Atlanta, Georgia is the epicenter for mixed martial arts action this Saturday night as the Ultimate Fighting Championship presents UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans. “The Natural” John Alessio (34-14) and Mark Bocek (10-4) open up the main card with a lightweight exhibition. Featherweights make their presence known when “The Filipino Phenom” Eddie Yagin (15-5-1) faces former contender “The Machine” Mark Hominick (20-10). “The Hybrid” Brendan Schaub (8-2) tees off with fellow heavyweight behemoth “Big” Ben Rothwell (31-8). “Mayday” Michael McDonald (14-1) makes a big leap in competition when he stands across former WEC bantamweight champ “Angel” Miguel Torres (40-4). The co-main event is a showcase of promising welterweights as “Ares” Rory MacDonald (12-1) battles “Beautiful” Che Mills (14-4). In the main event, “Bones” Jon Jones (15-1) will put his light heavyweight title on the line again, this time against friend-turned-foe “Suga” Rashad Evans (17-1-1). No fight in the light heavyweight division has drawn up such a storm before now but once the cage door shuts Saturday night, the time to talk ends and the time to act begins.
At First Glance: After what seems like ages of talk and constant pre-hype banter, Jon Jones and Rashad Evans finally have a date set to let their rivalry come to a head. Everyone knows the meteoric rise of Jones. Seeing the judges’ decision only once in his UFC career, Jones has convincingly put away all contenders before him and all challengers to his belt. Now he will attempt to make good on his third title defense when he battles his former friend and training partner, Rashad Evans. Considered one of the best fighters to ever come out of The Ultimate Fighter series, Evans is largely seen as the toughest challenge Jones will have to date. The two men have trained alongside one another and with a rough idea of a gameplan to execute, many consider the wrestling base of Evans the tool that can defeat the young champion. A fight is just a fight to many fighters but as emotionally invested as these two have become, pride becomes at stake on top of that 11-pound belt of gold.
In Depth: In terms of the light heavyweight division, 2011 had Jon Jones’ name written all over it. Seizing the title with two successful defenses over former champions, Jones is well on his way to cleaning out the 205lbs. ranks. Jones founded his MMA career off his Greco-Roman wrestling but as the last year showcased, he has become fully able to fight off of all facets in MMA. Jones complimented his wrestling with a lethal submission game when he was able to hand “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (32-10) his first stoppage loss in the UFC and recently his infamous standing Guillotine Choke over Jiu-Jitsu black belt “The Dragon” Lyoto Machida (17-3). The only criticism that tends to plague Jones is the lack of technicality with his stand-up as Machida is the only fighter to date to exploit. However, with the longest reach in UFC history with 84.5 inches, the luxury of range grants Jones plenty of room, literally, to toss strikes that will connect even if with not the most textbook technique.
Former champion Evans will be the toughest competition Jones will have faced to date. As much as verbal sparring has ensued between the two, Evans gets a rare gem of an advantage that many before him did not have as he once was a coveted training partner of Jones and in turn, knows somewhat the mannerisms Jones presents in combat. Evans hails from a wrestling background as well and is quite possibly the best within his division at fluidly mixing his striking with takedown opportunities. UFC 114 was supposed to be the epic encounter between he and Quinton Jackson but by being able to overwhelm Jackson with strikes long enough to set up the takedown and vice versa, Evans was able to take a one-sided victory. Although he holds one-punch KO power, Evans as of late has shown a vast improvement in his stand-up, overwhelming both “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz (16-10) and “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis (9-1) while en route to victory The only weapon that has yet to be seen from “Suga” is his submission capabilities. Regardless, Evans showed that he understands the purpose of gaining and maintaining positioning, just as he did against Davis by obtaining the Crucifix numerous times and even pulling guard against Jackson. These two rivals are spelled out for a fight of the ages but despite being beside each other day-to-day for years, there is always the one issue in a fight that has to be addressed…
Wild Card: Speed. The reach of Jon Jones will always be an issue for every fighter standing opposite of him will have to deal with, but what Jones will need to be weary of now is just how fast Evans is. “Suga” showed how much “speed kills” when he connected with a devastating overhand right as “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell (21-8) opted for an uppercut at the same time. He might lack the pounce Machida had to trouble Jones initially, but if Evans can get Jones lost at distance via a miscue or simply a missed strike, he can force his way into distance to get work done just as he did with Jackson. The disadvantage of height though can turn on Evans if he gets too comfortable or lazy pressuring within Jones’ reach. The champion has shown his clinch has been the demise of many and with a knack for finding the neck, a choke can be soon to follow if Evans gives even the slightest opening.
The Verdict: What makes this fight so exciting for many in the MMA community is not that Jones has been on a tear, it is that the possibility of tasting defeat is actually prevalent. “Shogun” came with injury, “Rampage” was unmotivated, “The Dragon” was talented but undeserving. No matter what excuse fans will use to discourage Jones’ past victories, there is nothing to discredit the fight as Evans is coming in healthy, motivated, and well-deserving of the title shot. Statisically, Evans will hold the best chances of beating the young champion and might very well walk out of Atlanta with the gold around his waist again. However, the degree to which Jones rose to the top and the manner how he got there supports he will hold on to the strap for a long time to come. Expect a slow start as even rivals can respect the skills of one another but unless Evans can find his groove first, the night is most likely going to see Jones with his hand raised again via convincing fashion. Jones via TKO (Strikes), Round 3