Rashad Evans rallied from being knocked down in the opening round to narrowly defeat Dan Henderson in a split on Saturday evening at UFC 161. The narrow main event victory pushed Evans' mixed martial arts record to 18-3-1, while dropping Henderson to 29-10.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship's official Twitter page highlighted what made the difference for the 33-year-old Evans:
While neither fighter was particularly impressive in Winnipeg's MTS Centre, it was a gritty performance from Evans.
Rashad "Sugar" Evans moved in to attack then hit the octagon canvas after Henderson jabbed him.
Henderson was able to pummel him on the ground, but Evans bounced back up in enough time to finish the round. That proved critical, because the scores for the next two rounds were 29-28 in favor of Evans.
Even though Henderson is nine years Evans' senior at 42, he's still one of the premier light heavyweights in the world, and has a vicious right hand that has helped him knock out 13 prior MMA opponents.
It was critical for Evans to win this fight if he's meant to eventually get a shot at challenging Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title belt. Evans had lost his two previous matchups by unanimous decision, the first of which was to Jones last April.
That gave Jones the belt, and he is a fighter who is only improving and is merely 25 years old. Evans discussed the possibility of facing Jones again after his slim win, and was reluctant to drop to middleweight for his next clash, as documented by MMAJunkie.com's Matt Erickson:
I feel good at 205 [pounds]...I'd love to get a shot at Jon Jones again. I'd love to get back to where I was...and [be] spectacular every single fight. But it's pretty tough. You have a lot of guys here who are very talented – it's a different landscape. I've got to make some adjustments to my game if I'm going to be dominant.
Evans seems to have already made some adjustments in terms of his fitness. UFC President Dana White remarked in Erickson's report how he had never seen Evans in such good shape.
That sentiment was shared by FOX UFC analyst and retired fighter Kenny Florian:
With improved physical condition and the cumulative experience Evans has amassed, it is possible that he could once again hold the championship he initially captured in 2008 against Forrest Griffin.
After the fight, Evans also admitted to being nervous entering the fight, and that it was essentially a must-win situation. It makes sense, in light of his prior two-match skid (h/t Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com and FUEL TV):
The outcome was rather tight and arguably inconclusive, and some of Henderson's fans might argue that he should have gotten the decision. Evans almost looked relieved when the three judges' scores revealed him as the winner.
However, the bottom line is that Evans emerged triumphant, which revives his ambitions for another title shot. It gives him reason to continue improving his physique, to add versatility to his arsenal in his bid to re-ascend to the prior pinnacle of his magnificent career.
Note: Statistics and past fight information courtesy of UFC.com.