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Fortunes changed for six at UFC 161

As UFC 161 approached, there were a lot of comparisons made with UFC 149, which was probably the low point of UFC’s 2012. There were the obvious similarities. Both shows were the debuts in hot Canadian markets. UFC 149 was in Calgary. Saturday night’s show was in Winnipeg. Both were markets where UFC has done strong pay-per-view numbers for years. In both cases, the pent up demand led to the show selling out the first weekend tickets were put on sale, even though neither show had what would be considered a big drawing main event. And then, injuries started hitting. While UFC 161 wasn’t snake-bit at the level of last year’s show, the card did lose two of its three top matches. That meant four of the six fighters advertised in the top spots were gone. Yet, there was a big difference and a lot of it was the reaction in the marketplace. In Calgary, there was a lot of media talk about whether the company should have offered refunds, and it led to ill will with the media and some segments of the public with talk of people attempting to unload their tickets. Then the show didn’t deliver and the live crowd expressed their dissatisfaction. The end result is a market that did about $4 million live, one of UFC’s best gates ever in a market of that size, is now one that seemed to be damaged badly. In Winnipeg, the reaction was different. It appeared people were happy UFC was in town. It wasn’t the original lineup, but they wanted to see the product. There was little in the way of negativity in the media as compared with Calgary. When Yves Jabouin and Dustin Pague started going back-and-forth in an exciting opener, the crowd noise was almost Brazil-like. There were more than 11,000 of the 14,754 fans in their seats when the opener started, a far cry from the empty buildings UFC often sees for its firs few matches on its shows that often last six hours. And for most of the show, they had a lot to cheer about as Canadians took six of their seven fights. In one sense, the show was the opposite of last week’s show in Fortaleza, Brazil, which tied a record for submissions and had ten finishes in 12 fights. This had ten decisions in 12 fights, with one knockout (Shawn Jordan over Pat Barry) and one submission, (James Krause over Sam Stout), meaning no debates on who got two of the three performance bonuses. There were, however, a number of fights that could have been considered the best of the show, from Jabouin vs. Pague, Edwin Figueroa vs. Roland Delorme, Stout vs. Krause (which the UFC picked as the best) and Rosi Sexton vs. Alexis Davis. And a couple, most notably Jake Shields vs. Tyron Woodley and Ryan Jimmo vs. Igor Pokrajac, were fights that could have been crowd killers most nights. The top two fights, a heavyweight battle with Stipe Miocic beating Roy Nelson and Rashad Evans beating Dan Henderson, both via decision, were somewhat compelling to watch, but perhaps not in the way most hoped. Nelson and Henderson were the most popular fighters on the show, both known for their big right hands. And neither, in three round fights, were able to connect against much faster opponents. Nelson tired early but there was always the hope he would land the punch that would turn things around. With Henderson, the fight was a lot closer, with Henderson fading in a third round that looked to decide the fight. Even before the injuries, this card appeared to have the least interest of UFC pay-per-view shows this year. But the show did have major repercussions on the careers of a number of fighters at career crossroads. We usually look at how Fortunes Changes for Five. For this show, we’ll look at the six participants in three key matches, the top two fights on the pay-per-view show, and Shields vs. Woodley, a prelim fight matching top-level welterweights. RASHAD EVANS – Evans (23-3-1), was faced with a must-win situation coming off lackluster performances in his title challenge to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, followed by an upset loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. His split decision win puts him back into the game. A loss at this stage may have ended his career as a significant contender. He physically transformed his body at 33, and used his quickness to stay out of trouble past a jab that floored him in the first round and an elbow in the second. While unable to take Henderson down, going zero for nine in takedowns, he was still the aggressor and controlled the action most of the way. It wasn’t a win that left you thinking Evans would have anything new for Jones. It was a needed marked improvement coming off the Nogueira performance, that left many thinking Evans no longer had the fire or desire. There are no shortage of potential opponents in a light heavyweight division filled with contenders, but none that are really standing out as the guy who people think can beat Jones. After the win, Evans brought up the name Glover Teixeira. But he also could face the winner of Chael Sonnen vs. Mauricio Shogun Rua on Aug. 17, or Ryan…

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