UFC 161 is drawing ever closer, and it will prove to be a major turning point in the careers of two of the sport’s biggest names. Rashad Evans and Roy Nelson face fights that will drastically alter their career paths, giving them the most to gain from the Pay-Per-View Event on Saturday night.
Rashad Evans has not resembled anything near his former self. The ‘Suga’ that was once the light heavyweight champion of the UFC has dropped off the face of the Earth. Fighting only twice in the past fifteen months, he has dropped both contests. Perhaps we can throw out the loss against Jon Jones, it looks as if no one is going to defeat him for a long, long time. More alarming was the most recent loss to Antonio Rogerio Noguera, or Little Nog. Little Nog is a huge step down in competition from Jon Jones, but Rashad looked even worse than he did in the previous loss. His speed, dynamic wrestling, and lightning reflexes and decision making were nowhere to be found.
Rashad made it to the top of the UFC food chain through his quick decisions and frantic pace. None of that was around in his last fight. He was hesitant with his striking and was reluctant to take the fight to the ground.
Attempting to get to the bottom of his recent struggles, Evans thinks he has figured it out. Believing that he has regained his ‘swagger’ heading into this fight, he believes that the old ‘Suga’ will be on display Saturday. When asked why he has struggled lately, he explained to reporters that:
“You can definitely get to a stage when you over-think things, for sure. The longer you are in the sport, the more analytical you can be about it, and breaking down yourself, and the techniques and different things it can definitely be distracting for your psyche as well as getting you away from what you are really good at.
That mentality doesn’t allow yourself to naturally fight in the way you have been fighting, the very thing that has brought you to the level of fighting in the UFC.”
Rashad faces a UFC legend in Dan Henderson Saturday, a fight that even a hot ‘Suga’ may struggle to win. Dan Henderson is also coming off of a poor performance and looking to prove to the world that he still has what it takes to contend for a title. When asked to describe what has been wrong in Evans’ game over the past year, Hendo said that he was “a little bit shy” with his striking game, which left him vulnerable to his opponents.
Henderson is one of the greatest knockout artists ever to grace the light heavyweight division, so Evans can’t afford to remain hesitant in this fight. A win will reestablish Evans as a top contender in the division, perhaps leaving him a win away from a third shot at beating Jon Jones.
Rashad isn’t the only fighter at UFC 161 with a career defining fight, Roy Nelson is looking to secure himself both a shot at a title as well as a new contract with a win over Stipe Miocic. Nelson has been crumbling the competition, earning first round knockouts in each of his past three fights. He has cracked the top ten rankings for the first time, and a win would move him further up the ladder.
His problem is that Dana White hates him. The beer belly hanging over his trunks, the burly beard and mullet create a look that Dana doesn’t believe belongs in elite MMA competition. The problem is that Nelson just keeps proving that belief wrong. Dana can’t help but keep the marketable ‘Big Country’ around as long as he is winning and bringing in money.
Fans flock to Nelson, who has no information regarding his contract, stating that he “has people for that.” Nelson also wouldn’t talk about Dana White’s opinion of him, simply joking that he thinks Dana White is “star-struck” whenever the two are in a room together. Dana White once joked that Nelson was the smartest man on Earth, which Nelson promptly printed on his merchandise.
Roy Nelson acts like he doesn’t care what happens with his UFC deal because “everyone wants Roy Nelson’s contract” and that he isn’t in the UFC business like Dana White is, but rather he is in the “Roy Nelson business…and the Roy Nelson business is doing very well.”
Nelson has to hope that he can continue his knockout streak and finish Miocic in impressive fashion. If he wins this fight, there is zero chance that Dana White can let him go, or refuse to give him a step up in competition. White has been wrong before, as Mark Hunt proved by working from the very bottom of the ladder up to a fight with Junior dos Santos earlier this year. Nelson has to continue to prove White wrong in order to stay on the top.
A loss would lose significant negotiating power, and perhaps could be the motivation Dana White needs to send Roy Nelson packing. It’s a make or break fight for the fan favorite.
UFC 161 features two fighters with career altering fights, giving Roy Nelson and Rashad Evans the most to gain. Should these fighters win, they will instantly enter the top contender conversation, but a loss would cause them to plummet down the ladder into obscurity.
So who has most to gain? Vote in the poll below and see!
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express
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