In the main event of UFC 161, it was Rashad Evans that defeated Dan Henderson to avenge his two previous losses and prove his worth in the light heavyweight division.
"Suga" earned the victory via split decision in a bout that was really difficult to score. The two veteran light heavyweights engaged in a close fight that featured plenty of clinching and establishing space.
While Henderson appeared to be competitive in the first two rounds, Evans took the third pretty decisively with an aggression that he didn't display in the previous rounds, catching Henderson with several clean shots throughout.
It was just enough to get the nod from the judges.
Evans was handed a tough decision loss to UFC Light Heavyweight Jon Jones in April of 2012, and after taking another loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira earlier this year, the former champion proved he wants another shot at the title after beating Henderson.
Despite taking the loss, the fact that Henderson still looks like a viable title contender at 42 years old is a testament to how hard he works at his craft. This is Henderson’s second straight loss—took a split-decision defeat to Lyoto Machida earlier this year—and he will have to figure out whether his career is coming to an end or if he can make yet another run at a title shot.
While Henderson contemplates his future in the sport, Evans has launched himself back into the conversation for future opponents for Jones and his championship.
There will be several light heavyweights that will look to claim the No. 1 contendership—Nogueira and Mauricio Rua were scheduled for a bout at UFC 161 (h/t MMA Junkie) that would have decided another top choice for Dana White and the UFC match makers—but Evans should be at the top of that list.
The fact that Nogueira and Rua pulled out of this fight and Evans won in the main event should prove that he deserves the next shot at Jones when he is fully recovered from his broken big toe and fights Alexander Gustafsson.
Evans has earned the title shot.
As far as what’s next for Henderson, the veteran fighter will likely contemplate leaving the sport for a short time, but he will once again return to the Octagon to remain the divisional gatekeeper he has become.
Whatever is next for Evans, the fact that he beat a bona fide MMA legend like Henderson in the main event of UFC 160 proves he is far from done in the light heavyweight division.