WINNIPEG – The other side of the coin for Rashad Evans on Saturday night was not going to be a good thing. And he was just one judge and one round away from it.
Evans (18-3-1 MMA, 13-3-1 UFC) took a split decision against Dan Henderson (29-10 MMA, 6-4 UFC) in the main event of UFC 161, which took place at MTS Centre in Winnipeg. In a close back-and-forth light heavyweight fight, just a few moves different here or there could’ve been the difference between Evans snapping a two-fight skid – or Evans going down for the third straight time.
It was the second straight close split-decision loss for Henderson after a February setback against Lyoto Machida at UFC 157, and with two straight losses, the chances of Henderson competing for a UFC title ever again dropped to slim – as would former champ Evans’ had he been on the other end of the split call.
UFC President Dana White told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) after UFC 161 that it had no problem whichever way the scores would’ve been read off.
“There is and there isn’t (controversy),” White said. “The fight could’ve gone either way. If they said Dan won, I wouldn’t have been shocked, either. It’s just one of those fights that was so close it could’ve gone either way.”
But one thing that can’t go either way, according to White, is the importance of the fight for Evans. The Season 2 heavyweight winner of “The Ultimate Fighter” and former light heavyweight champ lost a title fight to Jon Jones at UFC 145. Then in December at UFC 155, he was upset by Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who took a decision win from Evans.
Leading up to the fight against Henderson, Evans talked about regaining his swagger. And if it wasn’t fully back on Saturday, White hopes it will be soon.
“Tonight was a good night for Rashad because Rashad needed to get his head back in the game,” White said. “Obviously he looked good physically – he’s in the best shape I’ve ever seen him in. He came out and fought a tough guy in Dan Henderson who can turn a fight in one punch. Rashad got hurt with a jab by Dan Henderson. That’s how hard he hits.
“Tonight was a good confidence-booster for him, hopefully. The old Rashad used to let his hands go, throw kicks, and hopefully tonight was a step in the right direction for him.”
Evans has mentioned before a potential to drop down to middleweight. But he shrugged off the suggestion of that possibility after the fight. He may have some more challenges left at 205 – and he knows he’d like to fight Jones again, which won’t happen if he moved to 185.
But right now, he says he’s only thinking about fighting and trying to do it now for the love of the game.
“The thing is, 205 is my home,” Evans said. “If an opportunity comes at me at 185 and it’s a good opportunity … but for the most part, I feel good at 205 and it’s hard for me to leave the 205 weight class. I’d love to get a shot at Jon Jones again. I’d love to get back to where I was and where I can be as far as going out there and being 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.”
White isn’t so sure Evans could make middleweight to begin with.
“I don’t know if Rashad can make ’85,” White said. “I mean, he was pretty lean for this fight. He weighed 206 and he was ripped. He was in the best shape I’ve seen him in in a long time, and he still has to cut a lot of weight to get down to ’85.”
So it’s not title shots against Anderson Silva that Evans has on the mind, and though he mentioned Jones, he says he’s not thinking about a title fight against him, either.
Part of regaining his swagger, apparently, was losing some of it, as well.
“I’d rather just win my next fight and we’ll see what happens after that,” he said. “I just want to just enjoy competing. There are a lot of up-and-coming guys that are pretty tough and we’ll see if they mix it up and sustain.”
For complete coverage of UFC 161, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.