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Fighter Breakdown - Evan Dunham

Fresh from a breakout year rising lightweight star Evan Dunham begins his 2011 campaign at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas in the UFC Fight for the Troops 2 main event against Melvin Guillard.

Fresh from a breakout year in which he defeated Efrain Escudero and Tyson Griffin before losing a controversial split decision to former champion Sean Sherk, rising lightweight star Evan Dunham begins his 2011 campaign at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas in the UFC Fight for the Troops 2 main event against Melvin Guillard.

For the 29-year old native of Eugene, Oregon, the bout is an opportunity to make a statement to the division that he’s ready to be included in the conversation when it comes to the 155-pound title picture, and given his past five fights in the Octagon, he’s right on schedule for such a statement.

So how did Dunham get here? Read on for a recap of his UFC career thus far.

UFC 95 – February 21, 2009 - KO1 Per Eklund

Unbeaten in seven pro fights, Dunham entered the UFC with little fanfare, even having to travel to London, England to step into the Octagon for the first time. But as the bout approached, hardcore fan anticipation began to rise thanks to some heated trash talk from Eklund, whose previous two UFC fights saw him compile a 1-1 record. Dunham, as is his custom, kept his cool, saving his talk for the fight, where he blasted Eklund out in less than three minutes.

What He Said:
“I had heard about it (Eklund’s pre-fight verbal attacks), but I just look at it as him trying to pump the fight up. Since it was in Europe, I’m sure he was gonna have lots of fans, so I think he was just trying to bring in more people to watch him. I do think he underestimated my skills to a certain degree, which was fine. It’s not the first time that somebody’s talked a bunch of junk before a fight, and I don’t think about it because they can talk all they want, we’re still gonna fight.”

What We Said: Unbeaten Evan Dunham made the most of his opportunity to step in for injured David Baron UFC 95 on short notice, knocking out Swedish veteran Per Eklund in the first round of their lightweight bout.

Dunham struck first and fast, hurting Eklund with a left to the head. Dunham pounced with a guillotine choke, but Eklund got loose and recovered, later pulling guard when the two stood. After the two stood, Eklund landed thudding shots to the head, but the Oregonian walked right through them, eventually getting his shot in, a straight left that dropped the Stockholm product hard to the mat. The follow-up barrage was a formality, with referee Marc Goddard halting the bout at the 2:14 mark.

What It Meant: Despite being a preliminary fight, Dunham got some welcome television exposure as his KO win was aired on Spike TV after a quick finish to the Dan Hardy-Rory Markham main card bout. In addition, defeating a respected veteran who had more than twice as many fights was a feather in Dunham’s cap and marked him immediately as a fighter to watch.

UFC 102 – August 29, 2009 – W3 Marcus Aurelio

Six months after the Eklund bout, Dunham was thrown back into the fire against another seasoned vet in Marcus Aurelio. Even more significant for Dunham was that he was fighting at home in Oregon and pitting his jiu-jitsu skills against one of the top black belts in the game.  A trial to test the prospect? Absolutely. But he passed with flying colors as he delivered a hard-fought decision win.

What He Said: “I think it’s a great thing to test and see where I’m at against high-level jiu-jitsu players. I embrace the competition, but I don’t let it change anything. If the knockout presents itself, I’m sure gonna go for it. However, I’m confident that I can also pull off a submission if the opportunity arises. Every fight I go into, I just look to break my opponent down, and capitalize when he makes a mistake.”

What We Said: Unbeaten Eugene, Oregon native Evan Dunham got the evening off to a good start for the local boys, pounding out a three round split decision over Marcus Aurelio in an entertaining lightweight bout.

Scores were 30-27, 29-28, and 28-29 for Dunham.

“I knew he’s never been finished, so I knew the fight would go on,” said Dunham. “I love fighting in Portland. The fans were great.”

Amped up by fighting in front of his home state fans, Dunham came out fast, peppering Aurelio with quick 1-2s from long range and following up with shorter power shots at close range. Midway through the round, Dunham dropped Aurelio with a left hand, but the Brazilian grappling ace was able to weather the follow-up assault. Once standing, Aurelio tried to even the score, but the faster Dunham made sure he was gone before anything got close, and his takedown defense kept Aurelio at bay as well for the rest of the round.

Dunham’s strategy remained unchanged in round two, but early on Aurelio was able to get the hometown favorite to the canvas, where he looked to turn the tide. Dunham got back to his feet a short time later, and though he caught a couple wide shots from Aurelio, he was unfazed by the haymakers, and Aurelio was looking weary in the final two minutes as Dunham mixed kicks into his attack.

Trying to turn things around, Aurelio got the fight to the mat in the third, and though Dunham’s ground defense was solid, “Maximus” kept pushing for the submission, eventually locking in a guillotine choke. After some tense moments for the Oregon fans, Dunham escaped and the two exchanged takedowns. With a minute left, Aurelio again looked for the takedown, but Dunham fought it off and ended the bout with some crisp strikes until the final bell sounded.

What It Meant: Dunham’s talent is undeniable, but everyone in the UFC has talent. What separates the haves from the have nots is often the ability to perform under situations that would break average fighters. Dunham did this by shaking off the pressure of fighting at home and by matching his skills against a jiu-jitsu ace like Aurelio and finding a way to win.

UFC Fight Night – January 11, 2010 – Wsub3 Efrain Escudero

One of the things that have allowed the UFC to build its popularity among combat sports fans over the years is that you will see top prospects matched up against each other on a regular basis, something that is practically non-existent in boxing these days. On this night in Virginia, Dunham matched wits and fists with fellow unbeaten Efrain Escudero, The Ultimate Fighter season eight winner and a favorite in the bout. It was an exciting back and forth bout, but in the end, it was Dunham pulling out the win.

What He Said: “Honestly, in that fight, going into the third round, I felt that I had broken Escudero. I knew he gave me the best he had and I was still right in front of him. I think I pretty much got the second round and ended on top, socking him up, and I knew I had broken him. So it was just a matter of me stepping up and going in there and getting the job done. It was actually very rejuvenating and at the beginning of the third round, I felt great and ready to go.”

What We Said: Unbeaten but unheralded Evan Dunham scored the biggest win of his young UFC career Monday night at the Patriot Center, moving to 3-0 in the organization with a come from behind third round submission victory over The Ultimate Fighter season eight winner Efrain Escudero, who suffered his first pro defeat in the UFC Fight Night co-feature.

The fight started at a fast pace, but neither fighter landed anything of consequence. That all changed in the second half of the frame, when a knee to the head by Escudero rocked Dunham. The Oregon prospect looked to clear his head, but Escudero kept firing off punches, eventually dropping his foe with a right hand. Escudero went in to finish, but Dunham recovered quickly and almost locked up a triangle choke. Escudero got free and responded with a guillotine attempt, but that was foiled as well.

Dunham began to find his range with his own strikes in the second round, and he kept tagging Escudero as he waded in. With a little over two minutes left, Dunham scored a takedown and then added more points with ground strikes before getting Escudero’s back in the final minute, capping off a huge round with more punches.

With the bout up for grabs, Dunham came out fast for the final round, maybe a little too fast, as he got caught in a guillotine choke. After some tense moments, Dunham escaped, the two rose, and Dunham got a takedown. Escudero tried to escape, but Dunham wasn’t about to let him free, eventually locking in a tight armbar. Escudero tried to find his way free, but it wasn’t happening, and he was forced to tap out at 1:59 of the final round.

What It Meant: It’s the old hammer and the nail adage, and despite getting the worst of things in the first round, Dunham showed the heart of a champion by clearing his head and coming back in rounds two and three, finishing the bout off in the final frame with an armbar that earned him Submission of the Night honors.

UFC 115 – June 12, 2010 – W3 Tyson Griffin

One of the first half of 2010’s most highly anticipated bouts, Dunham had to alter his training camp and schedule to face his Xtreme Couture teammate Tyson Griffin. It could have been a recipe for disaster to have his entire schedule thrown into disarray, but Dunham took it in stride like a pro (are you noticing a theme here?), and he delivered on fight night via three round split decision.

What He Said: “We both trained with each other and are familiar with each other,” he said. “I plan on going back to Xtreme after this fight, but it’s not one of these things where Tyson and I have been training partners for five or six years or anything like that. We’ve had lots of battles in the gym and we know each other fairly well stylistically, and there is a bit of the teammate versus teammate stuff, but we haven’t really trained together at all recently, so I’m sure there will be a couple new surprises.”

What We Said: The wins keep getting bigger and bigger for rising lightweight star Evan Dunham, who kept his perfect record intact Saturday night at General Motors Place with a three round split decision win over highly-regarded contender Tyson Griffin in UFC 115 prelim action.

Scores were 30-27, 29-28, and 28-29 for Dunham, who improves to 11-0; Griffin falls to 14-3. The two previously trained together at Las Vegas’ Xtreme Couture gym.

After a tentative opening, Dunham looked to take Griffin to the mat, but with an incredible display of balance, the Sacramento native hopped around on one leg, cracking Dunham with a right hand the whole way until his foe let go of his other leg. The exchange got both fighters in gear, and they traded solid punches and kicks, with Dunham holding the edge from long range, where he could use his height and reach advantage. With under two minutes left, Dunham was able to get Griffin to the mat, and he got his hooks in while looking for the rear naked choke. Griffin’s defense was solid, and he still found the room to score with some punches to the face before the round ended.

In the first minute of round two, it was Griffin looking to take the fight to the mat, and he did, pulling guard while trying to sink in a guillotine choke. Dunham easily escaped and began working for a choke of his own before Griffin broke loose and they both stood. A Dunham takedown followed a few moments later, and he was able to take Griffin’s back a second time. Griffin’s defense was solid and he was able to rise to his feet with Dunham still on his back, but he was unable to shake the Oregon native, even after a forward slam to the mat.

Griffin and Dunham began the final round trading punches, much to the delight of the crowd. After a minute of standup, Griffin shot for the takedown but was turned back, and Dunham scored with two kicks before getting his opponent’s back yet again. Griffin’s response was identical to that of the round before, as he stood up and tried to shake Dunham. Dunham wasn’t budging though as he tried to get in the finishing choke. It didn’t happen, but his control throughout earned him the victory, his first since a January submission win over Efrain Escudero and fourth in the UFC.

What It Meant: In terms of significance, the victory was a big one for Dunham’s career, and while it won’t go into his time capsule for excitement, a win’s a win, and Dunham’s ability to grind out a win over a tough opponent and a friend spoke volumes.

UFC 119 – September 25, 2010 – L3 Sean Sherk

This was going to be the test, a fight against a former world champion and legitimate top-tier contender. And Dunham delivered on all counts against Sean Sherk despite coming up on the short end of a controversial three round split decision. And while Dunham won’t claim any moral victories, anyone who saw the bout certainly wouldn’t dub him the loser after the entertaining Fight of the Night showdown.

What He Said: “Sherk is a very tough and seasoned fighter, as well as a former champ. I remember watching him fight before I even started in the sport, so it is awesome that I get the chance to fight him.  I have a ton of respect for the guy, but I know that with my work ethic and overall skills that I will be the victor in this fight.”

What We Said: Evan Dunham may have suffered his first pro loss via split decision in an exciting 15 minute battle against former Sean Sherk, but his stock only rose in defeat, as he fought through a nasty cut over his right eye to almost finish the former UFC lightweight champion several times before the final bell rang.

The judges’ unpopular verdict read 29-28 twice and 28-29 for Sherk, who improves to 38-4-1 in his first bout since May of 2009. Dunham falls to 11-1.

“I knew I had the first round, the second round was close, the third round was close,” said Sherk. “I felt it could have gone either way.”

Most in attendance booed the decision, letting it be known which way they wanted it to go, but what wasn’t in question was the high-level display of mixed martial arts and heart both 155-pounders showed over three fast-paced rounds.

Sherk reintroduced himself to UFC fans in the first with one of his trademark slams, but almost got caught in a guillotine choke in the process. After a few tense moments, Sherk pulled himself out and used some ground strikes until Dunham worked his way back to his feet. Sherk sent him back to the mat again, but when Dunham got up, he was pulling out all the stops for a submission, and he almost caught the former champion again. But once Sherk broke loose, he unleashed more furious ground strikes, with one opening a cut over Dunham’s right eye.

Hoping to not let the cut dictate the final result, Dunham came out fast for round two, again almost catching Sherk in a guillotine choke twice before ‘The Muscle Shark’ worked his way free. With under two minutes left, the two traded blows standing, and Dunham, blood staining his face, had success tagging his opponent with punches, kicks and knees, earning him the round.

Dunham opened the final frame by rocking Sherk with a shot to the head. He rushed in for the finished, but Sherk quickly recovered and bulled his foe into the fence. Dunham held his ground and got free and when he did, he was able to continue tagging Sherk from long range and in close. With under a minute left, Dunham staggered Sherk with a knee, but instead of fading, Sherk fired back, and the two went toe to toe until the bell, garnering a well-deserved standing ovation.

What It Meant: In spite of the final result, Dunham’s performance against Sherk may have been his most impressive, as he pulled off numerous submission attempts, displayed solid standup, and showed no ill effects from dealing with a nasty cut over his eye. In essence, it was a dress rehearsal for a future title shot, and Dunham proved himself to be worthy of a starring role and not just an understudy position. If he keeps getting better, 2011 should be an interesting year, to say the least.