USA TODAY: Title hopes may slip away for UFC 161's Evans-Henderson loser


dan-henderson-21.jpg(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)

WINNIPEG – The end has to come sometime.

Most athletes try to hold on as long as they can to avoid the inevitable. Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson might not be thinking retirement, but a loss for either at UFC 161 could mean a different end — the end of their title aspirations in the UFC.

Evans (17-3-1 MMA, 12-3-1 UFC), a former UFC light heavyweight champion, meets former PRIDE titleholder Henderson (29-9 MMA, 6-3 UFC) in a main event that on the surface has little on the line but bragging rights between two all-time greats.

But a closer look reveals a greater potential meaning behind the fight Saturday at MTS Centre in the UFC’s debut in Winnipeg (10 p.m. ET, pay-per-view).

UFC President Dana White isn’t willing to close the door on the Evans-Henderson loser getting back in the title mix one day, but he thinks it would be a tall order.

“I mean, anything’s possible. You could lose this fight and then go on an eight-fight win streak,” White told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “But I would say, statistically, it’d be tough to come back from this loss (and fight for a title someday).”

Henderson had a title shot lined up in September against 205-pound champion Jon Jones, but a knee injury put him on the sidelines. A fight against former titleholder Lyoto Machida in February left him on the short end of a split decision.

Henderson, a former Olympic wrestler, turns 43 in August. A second loss in a row could be disastrous for his hope of fighting for the one title that’s eluded him: a UFC belt.

But he said he thinks he has a couple of more years left in the sport and doesn’t plan on going anywhere after fighting Evans.

“Obviously, I’d be disappointed if I don’t at least get a title shot again,” he said. “But it’s out of my control. The only thing I can control is what I do in the cage, and I need to make sure I do it and do it well on Saturday.”

Evans has had the title around his waist, and he’s challenged for it again since then. But a loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in February gave him the first losing streak of his career. A third consecutive setback might not send Evans looking for work elsewhere, but getting back into the title hunt might be a stretch.

That keeps Evans guarded in his responses to questions about going on another title run.

“I’m not so much looking at getting a title shot,” Evans said. “For me, I just want to enjoy it along the way, having fun with each fight. Too much gets lost at wanting to get a title shot.

“Eventually, I beat enough people and I do it impressively enough, they’re going to want me to have a title shot.”

For the latest on UFC 161, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

(Pictured: Dan Henderson)

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