The Fight Horizon – Rashad Evans vs. Dan Henderson
A big name clash in the light heavyweight division was just announced by Tatame, where recent losers Suga Rashad Evans and Den Henderson will square off. These two guys have managed to avoid fighting each other until now, despite perpetually being ranked at the top of their division. On June 15th, we will see them face off in a fight that will have significant implications for the UFC light heavyweight division, as well as each fighter’s overall career.
The Matchup: Rashad Evans vs. Dan Henderson
Rashad Evans: Evans didn’t look bad against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, but he was far from looking good. It was a close fight where both guys seemed to be more focused on not losing, rather than winning. Evans is still an elite fighter who brings a lot to the table (was he ever really in any danger against Little Nog?) and he’s somewhere in the mix at the top of the LHW dogpile. Lest we forget, he went the distance with Jon Jones and current challenger-in-waiting Lyoto Machida (and many other fighters) can’t say that.
Dan Henderson: Henderson should probably give Nick Diaz a call. Machida used a strategy somewhat similar to what Condit did against Diaz, and like Condit, he won the fight in a decision. The number of times Machida actually moved forward in their fight could probably be counted on one hand. Like Evans, Henderson wasn’t exactly dominated and was never in any danger of being finished. He’s still a big draw who was supposed to fight for the title not too long ago, but he hit a bump in the road against Machida.
The Date: June 15th at UFC 161
Weight Class: Light Heavyweight
What led to it: The UFC loves to pit guys who both lost in recent fights against each, no matter how high up on the ladder they are. Evans just lost in a lackluster fight against Little Nog, while Henderson was another victim of Lyoto Machida’s famous “catch me if you can” fighting style.
Why it matters: Rashad Evans should have won his last fight, period. He just came off of a disappointing and thorough loss to Jon Jones and was given a very winnable fight. Little Nog performed admirably, but this was an upset in the eyes of most – this was Evans’ fight to lose.
Dana White was adamant about Evans needing to regain his hunger, and it’s true that Evans didn’t seem to fight with much urgency against Little Nog. Before that, he did go all five with Jones, but it was clear that Jones was simply better. It’s hard to tell what kind of effect that has on a fighter’s psyche but it’s safe to say it’s usually not good. If Evans gets past Hendo, a title shot in the future is far from guaranteed, and he would probably need to put on a highlight-reel performance to sniff another shot considering how soundly he was defeated last time. But the fact remains he’s one of the most well-rounded guys in the UFC and has the goods to challenge for and win a title.
The line of contenders at LHW isn’t as jam-packed as other divisions, and the dreaded injury bug could strike at any time. Machida was handled in the second round of his title fight with Jones, yet here he is, next in line even though he wasn’t spectacular against Hendo. If Evans wins this fight, it’s not a long shot that he could find himself in a title fight again sometime soon. Losing however, would put him in a dangerous place, especially considering the recent cuts the UFC is making. Even elite fighters in a slump (or on the downside of their careers) are not safe, right Jon Fitch?
This fight obviously has serious implications for Hendo, who is past 40 and has stated he’s been on TRT for many years now. His window for another title shot just got that much smaller after losing to Machida. He was supposed to fight Jones as soon as he re-entered the UFC after the Strikeforce buyout, and now he’s even further from a title shot considering Machida is next in line after Jones vs. Sonnen. It seems like Hendo wants to go out on top, and a victory over Jones (or the current champion) would be his swan song. That task just became significantly more difficult, especially considering his next opponent is an elite former champion himself.
Hendo was clearly the aggressor in his last fight, and while he tried to engage with Machida to put some leather on him, it also showed the holes in his game. He may not be a one-trick pony, but he couldn’t adjust enough to make Machida shift from his game plan. Hendo has a strong wrestling base and ground game, but his bread and butter is that H-bomb of a right hand and against a smart and cautious fighter like Machida, we saw that just won’t cut it anymore. Machida made him look one-dimensional. Evans has the skill set to avoid Henderson’s strengths, and his wrestling is strong enough to keep Henderson from getting comfortable. This matchup should pit Evans’ well-rounded skills and cardio against the boom of Hendo’s hands. Look for Evans to push the pace and grind down Henderson, who has a tendency to fade towards the end of fights.
This is essentially a do-or-die fight for both guys, especially Dan Henderson. The winner will be somewhere on the fringes of a title shot, and maybe closer if an injury pops up for a top contender. The loser will slide further down the ladder and will have a longer road to get back into contention – and at this point in their careers that may not be a possibility any more.