Rashad Evans captured a much-needed win. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Rashad Evans still has his foot in the door at 205 pounds.
The onetime Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder rebounded from the first two-fight losing streak of his career with a split decision over Dan Henderson in the UFC 161 headliner on Saturday at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28, two of them favoring Evans, who effectively reversed course after consecutive defeats to Jon Jones and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Evans waded through trouble in the first round, where Henderson ambushed him with a left jab and right uppercut. Undeterred, he re-established a foothold in round two and stepped up his aggression in the third, where he set the notoriously durable Henderson on his heels with a rapid-fire combination along the cage. Perhaps most surprisingly, Evans stifled the two-time Olympian in the clinch, forcing Henderson to turn to short standing elbow strikes in place of his devastating right hand.
The victory thrusts Evans back into a place of prominence in a division he once ruled. Might a showdown with Brazilian juggernaut Glover Teixeira prove fitting? The 33-year-old has not lost since March 2005, having rattled off 19 straight wins, 17 of them by knockout, technical knockout or submission. Now a perfect 4-0 inside the Octagon, Teixeira last appeared at UFC 160 in May, when his guillotine choke coaxed a tapout from James Te Huna at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The more pressing questions surround Henderson, who turns 43 in August. Another crack at UFC gold seems a longshot at best, perhaps leaving the Team Quest founder to search out big-ticket bouts that move the needle. Henderson has split two meetings with Brazilian icon Wanderlei Silva, and a rubber match between the two could provide a tidy conclusion to another classic MMA rivalry. “The Axe Murderer” has posted wins in two of his past three outings, including a riveting second-round knockout against former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Brian Stann in March.
In the wake of UFC 161, here are six other matchups that ought to be made:
Stipe Miocic vs. Brendan Schaub-Matt Mitrione winner: No fighter gained more at UFC 161 than Miocic, who rose to the occasion and dominated “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 winner Roy Nelson in the co-main event. The 30-year-old Strong Style Fight Team representative has quietly compiled a 4-1 record since joining the UFC in October 2011, losing only to towering 7-foot Dutchman Stefan Struve. Schaub and Mitrione will collide at UFC on Fox 8 next month in Seattle.
Roy Nelson vs. Mark Hunt: Nelson had no answer for the superior footwork, hand speed and precise punching of his less-celebrated foe. According to FightMetric figures, Miocic out-landed “Big Country” by a staggering 106-23 count in terms of significant strikes and 129-25 in terms of total strikes. Nelson turns 37 in a matter of days, and considering the lopsided nature of this performance, one has to wonder how much longer he can remain relevant in a young man’s game. The equally popular Hunt was victimized by a spectacular spinning hook kick from Junior dos Santos at UFC 160 on May 25.
Shawn Jordan vs. Gabriel Gonzaga-Dave Herman winner: Jordan needed less than a minute to find and expose a weakness in Pat Barry’s defenses. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative sent Barry to the canvas with a barrage of right uppercuts and finished him at the base of the cage with a series of left hands. It was over in 59 seconds, giving Jordan his third win in four UFC appearances. Gonzaga and Herman will lock horns at UFC 162 on July 6 in Las Vegas.
Alexis Davis vs. Liz Carmouche-Jessica Andrade winner: Davis made a strong first impression in her promotional debut, as she cruised to a unanimous decision over former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder Rosi Sexton. The 28-year-old Canadian put her size advantage and considerable grappling chops to good use throughout the entertaining 15-minute encounter. Carmouche and Andrade -- a promising 21-year-old Brazilian newcomer -- will confront one another at UFC on Fox 8 on July 27.
Ryan Jimmo vs. Fabio Maldonado: Jimmo won for the 18th time in 19 outings, though he admittedly left a lot to be desired in earning a unanimous verdict over Igor Pokrajac. The former Maximum Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder largely abandoned his karate roots and relied heavily on a suffocating clinch game against Pokrajac, a Mirko Filipovic protégé who entered the cage in search of his first victory in more than a year. Maldonado stopped the bleeding from a three-fight losing streak in May, when he outpointed Roger Hollett at UFC on FX 8.
Jake Shields vs. Matt Brown-Thiago Alves winner: In his return from suspension, Shields was the beneficiary of a controversial and widely panned split decision against American Top Team’s Tyron Woodley. The savvy former Shooto, Strikeforce and EliteXC champion lured Woodley into a series of clinches, neutralizing his athleticism and dragging the fight into his wheelhouse. Shields also landed more significant strikes (82) than Woodley (60), employing his underrated kicking game throughout the three-round encounter. Brown and Alves will answer the bell at UFC on Fox Sports 1 “Shogun vs. Sonnen” on Aug. 17 in Boston.