UFC 161: Evans vs. Henderson

Published on Saturday, 6/15/13, at 2:45 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is poised to make its debut in Winnipeg on Saturday night for an 11-fight card headlined by a light heavyweight showdown between Dan Henderson and Rashad Evans.

Most betting shops have Evans installed as a -130 favorite, while Henderson is available at even money.

Henderson-Evans was moved up to the main event when interim featherweight champ Renan Barao had to pull out of his fight with Eddie Wineland a few weeks ago. Therefore, Henderson-Evans is only scheduled for three rounds instead of five for most main events.

The total for ‘over/under’ wagers is 2.5 rounds ‘over’ (-250). Gamblers taking the ‘under’ can earn a +195 return (risk $100 to win $195).

Evans (17-3-1 MMA, 12-3-1 UFC) has lost back-to-back fights for the first time in his career, including a lackluster unanimous-decision loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in his last bout at UFC 156.

Coming off a five-round decision loss to Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title, Evans was heavily favored against Little Nog. However, the former Michigan St. wrestler, who has scalps of four UFC Hall of Famers (Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin), Michael Bisping, Rampage Jackson and Phil Davis on his resume, was hesitant to engage Nogueira and never attempted to use his wrestling.

The fight was a total snoozer and clearly the poorest effort of Evans’s career. Fortunately for Evans, he was given a great matchup with Henderson. With a convincing victory, he puts himself right back in the mix in the 205-pound loop.

The same can be said for Henderson (29-9 MMA, 6-3 UFC), who was gearing up for a title shot last summer before a knee injury forced him to withdraw from a bout against Jones only two weeks before the fight.

Henderson had won four consecutive fights before dropping a split decision to Lyoto Machida in his last outing at UFC 157. Machida’s slippery and evasive style can create headaches for judges, especially in three-round affairs. Needless to say, Henderson felt he won the fight in which Machida spent a good chunk of the 15 minutes refusing to engage.

Prediction: Evans certainly can’t afford a third straight loss if he wants a rematch with Jones in the next 18-24 months. At the age of 41, Henderson almost certainly falls out of the title picture for the rest of his career with back-to-back defeats. These factors create a wash because both fighters have equal motivation. Although both fighters are excellent on their feet, I believe Henderson has the boxing advantage with the incredible power in his right hand. Evans has a quickness advantage and at this stage of their careers, is probably the better wrestler. Evans will want to put ‘Hendo’ on his back, using the blueprint Jake Shields employed in a win over Henderson three years ago. This one is basically a toss-up and I think this should be one of the smaller plays (units/amount-wise) for the night. With that said, I won’t sit on the fence and I’ll call for Henderson to get the victory. Also, I’ll have a small play on ‘under’ 2.5 rounds with the chance to early a nice +195 return.

In the co-main event, Roy Nelson will take on Stipe Miocic in a heavyweight battle. Most books have Nelson installed as a -260 favorite, while Miocic is a +200 underdog (risk $100 to win $200). The total for ‘over/under’ wagers is 1.5 rounds (-115 either way).

Nelson took this fight on short notice when the card lost the main event and the UFC wanted to add another big name to the pay-per-view card. When Little Nog had to pull out of his match with Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, Nelson-Miocic was elevated to co-main event status and Rua was pulled off of the show altogether.

Nelson (20-7 MMA, 6-3 UFC) has won three consecutive fights by first-round knockout, garnering a pair of KO of the Night bonuses. He has laid waste to Dave Herman, Matt Mitrione and Cheick Kongo with overhand rights in a total of 5:52 of cage time.

With another dominant performance, Nelson could be in line for a title-eliminator fight. In the event of an injury to Cain Velasquez or Junior dos Santos in preparation for their next encounter, Nelson could be the first phone call made by the UFC for a replacement.

But none of that happens if ‘Big Country’ can’t get past Miocic, who is coming off his first career loss to Stefan Struve by second-round KO.

Miocic (9-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) won his first three fights with the promotion over Joey Beltran, Phil De Fries and Shane del Rosario. Struve was a big step up in competition, though, and the result wasn’t good. And bettors should keep in mind that Nelson finished Struve by first-round KO in only 39 seconds.

Prediction: ‘Big Country’ has five first-round knockout victories in nine career Octagon appearances. I think he adds a sixth in Winnipeg. My recommendation is to avoid backing Nelson at the expensive price. Instead, just go with ‘under’ 1.5 rounds at the inexpensive odds.

In a heavyweight tilt that’s a prime candidate for Fight of the Night honors, Pat ‘HD’ Barry and Shawn ‘The Savage’ Jordan will collide in the first fight on the pay-per-view portion of the card at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Most books opened Barry (8-5 MMA, 5-5 UFC) as a -170 favorite. However, as of Friday afternoon, the number had been reduced to Barry as a -125 ‘chalk.’ The total is 1.5 rounds (-115 either way).

Barry is one of the UFC’s most exciting fighters. He probably has the most powerful kicks in all of MMA and has KO power in both hands. The New Orleans product has won four career bonuses with a pair of KO and Fight of the Night awards.

Barry’s ground skills are improving but this is definitely his weakness. He has been submitted in three of his five losses in the Octagon.

Jordan (14-4 MMA, 2-1 UFC) is a former fullback at LSU who was a member of the 2007 national championship team. He fights out of Greg Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Jordan is coming off an impressive second-round KO of veteran Mike Russow, who repeatedly took Jordan down and dominated him from the top in the opening stanza. However, Jordan withstood the first-round barrage while Russow emptied his gas tank going for the finish.

In the second round, the fresher Jordan turned the tide and finished Russow with ground-and-pound punishment at the 3:48 mark.

Prediction: Jordan hasn’t faced an opponent with the vicious stand-up skills Barry owns. I like Barry to win by KO late in the first round. This is my favorite play on the card! If there’s a pick to put some muscle behind, this is it. I’m ok with a small play on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds as well but, to be clear, Barry is the play.

In the women’s bantamweight division, Alexis Davis (13-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC) will take on Rosi Sexton. Most books are listing Davis as a -400 favorite, while Sexton is +300 on the comeback (risk $100 to win $300). The total is 2.5 rounds ‘under’ (-125).

Sexton (13-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) has won three straight fights with one KO and a pair of decision victories. Meanwhile, Davis has won five of her last six bouts.

In the light heavyweight division, Ryan Jimmo (17-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC) will face Igor Pokrajac in a fight that was moved to the pay-per-view card when Little Nog vs. Shogun was cancelled. Most spots have Jimmo as the -260 favorite. The total is 2.5 rounds ‘over’ (-180).

After winning three straight fights, Pokrajac (25-9-0-1 MMA, 4-4-0-1 UFC) has lost two straight. However, his most recent defeat to Joey Beltran was reversed to a no-decision when Beltran tested positive for banned substances.

Prediction: I think Jimmo wins but I’m not confident enough to lay the expensive price. I’ll pass.

The highlight of the preliminary card on FX will be a welterweight clash between Jake Shields and Tyron Woodley. Most books have Woodley as a -180 ‘chalk,’ while Shields is the +150 ‘dog (risk $100 to win $150). The total is 2.5 rounds ‘over’ (-185).

Woodley (11-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) needed only 36 seconds to finish Jay Hieron by KO in his Octagon debut at UFC 156. His lone career loss came to Nate Marquardt by fourth-round KO when he was fighting with the Strikeforce promotion.

Since leaving Strikeforce and abandoning his middleweight belt, Shields (27-6-1-1 MMA, 2-2-0-1 UFC) has a pair of UFC wins over Martin Kampmann (split decision) and Yoshihiro Akiyama (unanimous decision). He lost to Georges St. Pierre for the welterweight strap and suffered a first-round KO defeat to Jake Ellenberger.

In his last outing, Shields moved up to middleweight and beat Ed Herman by unanimous decision, only to see the result changed to a no-contest when he failed a post-fight drug test.

Prediction: I could see a Shields submission or a Woodley KO in the first or second round. With that in mind and most important, the generous +155 odds, I like ‘under’ 2.5 rounds.

**Octagon Extras**

–Roy Nelson and Josh Thomson are likely looking at fines and/or suspensions from the UFC brass in the wake of controversial remarks made this week. Nelson, responding to a question about Daniel Cormier stating that he wanted to kick Nelson’s ass “for Dana White,” told Ariel Helwani, “Having a lot of black friends, they would say that would be more of an Uncle Tom move.” Even if you’re supposedly quoting your ‘black friends,’ you don’t go there… ever! It’s a huge insult for a black man to be called an ‘Uncle Tom’ by another black man. For a white guy to use the term toward a black guy, well, that just takes it to another level. Do I think Nelson is a racist? No. Do I think he should be punished anyway? Absolutely! As for Thomson, he has issued an apology for statements made about gay marriage but will be looking at yet-to-be-determined punishment nonetheless.

–Brent Brookhouse of Bloody Elbow went so far as to say Nelson’s comments could result in the end of his career with the UFC. Jason Floyd of The MMA Report disagreed when I asked him if there was a chance of Nelson being pulled off of Saturday’s card. “No, they need him. Nelson is a fighter that people want to see.”

Click here to check out Floyd’s picks for UFC 161.

–Jon Jones will defend his 205-pound strap against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 on Sept. 21. ‘Bones’ Jones will be gunning for his sixth straight defense of his light heavyweight belt. Sportsbook.ag opened Jones as a -800 favorite vs. Gustafsson (+500).

–According to multiple reports this week, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos are expected to meet for the third time at UFC 166 in Houston at some point in October.

–According to a report from MMAJunkie, Diego Sanchez and Gilbert Melendez will square off at an event this fall.

–The UFC is targeting a November date for Georges St. Pierre to defend his welterweight strap against Johnny Hendricks.

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