Interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao was on the original marquee. | Photo: Sherdog.com
The fine people of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, have an Ultimate Fighting Championship event to call their own for the first time, as UFC 161 “Evans vs. Henderson” touches down on Saturday at the MTS Centre.
The injury bug went to town on this show, eliminating an interim bantamweight title bout, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and a handful of other fighters. On the bright side, let us hope all the venom has been exhausted, leaving UFC 162 happy and healthy on July 6.
How We Got Here: Plainly speaking, UFC 161 fell out of the injury tree and hit every branch on the way down. Renan Barao was set to defend his interim bantamweight title and 20-fight winning streak against Eddie Wineland, but a foot injury forced the Brazilian’s withdrawal. As a result, the Rashad Evans-Dan Henderson co-main event was reassigned as the headliner. The two light heavyweights find themselves on the rebound after dreadfully forgettable losses, Evans to Nogueira and Henderson to Lyoto Machida ... Since the lineup needed some oomph, Roy Nelson came charging in on his very strong white horse to add some name value. He replaces Soa Palelei and will face Stipe Miocic.
Oh, Canada: UFC President Dana White loves pumping up fight-loving Canada as his own personal pay-per-view ATM machine. “We’d come here every week if we could,” he has said on more than one occasion. UFC 129 brought Toronto one of the most stacked MMA lineups in history, with Machida, Georges St. Pierre, Jose Aldo and Randy Couture. The city responded in kind with a North American attendance record of 55,724. Other provinces have not been as fortunate. UFC 149 in Calgary, Alberta, fell apart because of injury, resulting in White’s promise to repay the city with a better show in the future. Winnipeg loses its UFC virginity next, but the promotion will not be bringing the big guns to town. UFC 161 lost Barao, Wineland, Nogueira and Mauricio Rua, among others.
Useless Fact: The Nogueira brothers built their legacy on ahead-of-their time Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the ability to survive hellacious beatings. That resilience came with a price tag, however, and their 37-year-old bodies are cashing in. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has faced a litany of injuries, surgeries and even a staph infection that required a five-day stay in the hospital. His twin brother is not too far behind. During his four years under the UFC umbrella, “Minotoro” has pulled out of four fights because of injury: Brandon Vera at UFC 109, Rich Franklin at UFC 133, Alexander Gustafsson at UFC on Fuel TV 2 and now his rematch with Rua at UFC 161.
Turn of Fortune: Nelson will seek his fourth straight first-round knockout against Miocic. After losing to Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum in an 18-month span, the Las Vegas native sat down with White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Feritta and, according to his interview with the SiriusXM Fight Club, “hashed out what is important and what isn’t.” Clearly, the meeting went well. He smashed his way through his next three fights and will hold the longest, active heavyweight winning streak in the UFC should he win here. He has two fights remaining on his contract from “The Ultimate Fighter” and could have plenty of leverage at the bargaining table when the time comes.
Forever Young: During Henderson’s pre-UFC 161 media tour, he made it clear several times that while he is moving towards the end of his career he expects to fight for two more years. The former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder turns 43 in August. Despite his age -- testosterone replacement therapy notwithstanding -- the two-time Olympian remains a viable contender for Jon Jones’ light heavyweight crown. How long that lasts could hinge on Henderson’s main event with Evans. Will he write another chapter in his incredible story or will history simply turn the page?
Say What: Evans’ last performance was puzzling, to put it politely. He refused to engage with a heavy underdog in “Minotoro” and it cost him a unanimous decision loss. The former UFC light heavyweight champion will be saddled with a three-fight losing streak if he cannot get past the greatest American fighter of all-time in Winnipeg. Evans addressed his poor outing against Nogueira on SiriusXM’s Tapout Radio: “That’s a performance that haunts me. I walked out of the fight that night and I sat in the dressing room that night [and was] like, ‘WTF? What just happened? Did I really just go out there and fight like that and is the fight over? What was that? Where did that even come from? Who was that?’”
Awards Watch: Nelson has become the master of the Duck N’ Chuck -- lower your head and heave as much weight as you can into an overhand right. He has knocked out his last three opponents in the first round. Miocic will be the fourth ... This is yet another card where no bout stands out for a potential “Submission of the Night” winner. Several good Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts are paired with one another, but submission defense is part of earning that rank. Kenny Robertson’s WTF kneebar against Brock Jardine at UFC 157 remains firmly lodged in my brain. Expect Robertson to strike twice; this time, Sean Pierson becomes the victim ... It may sound cliché, but Alexis Davis and Rosi Sexton have more to prove in their matchup, making them leading contenders for the “Fight of the Night” bonus.