At long last, the talk is over. When Jon Jones and Rashad Evans square off in the UFC 145 main event at the Philips Arena in Atlanta on Saturday, every possible angle in the feud will have been exhausted and analyzed. We know that Jones wouldn’t let Evans look at his secret book of strategy. We know that Evans feels betrayed by former trainer Greg Jackson. To make a long story short, we know just about everything except how these two talented light heavyweights will react when locked together inside the Octagon.
Jones is looking to clear out the 205-pound division, and Evans represents a significant obstacle in his way. A former champion himself, “Suga” believes he has the necessary knowledge to take down his former Jackson’s MMA teammate. If he doesn’t, then Dan Henderson is waiting in the wings. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. People have been talking about Jones-Evans for more than a year, so savor the moment, for as long as it lasts. Here is a closer look at UFC 145, with analysis and picks.
Light Heavyweight Championship
Jones (15-1, 9-1 UFC) vs. Rashad Evans
(17-1-1, 12-1-1 UFC)
The Matchup: After all the talk that has taken place over the course of the past year, it will be interesting to see if either man has gained any type of psychological edge. While Evans certainly knows Jones better than his previous opponents from having trained with him, the champion is much more confident and evolved since their last sparring and grappling sessions together. Evans has made it clear that he believes Greg Jackson chose Jones over him, but allowing emotion to get the best of him would be a mistake, as it would detract from the carefully crafted game plan it will take to defeat his former teammate.
Jones had his first taste of adversity in the first round of his UFC 140 bout with Lyoto Machida. The karateka moved effectively in and out of striking distance throughout the frame, connecting with enough solid punches to have Jones looking worried. Of course, “Bones” imposed his will in the second round, turning the tide with a wicked elbow to the forehead before finishing Machida with a standing guillotine choke. While Jones might have lost a round, he didn’t experience adversity in the truest sense. Anderson Silva losing the first four rounds of his bout with Chael Sonnen before pulling off a Hail Mary submission at UFC 117 is a better example of a champion prevailing with his back against the wall. So far, Jones has yet to be knocked down or taken down in any of his fights, so in that sense, he has yet to be tested.
Lost among all the complaints that Evans failed to finish Phil Davis in his last outing was the fact that “Suga” actually put on a pretty good performance. Matched up with an NCAA champion wrestler with a size and reach advantage, Evans swept every round. He scored takedowns while stuffing Davis’ shots, and, on several occasions, moved into the dominant mounted crucifix position. On the feet, he made Davis look tentative and mechanical, answering single shot offerings with multi-punch combinations. Considering that Davis was once regarded as the type of athletic talent who could challenge Jones, such a dominant victory should not be taken lightly.
Evans will face similar obstacles against Jones, only with less margin for error than he had versus Davis. The Jackson’s MMA product will utilize his 9.5-inch reach advantage in every way possible. He can land kicks from incredible distance, and his sense of timing and balance allow him to be more creative with his strikes than a fighter with lesser physical tools could be. Jones has not been known for his knockout power, but as he continues to grow into his frame, it only figures to increase.
Evans will have to move in and out of range, using his own quickness and athleticism to his advantage. While not as elusive as Machida, Evans is probably quicker than any opponent Jones has faced to date. Judicious use of footwork and movement will allow him to land combinations, and if Evans sees an opening, he does possess explosive one-shot power. Evans won’t be able to muscle Jones to the canvas, so he
ust use his striking to set up timely shots for takedowns. It is worth the risk, if only to see how Jones might respond when placed on his back. This is much easier said than done, however, because Jones is the one who usually dictates the tempo when it comes to wrestling. Takedowns come from all angles, and once on the mat, Jones uses his long limbs to negate any offense from his foe. His length also comes into play in the submission game, as the New York native seems to be able to secure chokes from the most unlikely positions.
The Pick: Evans is going to struggle mightily as he attempts to get close enough to Jones to mount any significant offense. The champion will exchange with Evans for a while, but he will eventually make the Imperial Athletics representative fight in close. Then, all bets are off. Jones by third-round submission.
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