The UFC takes its second FOX Network fight card to Chicago, Illinois’ United Center tomorrow night for UFC on FOX 2: Evans vs. Davis. The national broadcast network will feature three fights this outing, including a newly shuffled fight between budding middleweight prospect “All American” Chris Weidman (7-0) and crafty submission veteran Demian Maia (15-3). The new co-main event features not only a battle for #1 contender to “The Spider” Anderson Silva’s (31-4) title, but also the crown for the most polarizing figure in MMA as Chael Sonnen (26-11-1) squares off against “The Count” Michael Bisping (22-3) in what is sure to be an all out war of skill and words. The main event is also a title eliminator as “Sugar” Rashad Evans (16-1-1) and “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis (9-0) vie for the next crack at 205lbs. phenom “Bones” Jon Jones (15-1). This fight is not being as hyped as it should be, as both fighters are highly skilled and pose very interesting problems to each other. The winner will also be heavily compared to the dynamic champ so a good showing here is a must for either fighter.
At First Glance: Since losing the title to “The Dragon” Lyoto Machida (17-3), Evans has been on a three-fight win streak intermixed with injury rehabilitation. This has resulted in Evans fighting only three times over the course of three years. However, that trio of bouts was against dangerous and seasoned opponents and he controlled the majority of each of those fights. His last outing was a terrifying destruction of “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz (16-10-1) that had even the rarely humble Chael Sonnen exclaiming that Rashad Evans proved he was the best light heavyweight in the world that night. Despite the lengthy lay-off, Evans showed he still had speed, power, killer instinct, and the transitional game that truly makes an MMA fighter successful at the highest levels of the sport. He also has an unwavering motivation to fight his former teammate Jon Jones and showed he is willing to crush anyone who stands in the way of that goal. Phil Davis brings a relatively small undefeated record into his tilt with “Sugar”. Most recently Phil bested veteran “Minotoro” Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (20-5). He was losing the striking exchanges early on, but instead of folding under the pressure of his first headlining bout against an experienced fighter, Davis dug deep, came back strong, and pulled out the win. It will take this level of fortitude to stay focused against the very dangerous Rashad Evans. “Mr. Wonderful” has also shown a healthy level of confidence coming into this fight, eagerly jawing with Evans at pressers and proclaiming he doesn’t care who Jones fights before him because he will be waiting when the dust settles.
In Depth: On paper it appears very clear that Rashad has all the advantages in this fight. Experience aside, Evans has functional power and devastating speed in his hands, unorthodox head movement, a truly stifling clinch game, and top-rate submission defense. “Sugar” has enough confidence in the pocket to push forward with fast hands backing opponents into the cage and catching them in his aforementioned clinch. From there he is happy to grate fighters into shredded cheese and open them up for takedowns. Many a foe has succumbed to his top game, which finds “Sugar” easily shrugging off submission attempts and making fighters pay for the attempts. Evans is known for his KO power but has been a little shy to show it since being knocked out himself. His confidence level does rise, however, when he knows he has the upper hand, as he showed with Ortiz and will undoubtedly show with Davis.
“Mr. Wonderful” is certainly far less experienced than Evans, but it is no accident that Phil is being thrust into this position so early in his career. The NCAA Division I champ has the one weapon that makes champions in this sport: the ability to take opponents down at will. Skeptics might point to Evans’ own wrestling background as cause for concern, but make no mistake, Davis has a much higher wrestling pedigree and he isn’t far removed from those college days. If he finds himself outmatched on the feet, a quick level change could find Rashad on his back, scrambling back to his feet where he will likely be met with one of Davis’ shoulders in his face as they jockey for position against the cage. Though Rashad is no stranger to this game (it has won him his fair share of fights) he will be outsized and outclassed in this department. If and when Davis puts Evans on his back the ensuing scramble will be met with Davis’ penchant for taking the back, something Rashad has not had to deal with often. If Davis finds success taking the back he will find a great defensive player in Evans who can keep submissions at bay, but these advantageous positions will allow Phil to land shots to the head and knees to the body and gain points on judges’ scorecards. Outside of his wrestling Phil has grown to emulate another man who was a fast rising young superstar, “Rush” Georges St. Pierre (22-2), in the striking department, mixing in leg kick-punch combos and stiff jabs to keep opponents off balance. However, his speed is still a work in progress and he will find most of his success using his reach advantage to keep Evans out of range, waiting for opportune moments to duck under punches and plant Rashad on the mat.
Wild Card: The true wild card in this fight will actually be a test of chins. Rashad was famously starched by Lyoto Machida in their title match, and was dropped and nearly finished by Thiago Silva (14-2) and “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (32-9) late in their respective fights. Ultimately Davis’ power will factor into this and if he does knock Rashad down “Mr. Wonderful” has certainly shown finishing instincts. Phil’s chin will also be put to the test since a flush punch from Evans leaves his opponents taking an uncomfortably long time coming back to their senses.
The Verdict: The winner will likely be dictated by the grappling exchanges – whichever fighter is able to impose their wrestling will likely edge the other out. However as the fight wears on Evans’ gas tank may begin to wane and winging punches and forward momentum will leave him wide open for takedowns. Once Phil has him on the ground he will stick like glue. Davis will look to tire Rashad early in the fight to make this an easier scenario in the deep rounds. Barring significant damage, Davis should take rounds three through five en route to a decision. Davis via Unanimous Decision