I can't remember a time when the fans and media have been so apathetic toward what is quite clearly a spectacular and close main event, at least in terms of the actual fighting that's scheduled to happen in the cage. Maybe that's because the UFC 161 card is not what it once was, having been decimated by the kinds of injuries that often seem to crop up when fighters are required to go to Canada and ply their trade.
Back off, Canada. It's just a joke. I love your country.
Of course, I'm not joking when I say that the effectiveness of this event was hampered greatly by injuries. First, interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao suffered a foot injury that forced him to the shelf (and perhaps began internal UFC discussions about the idea of creating an interim interim championship; down the rabbit hole we go) and out of his headlining fight against Eddie Wineland.
Then the littlest Nogueira injured himself, causing a bout that was only created to satisfy a demand in Roy Nelson's expiring contract to be moved to the co-main event of a major North America pay-per-view.
So we have this, an event that will no doubt do on the lower end of the UFC's all-time pay-per-view scale. And yet, I can't help but be intrigued, mostly by the main event (which we'll talk about shortly, I promise you) but also by a few other fights that won't get the spotlight they deserve but will no doubt be awesome anyway.
Let's get started at the top.
Dan Henderson (ranked No. 3) [-115] vs. Rashad Evans (No. 6) [-115]
It's a remarkable thing, this UFC 161 main event.
Most of the time, UFC main events are not pick 'em fights. In gambling parlance, a "pick 'em" happens when the two opposing odds in a gambling line are so close that they're essentially a toss-up in terms of what you'd win if you bet on either side.
From a betting perspective, Henderson vs. Evans is one of just three main events with odds this close in 2013; the others were Vitor Belfort's fights against Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold.
Henderson vs. Evans may seem like a blah main event at first glance, but what we actually have here is a very well-matched main event between two competitors who are quite even in terms of their respective skill levels. The major difference is that Evans is much more willing to actually branch out and use all of his skills, whereas Henderson has fallen more and more in love with his right hand as he's grown older and found highlight-reel success with it.
Henderson has a knockdown rate of 7 percent, which is among the highest on this card. There's no question that Henderson has the power to finish anyone, but it's become quite easy for opponents to avoid that one strength of his game because it's unlikely that he'll look to move into other facets. Henderson tends to plant his feet and look for bombs, and if he doesn't land them, it's because his opponent didn't want to fight him. Which is silly, of course, this being mixed martial arts and all.
One key number: Evans has 78 percent total distance head strike defense. That means if he can keep Henderson on the outside and prevent him from landing that one big bomb he'll be looking for, Evans should be quite successful in avoiding Henderson's offensive game.
I'd look for Evans to do exactly that while also using constant level change feints and actual takedowns to keep Henderson off-balance for the majority of the fight on the way to winning a solid unanimous decision and rebounding from his two consecutive losses.
PREDICTION: Rashad Evans
Roy Nelson (No. 5) [-235] vs. Stipe Miocic [+185]
As mentioned earlier, this fight was created due to Nelson being owed one more fight on his contract, which expires at the end of June. It was first offered to Daniel Cormier and then Travis Browne, but both potential opponents turned it down for various reasons.
Cormier couldn't take the bout because he hadn't been medically cleared from his win over Frank Mir, and Browne simply didn't believe he could have a good enough camp to face someone like Nelson in the short amount of time available.
And so we're here, with Nelson facing Stipe Miocic on what is technically the final fight of his contract. While I don't believe it's going to happen, there's a chance we'll see Nelson crush Miocic and move on to Bellator for repeated fights against Rampage Jackson and the other two guys currently on that promotion's heavyweight roster.
Nelson isn't as big of a favorite here as the oddsmakers have him. While I do believe he'll win, he's also advancing in years, and his strategy of taking a bunch of punches to give one or two isn't the greatest in the world. It makes for exciting fights, to be sure, but it's not the best way to extend a career.
Miocic's big advantages are his age (he's 30 compared to Nelson's 37) and his reach (80 inches to Nelson's 73). His chin is also rock solid, with a 0 percent distance knockdown defense; however, that doesn't mean that Nelson can't crush him and send him unconscious to the canvas, because he certainly can. But Miocic does have one of the better chins that Nelson has faced in recent memory.
In short, Miocic is no can. Nelson will still win this one, but it may not be the early first-round knockout you're expecting.
PREDICTION: Roy Nelson
Ryan Jimmo [-250] vs. Igor Pokrajac [+210]
At first glance, I'm a little stunned that Jimmo is nearing 3-to-1 favorite status in this fight.
As a surface-level thing, I would have expected Pokrajac to be the favorite. Jimmo has the stellar career record, but that 17-2 tally largely came against talent that wouldn't or couldn't cut it in the current UFC landscape.
But then I took a look at my FightMetric statistics, and even though it's a small sample size, Jimmo far outpaces Pokrajac in the power striking department. He scores a knockdown on 67 percent of his distance landed power strikes, which is one of the highest percentages I've ever seen. His distance jab accuracy is 50 percent, and his distance power accuracy is 60 percent; those numbers are a clean 30 percent or higher than Pokrajac's.
The one thing Pokrajac has going for him likely will not surprise you at all: his chin. Pokrajac has what we like to call a sturdy chin, and his 0 percent knockdown rate is testament to that. While he may not get knocked out, he's most certainly going to be knocked around here by Jimmo as the Canadian takes a unanimous decision.
PREDICTION Ryan Jimmo
Alexis Davis (No. 6) [-400] vs. Rosi Sexton [+300]
I don't want to call this a fight that was created solely for Davis to pick up a win, but it feels that way. Davis is a potential bantamweight contender and interesting opponent for Ronda Rousey down the line, while Sexton is most famous for unintentionally causing a horrific leg injury to Japanese competitor WINDY Tomoni during an old Bodog fight card.
Don't get me wrong: Sexton is no pushover. Her career wins over Roxanne Modafferi and Carina Damm prove that she belongs as a bantamweight. But her loss to Gina Carano back in 2006 also established yet another tenet in her career: Sexton doesn't win the big ones, and Davis is the biggest one of her entire career.
PREDICTION: Alexis Davis
Pat Barry [-120] vs. Shawn Jordan [+100]
What you have here are two stocky heavyweights who punch and kick hard. Barry is the more experienced and better striker of the two, but he's also susceptible to being knocked down with a 13 percent knockdown rate in his UFC career.
Let's not kid ourselves, though, we aren't watching this fight for technical fun. We're watching this because it's going to be an awesome fight and because one of these two competitors will likely end up looking up at the lights, and it won't take all that long for it to happen.
Much like the oddsmakers, this is nearly a toss-up for me. I'll go with the younger fighter with the better defense in the upset here, but I'm not confident in it. Don't take this one to the bank.
PREDICTION: Shawn Jordan
Extra Bonus Super Value Pick
Tyron Woodley is an incredibly dangerous striker who is coming into his own in the striking game. His confidence is high, and he's ready to go on a run. Jake Shields is a poor striker who seems to be on the downside of his career arc. This one is a lot closer on the books than it should be, so take the value on Woodley and run.