Sugar Rashad Evans beat Dan Henderson by split decision at UFC 161 Saturday night, handing the veteran fighter his second loss in as many fights and putting to rest, perhaps, any chance he has of contending for a championship in the future.
The fight was as even as it looked on the scorecard—all three judges scored it 29-28, two for Evans, one for Hendo—but it was hardly a controversial decision in the end. Henderson had his moments, perhaps even sustained them longer, but Evans, in my opinion at least, fought the better fight.
Let's look at two things that went wrong in Henderson's corner—two things that, in a fight this close, probably would have given him the win had he done better:
It doesn't seem fair to nitpick at Dan Henderson's fatigue. He is in pristine physical shape for a man of any age, but unfathomable shape for a man in his 40s. I'm 22, supposedly in the peak of my physical career, and I get winded just looking at a treadmill. Henderson is a freak.
But it was hard not to notice his fatigue at the end of this fight. That's notable for two reasons: 1) It goes against most of what we know about Dan Henderson, and 2) it took place in a three-round bout.
Evans dominated the third round, not landing any signature blows, but easily got the best of the five minutes. He was sharper, quicker, faster, stronger, smarter and more willing to fight. Can you imagine what this fight might have looked like in Round 4? Would it have even made it to Round 5?
Guys like Richrd Alpert and Kahn are works of fiction. Nobody is immune to the cruel passing of time. Henderson has managed to elude its detection for longer than he had any business doing so. But even if he isn't washed up yet, he's starting to show signs of it. And the third round of this fight was the worst we had ever seen.
The punching power was there, but that's a matter of physics. Henderson knows how to throw a punch, and he always will. But this could be the start of his career's moribund portion; even if he remains a puncher, who knows how long he'll remain a fighter?
And yet, had Henderson not squandered a golden opportunity in Round 1, we wouldn't even be having this conversation.
A swift jab from Henderson knocked Evans to his knee in the first frame, and Henderson, for whatever reason, didn't capitalize on it. He had Evans at a clear disadvantage and let him live to tell the tale.
That's not how you win fights—and it's certainly not how you get a shot at Jon Jones. Rashad Evans doesn't open the window of opportunity very often; when it's there, you'd be smart to take it. Especially when you're 42 years old and (as we saw later) perhaps not cut out to go the distance against a guy 10 years younger.
Henderson still has the punching power of his glory days. But too often when he and Evans were standing is when he tried to land knockouts. He was swinging for the fences against gyro-balls in the dirt instead of fastballs at his belt.
Evans gave him a shot to land an H-Bomb in Round 1, but Henderson let him recover. In a chilling bit of irony, after that moment, his chances of winning never did.
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