ATLANTA -- Depending on your perspective, the rivalry between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans is either the most fascinating or tiresome feud MMA has seen in some time. The two have been sniping back and forth at each other for over a year now, since around the time Jones made a fairly innocent remark about what the future might hold for them.
At the time, Jones and Evans were both training under the same group, Team Greg Jackson. Evans had already started to separate himself from the camp’s Albuquerque, New Mexico base, but retained strong ties from his years there. Jones, meanwhile, was its new rising star, a wunderkind steamrolling his way towards the top. Because of that, Jones was asked about the possibility of one day facing Evans.
“It's Dana [White]'s world when you're a UFC fighter and we live in it," he said during a February 2011 TV interview. "So, I respect Dana a lot, and if that's what he absolutely wanted to happen, I guess that's what would have to happen."
It wasn’t exactly a one-hand slap across the face, but to Evans, it might as well have been. The team’s unwritten rule of teammates not fighting each other had been cast aside, and worse, his former coaches had taken the new kid’s side. Since that day, Evans and Jones have been on a collision course. They’ve had words at a Las Vegas nightclub. They’ve ripped each other in the media. They’ve dissected and slighted each other’s games. And now, finally, perhaps mercifully, they meet at UFC 145.
Jon Jones (15-1) vs. Rashad Evans (17-1-1)
Philips Arena - Atlanta
Jones has been a wrecking machine since his early days, and has gotten better as his competition level advanced. That said, he’s been placed in the position as such an overwhelming favorite, it borders on the ridiculous, with some odds listing him as a 6-to-1 favorite against a fighter who has only one loss in his career. Again, Evans is a guy who has trained with Jones in the past and has a good idea of how to deal with his length and range, yet no one is giving him much of a chance. If that’s adding any extra pressure on Jones, you can’t tell from his demeanor. And in one of the few compliments paid from one side to the other, even Evans acknowledged the unusual challenges of facing Jones, saying he didn’t even bother to have someone emulate him in camp.
“There’s no sense in that,” Evans said last week. “Jon has a unique style. No sense trying to get used to someone else when he does his own thing.”
Wrestling With the Truth
Both Jones and Evans count wrestling as their base martial art. Because of it, don’t be surprised if the struggle for supremacy is symbolized from the unwillingness of either man to back down from gaining superiority when they square off. Historically, Jones has been the better of the two. According to stats provider FightMetric, Evans has taken down opponents on 55 percent of attempts, and stuffed 67 percent of attempts against him. Jones, meanwhile, has had a takedown accuracy rate of 64 percent, and he’s never been taken down in his career. Evans figures to challenge that perfect defensive record.
For Jones, history seems to be around every turn. He was the youngest champion in UFC history when he captured the belt at 23. He fought -- and finished - four top 10 fighters in 2011, the first man to do that in one calendar year. If he beats Jones, he will be the first ever to beat four former UFC champions in a row. He’s already taken out Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida. For now, he’s tied with Brock Lesnar, who beat Randy Couture, Frank Mir and Shane Carwin consecutively, and Renzo Gracie, who beat Pat Miletich, Carlos Newton and Frank Shamrock consecutively although all those wins came outside of the UFC.
Rory MacDonald has been one of the UFC’s top prospects for a couple of years. Just 22 years old, MacDonald (12-1) has already faced quality opposition like Carlos Condit, Nate Diaz and Mike Pyle. He’s beaten each of the last two in impressive performances, and that makes his co-main event matchup with Che Mills something of a step back at least in terms of name opposition. Mills flashed some impressive striking skills in his promotional debut last November, but he’s little known to the MMA audience outside of his native UK. Because of that, it’s the proverbial trap fight for MacDonald. It’s not unusual for the UFC to give prospects a fight like this to see how they handle the situation before they can be deemed ready for the bigtime spotlight.
Three to Watch
Many have called the event a one-fight card, but that’s only because the Evans-Jones fight has so clearly overshadowed everything else. While it may be true that no other fight has immediate title ramifications, there are long-term implications at play for a few. One is the bantamweight fight between Michael McDonald and Miguel Torres. McDonald has looked brilliant so far, going 4-0 under the Zuffa banner, and the former champ Torres is his most challenging opponent to date.
Meanwhile, welterweight Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson wowed the worldwide MMA audience with a headkick knockout in his UFC 143 debut. Opponent Matt Brown also does his best work standing up, so that could be a barn-burner. And while the heavyweights heat up next month with the all big men affair at UFC 146, Chad Griggs and Travis Browne kick things off a few weeks early. Browne is still unbeaten in 13 fights and considered a legit prospect, while the undersized Griggs has surprised at every turn, and will be aiming to derail another hype train.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
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