A Preview of UFC 161

UFC: 161

Whenever the UFC ventures outside of the United States, fighters from that country or region line the fight card. Saturday night at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, the tradition continues, as a host of Canadian competitors join two heavyweight slugfests, and a main event pitting two of the top light heavyweights of the last five years on the UFC 161 fight card.

There is no question that injuries have reshaped this show; whenever you lose a main event and the middle fight from a five-fight pay-per-view, the line-up is going to be weakened. That being said, Saturday’s event remains much stronger than last summer’s debacle in Calgary, and should produce an evening full of entertaining mixed martial arts goodness.

Rashad Evans (17-3-1) vs. Dan Henderson (29-9-0)

Evans and Henderson are two of the greatest fighters ever to grace the 205-pound ranks in the UFC, and yet this fight could have serious impact on their standing within in the division both now and historically.

Both men enter off poor showings back in February – Evans lost an uneventful affair against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (his second straight loss), while Henderson became the most recent fighter to fail in his attempt to solve the puzzle that is Lyoto Machida. With new contenders constantly emerging, Saturday presents an opportunity for these two veteran competitors to get back into the title chase.

Henderson has become a one-trick pony at this stage of his career, but it’s a really, really good trick. His overhand right is one of the best in the business, and landing it once can change the direction of the fight. Evans, a former collegiate wrestler, is the more complete fighter of the two, and the more athletic, but he’s struggled to pull the trigger in his last two outings. If he can rediscover his swagger inside the cage against Henderson, the former Ultimate Fighter winner has the tools to add another name to the list of legendary fighters he’s conquered.

Roy Nelson (19-7) vs. Stipe Miocic (9-1-0)

Nelson looks more like a regular on Duck Dynasty than a surging heavyweight contender, but “Big Country” steps into this short notice opportunity in the midst of a three-fight winning streak, and all three wins have been highlight reel first-round knockouts.

Rotund with a shaggy salt-and-pepper beard and even more grizzly mullet, Nelson’s appearance belies his abilities inside the cage. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with thunderous power in his hands, Nelson is just a notch below the elite in the heavyweight division, and poses a considerable challenge to the once-beaten Miocic in the co-main event.

After beginning his career with nine consecutive – the last three of which came under the UFC banner – Miocic suffered the first loss of his career in his last outing, but gets the opportunity to rebound in a big way by halting Nelson’s run of success. A solid wrestler with heavy hands, the Cleveland, Ohio native will look to stand in the pocket and put Nelson’s ironclad chin to the test.

With their combined 20 knockouts victories (from 28 fights), these two heavyweight sluggers should deliver explosive excitement in the co-main event.

Ryan Jimmo (17-2-0) vs. Igor Pokrajac (25-9-0)

Jimmo made his UFC debut last summer in Calgary, earning a record-tying seven-second knockout victory over Anthony Perosh at UFC 149. After stumbling in his sophomore outing, the Canadian light heavyweight looks to rebound back on home soil when he takes on the tough Croatian veteran Pokrajac here.

This fight was elevated to the main card when injuries changed the complexion of the line-up, and has the potential to be the Fight of the Night.

Pokrajac is a durable kickboxer with brute strength who likes to bully the opposition around the Octagon. He’s not afraid to eat two shots in order to land one of his own, a formula that usually leads to fireworks when he’s in the cage.

Following a lengthy winning streak on the regional circuit, Jimmo finally got the call to the UFC, registering one of the most impressive debut victories in recent memories. Well-rounded and built like a Mack truck, the New Brunswick native is the more complete fighter of the two.

Plus he does a pretty mean robot after he wins.

Alexis Davis (13-5-0) vs. Rosi Sexton (13-2-0)

Port Colborne, Ontario’s Davis becomes the first Canadian female to compete in the UFC cage, stepping in for his debut on the biggest stage in the sport in the same city where her career began six-plus years ago.

A gifted grappler, Davis has been coming into her own of late, winning each of her last two appearances, and showing that she has the potential to hang with the very best the women’s bantamweight division has to offer.

Sexton was a surprise addition to the UFC roster as she historically has competed a weight class below the 135-pound ranks. But the lure of the UFC and the opportunity to fight on pay-per-view prompted the Oxford grad to make the move up the scale, and with the wealth of experience and well-rounded skill set she brings to the cage, the British veteran is more than capable of ruining the Canadian’s night in Winnipeg.

Pat Barry (8-5-0) vs. Shawn Jordan (14-4-0)

This one is destined to be entertaining.

Jordan played fullback for a pair of National Championship teams during his time at LSU, and now brings that physicality and athleticism to the Octagon. Barry, meanwhile, is a former elite kickboxer with tree trunks for legs, lunch boxes for hands, and a “kill or be killed” mentality.

What makes this one even more interesting is that Barry and Jordan are good friends – a pair of Louisiana boys who shoot each other texts with regularity and hang out together when they’re both back home.

That won’t stop them from punching each other in the face – repeatedly – on Saturday night.

And in preliminary card action…

Strikeforce veterans Jake Shields and Tyron Woodley headline the Canadian-heavy preliminary card in a welterweight scrap that Woodley has been pushing for since March.

Each of the other five bouts showcase a Canadian competitor, including veterans Sam Stout and Sean Pierson, Montreal-based striker Yves Jabouin, Saskatoon native Mitch “Danger Zone” Clarke, and hometown bantamweight Roland Delorme taking on Edwin Figueroa.

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