Rashad Evans grapples with Dan Henderson. (USA Today)
Everything that happens in the UFC's light heavyweight division has to be viewed through the Jon Jones filter.
But let's be honest: Viewed through the Jones filter, did either of them appear anything close to championship timber on Saturday during Evans' split decision victory in the main event of UFC 161 at the sold-out MTS Centre in Winnipeg?
Opinions, of course, will vary widely, but this one is that Jones would have few problems with either man and that they'd be better off going in a different direction.
Basically, Saturday's bout turned out to be a question of whether Evans could avoid Henderson's "H-Bomb." Henderson stalked Evans the entire fight, the right hand cocked at the ready next to his chin.
A two-time U.S. Olympic wrestler, Henderson never attempted a takedown and rarely threw any kicks to set up his crushing right that felled decorated foes such as Fedor Emelianenko, Michael Bisping and Wanderlei Silva, among others. All he did Saturday was follow Evans around the cage and hope to connect with a haymaker.
He hurt Evans with a jab in the first, but Evans was mostly able to use his speed, quickness and lateral movement to frustrate Henderson and avoid the big shots.
Evans' victory ended a two-fight losing streak, but he didn't look like the vintage Rashad Evans. He didn't have the explosion and couldn't generate the offense he once was able to do.
He suggested that Saturday's victory was more of a morale booster than anything.
"Coming off of two losses, it takes a little bit of a hit off your confidence," Evans said. "Trying to work back and mentally to get your game where you want it, get your timing down, believing in your shots, believing in your punches, stuff like that. This wasn't my best performance by far, but it's somewhere to start from."
UFC president Dana White was correct when he said, "Evans needs to get his killer instinct back."
There was a time when Evans was a dangerous opponent because he could knock people out not only with his hands but also with his kicks. He had good wrestling that would keep his foes off balance and he was a smart fighter.
And while he did what he had to do – Yahoo! Sports had it 29-28 for Evans, giving him Rounds 2 and 3 – he didn't look much like he was trying to knock out his 42-year-old opponent.
Rather, he looked mostly as if he wanted to end the fight upright.
Clearly, Henderson's right remains a dangerous weapon, as his opponents game plan specifically to neutralize it.
But at the highest levels of the sport, fighters are, more often than not, able to neutralize one strength. Henderson never got close to knocking out Lyoto Machida during a loss at UFC 157 in February and, except for stunning Evans with a jab in the first round on Saturday, he wasn't close to a knockout this time around.
Evans picked up the pace in the third and Henderson couldn't match it.
"I kind of wanted to try to take a little bit of a breather and then go back after him, but he kept the pressure on pretty well," Henderson said.
Neither man, though, could put on the pressure the way Jones would apply it. The gulf between them and Jones seemed to widen greatly on Saturday.
Jones routed Evans at UFC 145 on April 21, 2012, and, if anything, the champion seems a better, more difficult opponent today than he was then.
Evans felt plenty of pressure to perform on Saturday given the stakes. A loss would have been his third in a row and would have essentially relegated him to gatekeeper status.
With a win, he'll get the chance to fight another highly-ranked opponent. That fight, though, will come with plenty of pressure.
If you believe Evans, that he needed the win simply to regain his confidence, then it should stand to reason the next time out, he won't be encumbered by such concerns.
So, his next outing should provide a true test of where he is at this stage.
Both Evans and Henderson have been among the greatest fighters in the brief history of the 205-pound division.
If they are going to remain there, they need to significantly up their games and show more than they did on Saturday.
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