Where do Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson go after battling each other this past weekend in Winnipeg?
When it was elevated to the main event, the UFC sold Saturday’s light heavyweight contest between Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson as a battle of two fighters on the cusp of contention; a showdown that would move the winner back into the mix.
Those who had watched the two long-time contenders struggle in their recent outings weren’t sold, and anyone who caught the headlining act this past weekend at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., are surely questioning that bill of sale.
Evans managed a split decision victory by doing enough to capitalize on what has become a trademark Henderson performance, as the former Pride and Strikeforce champion started quickly, but faded as the bout wore on, opening the door for Evans to battle back and win the final two rounds on two out of three scorecards.
Edging out Henderson is still an accomplishment -- he’s a proven talent, with only a handful of losses in recent years -- but it doesn’t carry the same weight as it did a few years ago.
To Evans’ credit, he looked far better Saturday than he did four months earlier when he dropped a tepid decision to Antonio Rogerio Noguiera, but improving off that effort wasn’t a tall task.
Maybe this is the start of the former light heavyweight champion rediscovering his mojo and beginning another run towards the title, but if that is the plan, "Suga" is going to need to step his game up another notch (or two) next time he hits the cage.
Beating Henderson positions Evans for another high profile fight going forward, with Glover Teixeira standing out as the most logical opponent.
The powerful Brazilian is unbeaten in the UFC (and the last 19 fights of his career), but has yet to earn that one high profile victory that puts him over the top and into a title fight. He made very quick work of James Te Huna last month at UFC 160, so the overall timeline for getting these two together should fit, and a victory over a former champion like Evans could provide Teixeira with the boost he needs to move into a championship bout in the future.
Any path back to contention for Evans is going to have to go through a couple of tough opponents, and there is no reason for the UFC to bring him along slowly at this point. If he’s going to make a run, he’s going to need to beat the likes of Teixeira somewhere along the way, so why not find out if he’s capable of doing just that next time out?
The bout could easily serve as the co-main event of an "in football season" UFC on FOX event in the fall or winter, and the winner would very much be in line for a crack at the 205-pound champion.
Here’s a look at some match-up ideas for the rest of UFC 161’s big names and breakout winners.
Dan Henderson vs. Wanderlei Silva
At the post-fight press conference, Henderson said he wanted to get back into the cage after a summer spent with his kids. When that time comes, a second meeting with "The Axe Murderer" could be the type of high profile fight to attract a lot of eyes and entice one last great performance out of the aging veterans.
Yes, Silva is coming off a win, but he’s at a point in his career where facing big names in "this should be fun" fights takes precedent over everything else, and this is the kind of big name match-up that makes sense for both men. Neither guy seems inclined to be a stepping stone for an up-and-coming young fighter, so pairing them together for a late career rematch of their clash at Pride 33 feels like the right fit.
Stipe Miocic vs. Frank Mir/Josh Barnett winner
Miocic dominated Roy Nelson on Saturday night, using his speed and superior technique to batter "Big Country" across every square inch of the Octagon. As a result, Miocic is likely to get an accelerated push up the heavyweight ladder heading into his next appearance.
Pressing pause on him at this point doesn’t make sense. Nelson was on a nice run, and you have to allow the Ohio-based heavyweight to carry that momentum forward. With that in mind, pairing him with the winner of the upcoming Josh Barnett/Frank Mir fight (which takes place at UFC 164 in August) would make sense.
Here’s the thing: Mir’s coming off back-to-back losses, and isn’t really in the title hunt at this stage, and it’s hard to know where Barnett fits before seeing him step back into the Octagon. That being said, they’re both recognizable names, and the type of tough, veteran opponents an emerging prospect like Miocic needs to beat in order to continue his climb up the heavyweight ladder.
Ryan Jimmo vs. Ilir Latifi
I know what you’re thinking: Latifi is coming off a loss, and Jimmo is coming off a win. You’re right, but I don’t think that is going to matter to the UFC brass.
Dana White wasn’t pleased with Jimmo’s performance on Saturday night, and with the lower half of the division being relatively thin, don’t be surprised if the Canadian light heavyweight gets bumped back a little after his conservative outing in Winnipeg.
Alexis Davis vs. Liz Carmouche/Jessica Andrade winner
Davis managed to get by a game Rosi Sexton, pushing through the Octagon jitters to grind out a win over the British veteran. It wasn’t a great performance by any stretch, but the Port Colborne native collected a win in her UFC debut, and should take another step forward in her quest for a title shot as a result.
As for what comes next, a pairing with the winner of the July scrap between Carmouche and UFC newcomer Andrade works. Things are pretty much lined up at the top of the division for the time being, and Cat Zingano will likely go right back into the conversation once she returns from injury.
After struggling against Sexton, Davis needs a strong showing to be considered a contender, and beating a former title challenger like Carmouche could be the win she needs, provided "Girl-rilla" gets through the unsung Brazilian UFC newcomer next month in Seattle. If she doesn’t, Andrade gets a big boost from winning her debut, and easily replaces Carmouche opposite Davis.
Shawn Jordan vs. Brendan Schaub/Matt Mitrione winner
Jordan blasted Pat Barry this past weekend in Winnipeg, has won two straight, and looks like a potential "late blooming prospect" in the heavyweight ranks. Compact and powerful, he’s an athletic specimen that is learning on the job in his MMA career.
The same was said of both Schaub and Mitrione when they transitioned into the heavyweight ranks after competing on Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter. Both have had mixed results overall, but the winner of their UFC on FOX 8 showdown in Seattle will find themselves in a comparable position to Jordan, and would make an ideal next opponent for "The Savage."
It’s too soon to push Jordan into a bigger, more competitive match-up with someone in the top 10 or knocking on the door of the upper echelon; he’s just not quite ready for that yet. But he has potential, and both Schaub and Mitrione are the right level of competition for him at this point. They’re also relatively established names, so that helps too.