn another shot at the UFC light heavyweight title before his fighting days are over.
Henderson knows full well what this fight means just like he knows that Evans is a good wrestler with knockout power in his hands. He's sure Evans is aware of the same thing regarding his skill set and the ramifications of what happens with a loss, but this fight isn't about ignoring the hard truths staring them in the face.
This fight is about knowing what happens next and attacking it with the same ferocity as any other moment in history.
"I'm sure he's expecting me to hit him with my right hand," Henderson said. "Am I still going to hit him with it? Yeah absolutely."
It's that kind of no-nonsense approach to this fight that gives Henderson the right attitude to come away with the win, because anything less would mean he has to face the reality of a new world where title shots might just be a thing of the past.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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