The Forward Roll: UFC 161 edition

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

This is a sport that requires supreme belief in one's self, so you can understand why Roy Nelson took the chance that he did, rolling the dice on increasing his market value with a win at UFC 161. With one fight left on his contract, Nelson declined a UFC extension offer and instead took a fight with Stipe Miocic, a young and talented fighter who had yet to beat an opponent of any real name value.

On paper, it seemed a solid calculated bet. Nelson came into the bout on a three-fight win streak, and as a solid favorite. But in execution, the matchup was only one-sided in Miocic's favor, as he battered Nelson around for 15 minutes, landing 129 total strikes to Nelson's paltry 25. With that, Nelson's negotiating leverage fell by the wayside.

It could have been in many ways a serious test case for free agency in MMA, as in the past, there have been few real viable possibilities for an upper-tier fighter to test his worth on the open market while riding a winning streak. If Nelson had captured his fourth straight, there is little question that both UFC and Bellator would have had interest in him, lifting his value. In short, he would have cashed in. Instead, the UFC now has the upper hand in negotiations, and more solid ground on which to extend a take-it-or-leave-it offer. If he stays, great. If Bellator trumps them and Nelson bolts, the UFC can simply claim that the soon-to-be 37-year-old Nelson is in the sunset of his career.

Though it didn't quite work out for Nelson, there is increasing competition over talent between the UFC and Bellator, and that's a trend to keep an eye on in the near future, especially when it comes to how many other fighters are willing to believe in themselves and roll the dice.

On to the predictions …

Rashad Evans
I thought it was a nice rebound performance from Evans, particularly because he couldn't find a way to get the fight to the ground, but still out-struck Henderson anyway. Before the fight I would have thought an inability to put Hendo on his back would sink Evans, but he proved that assumption incorrect. Like many, I'd like to see him be the pace-setter on a more regular basis, but he's almost always preferred a more measured approach. Unlike his fight with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Evans really wanted to be there, and he fought well from behind.
Prediction: I like two possibilities here: either he gets the fight that never happened against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, or faces Glover Teixeira.

Dan Henderson
After two straight losses, Hendo is moving further away from a light-heavyweight title shot rather than towards it. Worse yet, next time he fights, he'll be 43 (his birthday is in August). I wonder if that makes this the spot where Henderson decides it is worth a move to middleweight. If he wants to win one more championship before he retires, it seems like it's far more likely starting with a new slate at 185 than working his way back up among the 205-pound monsters.
Prediction: Henderson makes the move to 185 and fights Luke Rockhold.

Stipe Miocic
I'm not sure that Miocic received his due for the way he beat Nelson. It was dominant, in much the same way that Junior dos Santos rolled past "Big Country" back in 2010. By comparison, while dos Santos out-landed Nelson 138-40, the number for Miocic was 129-25. He also did an excellent job mixing up his variety of strikes, from uppercuts to crosses to kicks. He showed a bit of everything and had Nelson confused for the duration. Perhaps his loss to Stefan Struve can be at least partially be attributed to a case of main-event nerves.
Prediction: Even though Mark Hunt is coming off a loss, I think he's a fair next step for Miocic.

Alexis Davis
Davis almost earned the finish but instead went all three rounds with Rosi Sexton. Still, she did little to dissuade those who believe she's the one to challenge Ronda Rousey that they're off the mark. She brought danger on the ground and showed some standup ability as well. She'll certainly have to time to get in another fight or two before she gets to the title.
Prediction: The winner of the UFC on FOX Sports 1 match between Sara McMann and Sarah Kaufman makes sense.

Jake Shields
Let's put it this way: Shields' win over Tyron Woodley wasn't exactly decisive. According to MMADecisions.com, which records a sample size of media scorecards, five outlets scored it for Shields, four scored it for Woodley and two had it as a 29-29 draw. Guh. I'd suggest a rematch but in this case it's probably better to move along and go in another direction.
Prediction: He fights Dong Hyun Kim.

James Krause
Do you guys remember when Krause was in the WEC, getting thumped by Donald Cerrone and Ricardo Lamas? No? Well, it was a long time ago, and it sure appears as though Krause has put in some serious work since then. Sam Stout hadn't been finished in about seven years, and that span included dangerous opponents like Matt Wiman, Joe Lauzon and Yves Edwards. Welcome to the bigtime, young man.
Prediction: He faces Anthony Njokuani.

Shawn Jordan
I've long believed the college football ranks would be a great recruiting ground for MMA, and the 28-year-old Jordan is a great example of why. He's a fearless and gifted athlete who doesn't mind contact. Sounds like a perfect match for MMA to me. More importantly, Jordan is progressing. After knocking out Pat Barry, Jordan has won four of his last five. As he continues to figure out the nuances of the wrestling and ground games, his momentum builds.
Prediction: He fights the winner of the UFC on FOX 8 matchup between Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione.

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