Rashad Evans and Dan Hederson both come into their UFC 161 light heavyweight tilt in need of a win to get their careers back on track.
Evans' stock hasn't been lower in years after an upset loss to Antonio Rogeria Nogueira. With his loss to champion Jon Jones making it two losses in a row for the former champion, he's in serious danger of going on a three-fight skid if he loses this one.
Henderson must bounce back after losing a split decision to Lyoto Machida. At 42 years old, he's aged wonderfully, but even he will feel the effects of age one day, and his chances of ever holding a UFC championship belt are thinning by the day.
Here's what each fighter must do to pick up the win on Saturday night. Note: All statistics used via FightMetric unless otherwise noted.
Rashad Evans: Get Back to Wrestling and Rely on Ground and Pound
Evans' loss to Little Nog in his last fight was the worst of his career. Not in terms of one-sidedness—that would be his loss to Jones—but in his overall form.
The former collegiate wrestler failed to engage his opponent early on and whiffed on nearly all of his takedown attempts, going just 1-of-5. The most telling stat of all was the amount of significant strikes that Evans landed—22.
In his five-round bout with Jon Jones, he was abysmal as well, landing just 45.
The key to that statistic is that when Evans is at his best, he's landing takedowns. The former champion last went to his wrestling while trying to prove a point against former national champion wrestler Phil Davis and landed three takedowns, which led to 62 significant strikes.
Perhaps going against a fighter with another impressive wrestling pedigree will inspire him to once again mix things up and take this fight to the mat.
Dan Henderson: Close the Distance and Finish Strong
Everyone knows that Henderson has explosive power. His overhand right is one of his best assets, and Rashad Evans has rarely had his chin tested the way that Henderson is capable of testing it.
The problem for Hendo will be finding that chin—Evans has incredible striking defense, forcing his opponents to miss with 65 percent of their strikes. His natural head movement and quickness make him a very difficult target to find.
What Henderson will have to do is back him up against the cage as often as possible. Cutting off Evans' movement will be paramount if he wants to score the knockout.
The second thing he must do is finish strong. Cardio has shown up in both of Henderson's last fights. In his win against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, he had to rely on an early lead to carry the day, while his loss to Machida didn't see him improve his performance toward the end of the fight either.
His significant strikes landed per minute dipped in both fights as they wore on:
Henderson landed a crucial takedown in the third round to secure the win in the third round of his fight against Machida. But he can't rely on that this time around; he must be ready to inflict as much damage in the third round as he does in the first.
Prediction: Evans via Decision
There's a reason oddsmakers see this as a pretty even fight—both Henderson and Evans have accomplished resumes and similar styles. However, Evans' athleticism and defense should give him the extra edge.
Henderson had a difficult time dealing with the elusiveness and quickness of Machida in his last fight, and Evans can utilize the same strengths. Expect Evans to use his defense on the feet and takedowns to win it on the cards.
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