Updated (originally published January 28, 2012) – In just a matter of hours, the UFC will present its biggest light heavyweight championship fight in ages at UFC 145. Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans will finally hit the octagon and it’s not too late to take a look at this championship collision.
While it is hard to manipulate storylines in MMA, the UFC lucked into a goldmine here. Teacher vs. students, sparring partner vs. sparring partner, former champion vs. former champion, former friend vs. former friend, the stories for this fight are endless. It is as if Vince McMahon wrote it himself.
For those of you that don’t know, here is the quick and dirty history of Evans and Jones. Jones and Evans were sparring partners who said they’d never fight each other. Evans got an injury a few weeks before a UFC light heavyweight title shot at Shogun Rua. Jones stepped in, won the title, and depending upon who you believe, said he’d fight Evans. Evans left Greg Jackson’s camp, the fight was on, and then Jones pulled out of the fight saying he needed surgery. Jones later passed on surgery, Evans then accused Jones of running scared, and here we sit today with one of the biggest grudge matches in UFC history on our hands.
[adinserter block=”2″]I wrote after Jones’ win over Rampage Jackson that Evans would be his first real test. Again, I don’t buy that Jackson, Rua, and Bader were real tests. Evans will be the first truly multidimensional fighter that Jones will fight in his MMA career. He has never fought anyone like Evans and it will be fascinating to see how Jones handles that kind of pressure.
The two only have one common opponent in Jackson. I hate judging fights based on common opponents, but we all do it so here we go. Both guys dominated Jackson. Ironically one dominated Jackson on the ground while the other preferred to strike with Rampage. Evans was in serious trouble at one point against Jackson whereas Jones looked like he was sparring for four rounds. Jones put Jackson away while Evans won a unanimous decision. Basing this fight purely off of their common opponent, Jones would be the clear favorite.
I think there is a lot to be said about big time fights. Jones has only has two big time fights in his life, while Evans has been fighting in high profile fights for the last four years, eight to be exact. Evans has handled every situation from fighting a legend like Chuck Liddell, to fighting over his head early in his career against Tito Ortiz, to fighting in a grudge match against Rampage Jackson, to fighting for the UFC light heavyweight championship against Forrest Griffin and defending against Lyoto Machida. Evans is 7-1-1 in the big fights. He finished four of those fights by either KO or TKO. He was only dominated once. The guy delivers in the big spot. The same can be said for Jones, but two big time fights to 8 isn’t real impressive.
Taking a look at each guy’s last five fights, Evans has fought a much more versatile set of opponents than Jones. Evans has fought elite strikers, BJJ artists, and grapplers and beat all but one. Jones fought two elite strikers who some will argue are on the downside of their careers. No matter how much of an advantage Jones may have with his reach, there is a lot to be said about preparing for all of these different kinds of fighters and scenarios. I think that is a highly overlooked aspect of this fight that will play to Evans’ advantage.
If there is one thing that Jones has going for him it is his inexperience. Wait, what did I just say? Yes, his inexperience or lack of tape. The point being, Jones is constantly evolving. He does new things in each and every fight, multiple times and in various situations. Rashad Evans has 19 fights and seven years of experience. The book is pretty much out on Evans. It is thick, but the unpredictability of Jones could be a big problem for Evans.
Finally, I think there is a lot to be said about the sparring partner situation. If Jones has a weakness, who would know it better than a guy who sparred with him? Although that is a big if, because who said that Jones even showed a weakness in camp? Maybe Evans gets in his head and Jones spends more time trying to work on a weakness exposed to Evans than evolving his game altogether? Maybe Evans is the one who overexposed himself here? I think there is a fascinating story here that will play into the finish of this fight no matter who wins the championship.
[adinserter block=”1″]Jones was a heavy favorite on the sportsbooks the first time this fight was announced. After his one-sided demolition of Rampage, those odds slightly increased depending upon the book. As of today he currently has -450 odds to Evans +325. In my opinion, this fight has all of the makings of an upset. It is very dangerous to overlook a guy that has the MMA pedigree of Rashad Evans. At Jon Jones young age, the arrogance may influence him to do the same thing. That intangible is the difference maker to me in this one.
I picked Rashad Evans early in this one and I am sticking with my prediction. One thing I love about Evans is that he will find his opponents weak point, expose it, and frustrate his opponent which generally results in Evans seizing open opportunities. If he can do that with Bones, it will be fascinating to see how the champion reacts to being outmatched for the first time in his career. Does he regroup or does he succumb to the same frustrations as most of Evans’ past victims?
I’ll go with the latter and a fourth round KO win from Evans.