UFC 161 Preview: Evans vs. Henderson

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On June 15th the UFC will make its debut in Winnipeg as the company continues it’s expansion into Canada. After UFC 152 in Toronto and UFC 154 and 158 in Montreal, it seems that a Canadian show every three or four months is now the pattern to be expected.

This event was supposed to be headlined by Renan Barao‘s second defense of his interim bantamweight title against former WEC champion Eddie Wineland, however Barao was forced out of the event with a foot injury. As for if this fight will be re-booked, the UFC response has been cagey – many suggest that they expect champion Dominic Cruz to return around the same time as Barao, setting up a unification bout.

With the loss of the original headliner, this card is now topped by a three-round fight between two former champions, Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson. Rashad Evans is coming off a very disappointing performance against Little Nog at UFC 156 and a loss to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, despite being touted as a challenger for Anderson Silva at middleweight. While Rashad appears to be on something of a slump, a fight with Anderson would certainly still be a big attraction, so Rashad really needs a win here to get himself back on track. At his age, Rashad will still want to be a contender in the UFC but a third loss in a row will set him back considerably. Henderson on the other hand is coming off a loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 157, his only fight in the past 18 months. At an astonishing 42 years old, Henderson can still go in the cage, but it remains to be seen where a win over Rashad would take him – Machida, Gustafsson and even perhaps Teixiera could be above Henderson in the hunt for the light heavyweight title. At any rate, a three-round between these two should be a good spectacle between two veterans of the sport.

While the top of the card has a veteran feel to it, the rest of the main card has some interesting fights to offer as well. Rather than bump up a prelim fight to make up the pay-per-view card numbers, the UFC booked Roy Nelsen vs. Stipe Miocic. Nelsen was preparing to step in to Mark Hunt’s shoes at UFC 160 due to Hunt’s visa issues that were resolved at the last minute, but Roy was clearly ready to fight. Nelsen has to be considered a legitimate contender in the heavyweight division after his first round knockout victories over Dave Herman, Matt Mitrione and Cheick Kongo, and another decisive win here would have many people thinking he should be in line for a potential title shot down the line – despite his well publicised differences with UFC owner Dana White. Miocic was scheduled to fight heavyweight Soa Palelei at this event until the card was reshuffled, and many expect Miocic to be the big loser from the reshuffle. However, Miocic was undefeated until his loss against Stefan Struve so he is not to be counted out.

Elsewhere, the women’s UFC fights look set to continue to deliver as Alexis Davis takes on Rosi Sexton (check out our conversation with Rosi here). Davis is a Gracie black belt and competed in both Strikeforce and Invicta, so she is considered the favourite here. However, Sexton holds black belts in both Jiu Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do, and has lost just twice in her eleven year career – to former Bellator champ Zoila Gurgel and former Strikeforce champ Gina Carano. Rounding off the card is a heavyweight fight between Pat Barry and Shawn Jordan that is guaranteed to entertain. The two have had fights go to the judges on just four occasions in a combined 31 fights, so look for this to be a stand-up war. Another fight to watch is veteran Igor Pokrajac, who is coming off a loss and a no contest, and Ryan Jimmo. Jimmo suffered his first loss in eighteen fights in February but holds the joint fastest knockout in UFC history at just seven seconds.

On the prelim card, the FX fights are mouthwatering. The UFC does very well at loading up these preliminary broadcasts in order to try and sell more pay-per-views, and the FX main event of Jake Shields vs. Tyrone Woodley is no exception. The former Strikeforce and EliteXC champion Shields was undefeated in sixteen fights before losing to UFC welterweight champion George St Pierre, but after a loss to Jake Ellenberger and a drug test failure, and Shields is looking to get his career back on track. Woodley is making his 2nd UFC appearance after losing just one fight in his career. He had a great record in the Strikeforce organization with wins over Jordan Mein and Tarec Saffedine. This fight has Fight of the Night written all over it.

On the Facebook prelims, all six fighters are coming off a loss, with John Maguire and Dustin Pague on two fight losing streaks, so expect to see lots of desperation as these fighters cling to their spots on the UFC roster.

All in all, this has the potential to be a solid card. Not one that will likely set the world alight, particularly given Henderson and Evans’ last performances, but an entertaining buy nevertheless.

Picks: Evans,  Nelsen, Pokrajac, Sexton, Barry, Woodley, Stout, Robertson, Figueroa, Clarke, Pague.

FOTN: Woodley .vs. Shields

Author: Callum Leslie

Callum Leslie is lead MMA writer for PlaceToBeNation.com, providing features, columns and live event coverage. He also hosts the GrappleTalk podcast which has interviewed Rashad Evans, Roy Nelson, Alex Gustafsson and many more. Send Callum an email