Hendo hoping to seize the moment
June, 13, 2013
By Josh Gross
Dan Henderson's past two fights in the Octagon couldn't have been any more different.
If Saturday's UFC 161 main event effort against Rashad Evans in Winnipeg manages to find the happy middle between Henderson's classic with Mauricio Rua and subsequent snoozer against Lyoto Machida, the 42-year-old American believes a victory should net him another championship opportunity.
However, "if I go out there and squeeze out a boring win," he said, "I wouldn't give me a title shot."
That's not necessarily something he controls. Henderson mostly blames Machida for one of the worst bouts of his illustrious career.
"Nothing notable happened in the whole thing," he said. "You can barely even call it a fight.
"I really should have and could have maybe been a bit more aggressive. But it's pretty hard to do when someone's running."
Coming off a split decision that was as frustrating for Henderson to participate in as it was for the rest of us to watch, the two-division Pride king isn’t sure what to expect from Evans, who looked bad in his two most recent fights -- a destabilizing effort versus his rival Jon Jones followed by a terrible performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in February.
Ed Mulholland for ESPNDan Henderson, right, found it difficult to engage against the elusive Lyoto Machida.
"He just wasn't very aggressive at all," Henderson said of the Nogueira contest. "Even when you're being cautious you can do a lot more than that. It didn't show what he normally does or what he's capable of. Everybody has an off fight or is flat occasionally, and that seemed like his. It's not anything that I'm going to judge that that's the Rashad I'm going to fight. I don't think that at all. I'm sure he's going to come out a little more aggressive with more of a purpose.
"Either way, he doesn't run and move nearly as bad as Machida does. I don't think it'll be even close as bad as the last fight."
Henderson described Evans in all the expected ways. Well-rounded. Quick. Powerful with a solid wrestling base. "So you gotta be aware of all of it," Henderson said. "Have to be careful of everything. At the same thing I feel I have a bit more power and good take-down defense.
"Better in the clinch. There are some situations that I'm going to try and put him in that I think are good for me."
He claimed not to have a clue what was happening between Evans' ears, and explained that it doesn't matter. Because no matter how poorly Evans performed in his last outing, it would be foolish to expect anything less than the best from the former Michigan State University wrestler.
"I think Rashad definitely has some skills I need to really be careful with," Henderson said.
During a pre-event conference call, Evans expressed hope of moving beyond the recent disappointments. A good clash with Henderson would help.
I really should have and could have maybe been a bit more aggressive. But it's pretty hard to do when someone's running.” -- Dan Henderson, on the frustration he faced in a February 2013 bout against Lyoto Machida
"You almost have to have a short[-term] memory on that kind of thing," Evans said. "Because if you dwell on it too long then it can definitely hinder you again. I know how to perform. I know how to go out there and fight to the best of my abilities. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it. Second-guessing myself is not going to get me any closer to fighting to the best of my capabilities. So I learned from that performance."
Henderson sounds willing to give him a chance to prove it. And while the Olympic wrestler admitted Evans' strengths might cause him to "be really patient, for sure, and not be overly aggressive," Henderson suggested the three-round fight could come down to making the most of a particular moment.
Rebounding after a troubled training camp leading up to the Machida contest, Henderson said his preparation for Evans was on point. He feels far more mobile than he did in February, and expects that to pay off in Canada. If so, Henderson is eyeing UFC champion Jon Jones, who is expected to defend his title against Alexander Gustafsson later this year.
Because a knee injury cost Henderson the chance to fight Jones at UFC 151, he said the pair has unfinished business. The way Henderson sees it, "I never got to take the test I studied for.
"I just feel like someone like Jon Jones is a challenge. I trust in myself and what I'm capable of doing."
Henderson has fought all manner of opponents since entering MMA in 1997, and he repeatedly proved what he’s capable of doing. As he boarded a plane for Canada earlier this week, Henderson tweeted how excited he felt to step into a cage again, in part because of just how badly he wants to wash away the stain of the Machida bout.
"It's typically not in my nature to be close to boring," he said, "but it happened recently."
As Evans noted, mixed martial artists are often pinned down by the result of their most recent outing.
For both men, then, there’s plenty of room for improvement.