Total Recall: The MMA Week in Review

by Ralph Welch |

On a night of decisions, UFC 161 poses more questions than answers

When a card is decimated by injury a promoter is faced with a stark choice: cancel the event and write off millions of dollars, or plug the gaps and hope the replacements shine in the spotlight.

Aside from the infamous cancellation of UFC 151, in the Zuffa era the show has always gone on. Just as it did in Manitoba, Winnipeg on Saturday night when a patched up cast of combatants made up the fight card for UFC 161.

It was a line-up that drew ire from some fans frustrated that the event had been robbed of star power. The UFC hoped that names such as Dan Henderson, Rashad Evans and Roy Nelson would do enough to answer the critics. In the end, answers were hard to come by. By the time the UFC juggernaut rolled out of Canada all we were left with were searching questions.

Will someone detonate the H-Bomb?

On the face of it, the statistics make grim reading for Dan Henderson. A two-fight losing skid, at the ripe old age of 42, implies that the best days are behind him. Yet only last year “Hendo” was feted as a genuine threat in the 205 pound division. Allegedly the destructive properties of the veteran’s right hand, the patented “H-Bomb,” would provide a basic answer to MMA’s most complex problem: how to beat Jon Jones? Sadly injury robbed him of that opportunity. Since then his octagon outings have seen him drift out of the title mix.

His performances in both losing efforts to Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans, decorated campaigners at this level, suggest there is at least one more bullet in the chamber. But the next booking of Dan Henderson requires careful thought from the UFC brass. Against quick, nimble opponents the veteran can appear slow and one-dimensional. Ideally, matchmaker Joe Silva will give Henderson an opportunity to show that the lead remains in his hands rather than his feet.

There have been some hasty calls for Henderson to retire. We’re often quick to consign a fighter to the history books. If you’re not going to win a title, then you need to clear the road for somebody who might. It’s a ruthless and occasionally flawed mentality. Ultimately, Dan Henderson is still a name that commands respect in this sport. Against the right opponent, he can still deliver. He can still draw money. And in the business of prizefighting, money talks.

How’s the Roy Nelson business going?

Speaking of cash, before the cage door closed on Saturday night the Roy Nelson business was booming. By the time the horn sounded, it was tempting to assume the enterprise had gone bust. “Big Country” took a short-notice fight as a calculated gamble. He was riding a three-fight win streak and heading towards an unlikely title opportunity. Fulfilling, and winning, the last fight on his current UFC contract would put him in a dominant position at the negotiating table when the conversation boiled down to dollars and cents. Doubtless UFC President Dana White, who enjoys a notorious love-hate relationship with Nelson, feared a painful period of financial posturing.

Those fears will have been allayed somewhat by the sight of an exhausted Nelson gasping for air after a fifteen-minute shellacking at the hands of the unheralded Stipe Miocic. White has often accused the Las Vegas slugger of complacency, citing his well-fed waistline and unique grooming as evidence of a man who refuses to maximise his market value. In any case, it’s a value that has diminished significantly after the events in Winnipeg.

Nelson becomes a free agent no longer as a viable title contender, but as another name mired in the middle ranks of a division dominated by Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. He seems destined to be an entertaining, rather than elite fighter and that will be reflected in his next paycheck. Roy Nelson’s still in business, but the takings are definitely down.

Will Jake go out on his Shield?

It wasn’t just the defeated men whose futures were the subject of contention in Canada. Jake Shields ground out a trademark decision that earned a win bonus, but precious little else from his employer. In the post-fight press conference Dana White was scathing about Shields’ bout with Tyron Woodley and that should sound a warning for his future in the promotion.

The blood-letting from the bloated UFC roster will likely continue throughout 2013. And in the current climate a favourable win-loss record doesn’t necessarily do much for your job security. Of equal importance is your capacity to entertain. Shields has always been a low-risk, high-reward fighter. It’s an effective style that’s bought him plenty of success, but is unlikely to appeal to the casual fans the UFC craves.

So Shields needs to keep winning. The release of fellow grinders Jon Fitch and Jacob Volkmann sent a message to the workforce that you have the right to be a “boring” fighter, so long as you don’t lose.

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