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UFC 161: Main Card forecasts

Special to FOX Sports E. Spencer Kyte
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CRYSTAL BALL: UFC 161 MAIN CARD PREDICTIONS

Last weekend, UFC on Fuel TV 10 proved to be one of the most entertaining fight cards in recent memory. The 12-fight event produced 10 finishes, including eight submissions, with every fight on the televised main card coming to an end inside the distance.

This weekend, the focus shifts to Winnipeg, Manitoba and UFC 161. Much like last summer’s debut in Calgary, this inaugural appearance at the MTS Centre has been marred by injuries.

Rashad Evans vs. Dan Henderson now serves as the headlining act, filling the void left when interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao was sidelined with an injury, scrapping his planned title defense against Eddie Wineland. Also gone from the original lineup is a light heavyweight pairing between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

As consolation for the loss of the championship headliner, heavyweight cult hero Roy Nelson was tabbed to replace Soa Palelei opposite Stipe Miocic, with that bout being elevated to co-main event standing with the loss of Rua and Nogueira.

Despite all the changes and upheaval, the UFC 161 main card still has the potential to be an exciting collection of fights. If we learned anything from last weekend’s fight card in Fortazela, Brazil, it’s that you don’t need a bunch of big names in order to get big entertainment.

Dan Henderson (29-9) vs. Rashad Evans (17-3-1)

Evans enters on the first two-fight losing streak of his career, and is coming off an ugly performance at UFC 156 against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira where he was simply unable to pull the trigger. Henderson, meanwhile, enters off a loss as well, having dropped an equally uneventful decision to Lyoto Machida at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif.

For all his past success – and he has had a storied career – Henderson has become a one-trick pony; a heavy-handed fighter constantly in search of a thunderous overhand right. What makes this fight so intriguing is that Evans has also eschewed much of what made him so dangerous early in his career. Gone is the diversity in his striking, and the threat of a quick and powerful takedown, replaced with a constant readiness to stand and box, although last time out it was much more stand than box.

When the cage door closes Saturday night, Evans’ willingness to get in a boxing match with the veteran Henderson will be a recipe for disaster. The former Pride and Strikeforce champion only needs to connect once to turn the fight in his favor, and if Evans is going to make himself available to be hit, you can be sure that Henderson will land one of his patented “H-Bombs,” stagger the former Ultimate Fighter winner, and extend Evans’ losing streak to three.

Prediction: Dan Henderson by Technical Knockout, Round 2

Roy Nelson (19-7) vs. Stipe Miocic (9-1)

UFC Roy Nelson

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 27: Roy Nelson celebrates his win by knockout against Cheick Kongo of France in their heavyweight bout during the UFC 159 event at the Prudential Center on April 27, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.

Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

Miocic gets a bit of a bad deal here, switching from veteran journeyman Soa Palelei to “Big Country” as a result of the fight card losing too many names to injuries. For a fighter coming off the first loss of his career, a late shift to a more dangerous opponent is like salt in the wounds.

While he doesn’t look the part, Nelson is a complete fighter, and his iron chin affords him the ability to wade into danger and take a good shot or two in order to deliver one of his own.

And one is all he needs.

Though Miocic has shown a better ability to take a punch than some of his more recent opponents, the end result of this one should be no different than Nelson’s last three appearances. Look for the TUF 10 winner to close the distance quickly, find his range, measure Miocic and unload, sending the athletic Cleveland, Ohio, native crashing to the ground.

Prediction: Roy Nelson by Knockout, Round 1.

Ryan Jimmo (17-2) vs. Igor Pokrajac (25-9)

UFC Ryan Jimmo and James Te Huna

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: (L-R) Ryan Jimmo kicks James Te Huna in their light heavyweight fight during the UFC on Fuel TV event on February 16, 2013 at Wembley Arena in London, England.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

For the first time since the second fight of his career, Jimmo enters this one coming off a loss, having dropped his last outing to James Te Huna when the UFC traveled to London, England earlier this year. Pokrajac enters on a two-fight winless streak, having lost to Vinny Magalhaes at UFC 152 before taking a “No Contest” result against Joey Beltran when “The Mexicutioner” failed his post-fight drug test.

In this battle of light heavyweights looking to regain lost momentum, Jimmo should have the edge.

The Canadian actually started well last time out, dropping Te Huna with a massive headkick early in the first round. But he was unable to put the resilient New Zealander away, suffered a quadriceps injury, and was dominated on the ground over the final 10 minutes en route to suffering his first loss since February 2007.

Between flooring Te Huna and knocking out Anthony Perosh with a single punch seven seconds into his UFC debut, it’s clear that Jimmo has legitimate power, while his extended unbeaten streak prior to arriving on the big stage showcased his ability to avoid punishment and control the terms of his fights. While Pokrajac is capable of connecting if Jimmo gives him an opening, look for the 17-2 Canuck to get the victory on home soil.

Prediction: Ryan Jimmo by Unanimous Decision.

Alexis Davis (13-5) vs. Rosi Sexton (13-2)

UFC Alexis Davis and Sarah Kaufman

Alexis Davis (top) punches Sarah Kaufman during a March 2012 Strikeforce event in Columbus, Ohio.

Esther Lin/Forza LLC via Getty Images

The first Canadian female to compete in the UFC, Davis is coming full circle at UFC 161, as she started her career in Winnipeg a little more than six years ago.

Saturday, she’ll take on Rosi Sexton, a well-rounded British veteran who holds wins over the likes of Aisling Daly, Roxanne Modafferi and Carina Damm, the sister of UFC featherweight competitor (and UFC on Fuel TV 10 winner) Rodrigo Damm. Though Sexton is a talented fighter, she’s spent the bulk of her career fighting in the 125-pound weight class, and looks to be out-gunned in this one.

Davis has won five of her last six, and seems to have taken the next step forward in her development since going punch-for-punch with former Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion Sarah Kaufman when the two met for a second time in March 2012.

Last time out, Davis beat veteran Shayna Baszler at her own game, putting “The Queen of Spades” to sleep with a rear-naked choke in the center of the Invicta FC cage. While Sexton won’t go away easily, Davis simply has more tools at her disposal, and will use them all in dispatching her British foe in front of family and friends in Winnipeg.

Prediction: Alexis Davis by Submission, Round 2.

Pat Barry (8-5) vs. Shawn Jordan (14-4)

UFC Pat Barry and Christian Morecraft

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 20: Pat Barry (red shorts) reacts after knocking out Christian Morecraft during the UFC on FX event at Bridgestone Arena on January 20, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

Somebody is getting knocked out in this one.

Both Barry and Jordan enter every fight intent on putting on a show for the crowd, and win or lose, the two heavyweights from Louisiana have always come through. Now, they’ll step into the cage to face each other and kick off the UFC 161 pay-per-view, and you can be sure they’ll be looking to start things off with a bang.

Barry has shown continued development throughout his career, and can no longer be viewed as easy prey if the fight goes to the ground. Last time out, he survived a serious of submission attempts against Shane Del Rosario, bouncing back to knock out the former Strikeforce prospect in the second round.

A former fullback and two-time National Champion during his collegiate days at LSU, Jordan has the athletic background to make big gains as a fighter between each appearance. Splitting time between Team Jackson-Winkeljohn and American Top Team, “The Savage” has been surrounding himself with elite coaches and training partners, and has the potential to develop into a contender down the road.

But Saturday should be Barry’s night.

Jordan has been known to start slow, and that is a bad habit in the heavyweight division. Barry is aggressive out of the gate, and will take advantage of his opponent’s early sluggishness to find his range with both his hands and his notoriously heavy leg kicks.

The former football player showed his resilience last time out, but Barry is a much more devastating striker than Jordan’s last opponent, Mike Russow, and he’ll show that in the pay-per-view opener.

Prediction: Pat Barry by Technical Knockout, Round 1.

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