Rashad Evans got his hunt for a heavyweight title shot back on track Saturday with a split decision victory over veteran Dan Henderson at UFC 161.
It was a matter of youth trumping experience, with Evans nine years younger than the 42-year-old Henderson, who fought at UFC 17.
They approached each other cautiously in the first, but it was Henderson who connected with the first solid punches late in the round, attacking so eagerly he could hardly keep his feet.
“I said, ‘What hit me,“’ said Evans, who approached Henderson with a lot more caution after that. “Only fools rush in with Dan Henderson.”
The second round opened with Evans trying to take Henderson down, but the veteran quickly got to his feet. Henderson was noticeably tired in the third.
“I just left it up to the judges again and I’ve got nobody to blame but myself for that. He kept the pressure on pretty well in that third round,” Henderson said. “I kind wanted to take a little bit of a breather and go back after him and he kept the pressure on pretty well and didn’t let me do that.”
Henderson was coming off a loss to Lyoto Machida, while Evans suffered defeats to Rogerio Nogueira and current light heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones.
“He takes a hell of a punch and he gives a hell of a punch,” Evans said of Henderson. “Coming off of two losses it takes bit of a hit on your confidence.
“This wasn’t my best performance by far but it’s something to start from.”
Their fight was preceded by the co-main event, a heavyweight bout between fan favourite Roy (Big Country) Nelson and Steve Miocic that the latter took in a unanimous decision to boost his UFC record to 4-1 and his overall MMA record to 10-1
Nelson, coming off three straight wins, outweighs Miocic by more than 20 pounds but stands four inches shorter and has seven inches less reach.
He got in trouble late in the first when Miocic landed a solid combination but hung on. The pair traded rights in the second, but Miocic seemed unfazed and staggered Nelson with another combination that drove him to the wire.
Nelson’s looping rights found their mark a few times in the third and Miocic backed off a little to avoid getting caught when he already appeared ahead on the judges scorecards.
Asked by UFC president Dana White how he felt after the fight, his response was brief: “I won right? OK then, I’m happy.”
The main card got underway with Shawn (The Savage) Jordan winning his third UFC fight after stunning Pat (HD) Barry with a flurry of punches to end their heavyweight bout after just 59 seconds.
It started with an uppercut and the referee stopped it as Barry crouched, taking punch after punch, declaring it a technical knockout.
“He bought the first one ... I saw him kind of dazed so I just kept going,” said Jordan, with an MMA record of 15-4 and a UFC record of 3-1.
In a UFC debut for both fighters, women’s heavyweight Alexis Davis of Port Colborne, Ont., defeated Rosi Sexton of Manchester, England, in a unanimous decision in the first women’s UFC fight in Canada.
“It’s a whole new ballgame,” Davis said of the UFC, after a busy week of media attention. “I can’t wait to fight again.”
Ryan (The Big Deal) Jimmo, a native of Saint John, N.B., who now fights out of Edmonton, met fellow light heavyweight Igor (The Duke) Pokrajac.
Jimmo took it in a unanimous decision but apologized for not being more aggressive.
“I was coming off a loss,” he said. “I was fighting really conservatively.”
The Evans-Henderson matchup only became the main event after injuries scrubbed two other fights.
The card took its first hit several weeks ago when the original main event featuring interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland fell apart after Barao injured his foot.
It took another blow when the co-main event featuring former light-heavyweight champion Mauricio (Shogun) Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was called off after Nogueira pulled out due to injury.
UFC also struggled with injuries that depleted a card in Calgary last year.
Canadian fighters won four straight preliminary bouts before a bleeding Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout from London, Ont., tapped out in the third round of his lightweight bout with James Krause.
Stone submitted to a guillotine choke, still bleeding profusely from a gash above his right eye off a kick delivered by Krause in the first.
The MTS Centre was packed with a sellout crowd of around 15,000 fans who paid anywhere from $50 to $500 to watch the first UFC event to visit Winnipeg. White said the gate for the event was $3.15 million.
They were loud from the get-go and the seats were filled for the early preliminary bouts, which started a little late.
Fans still managed to boost the volume a little for the first of the televised prelims that featured local batamweight Roland Delorme, who fought Edwin (El Freoz) Figueroa.
Figueroa threw sharper punches and Delorme went for takedowns to avoid them and try for a submission.
He didn’t get one and Figueroa almost turned the tables but Delorme still secured a unanimous decision that pleased the hometown crowd.
“That was gruelling,” said Delorme, who improved his MMA record to 9-1-0 and his UFC record to 3-0-0. “I’m happy with the performance. I’ve worked my on my submission defence and I needed that tonight.”
Sean (The Punisher) Pierson from Toronto looked in charge for two of his three rounds against fellow welterweight Kenny Robertson, but Robertson caught him with a flurry of punches that left him dazed in the third.
Pierson held on and took the fight with a majority decision, raising his MMA record to 14-6 and his UFC record to 4-2.
In early prelim action, it was batamweight Yves (Tiger) Jabouin from Montreal over Dustin (The Disciple) Pague in a split decision and Saskatoon’s Mitch Clarke over John Maguire in a lightweight contest that went to Clarke on all scorecards.
“The difference was the damage I did when I was on top,” said Jabouin after spending most of the three rounds grappling on the canvas with Pague.
His MMA record is now 19-8 and his UFC record is 4-2.
“I landed a ton of hard elbows and I thought I was a shot or two away from finishing it,” said Jabouin. “It was a war, I can’t wait to go back home and sleep after that.”
Clarke’s family drove in from Saskatoon and friends from Edmonton, the city he fights out of, and he was happy he gave them a win, his first in three UFC fights, although his MMA record is 10-2.
“My family’s here and that makes it so much better.”
In the final prelim of the night, a powerful spinning back fist stunned Jake Shields in the third round of his welterweight bout with Tyron Woodley but Shields was still won a split decision.