A shot at Jon Jones and the UFC light heavyweight title is on the line this Saturday night (January 28, 2012) as former champion "Suga" Rashad Evans takes on undefeated wrestler Phil Davis in the main event of UFC on FOX 2 in Chicago.
Evans has been set back by repeated bad luck, missing out on a title shot in 2011 due to injury, and time and time again having his title shot delayed by injuries to Jon Jones or himself. He's already had two post-fight staredowns with Jon Jones and he'll be looking to earn his third with a victory over Phil Davis on Saturday night.
Phil Davis has been talked about as one of the last potential challengers to Jon Jones in the light heavyweight division. The former national champion wrestler out of Penn State holds a spotless record in MMA and has manhandled nearly every UFC opponent he's faced. He'll be hoping to do the same in what is clearly his toughest test to date.
Will Evans finally end his streak of bad luck and get the shot at Jones he desperately desires? Can "Mr. Wonderful" play spoiler and take his UFC career to the next level with an upset victory? What does each man need to do to be victorious this weekend?
Let's find out:Rashad Evans
Record: 16-1-1 overall, 11-1-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Lyoto Machida (UFC 98)
How he got here: After a respectable career wrestling at Michigan State, Rashad Evans, under the wing of former UFC tournament champion Dan Severn, won his first five professional fights. This earned him an opportunity to compete on season two of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
Despite fighting at a weight class heavier than normal, Evans tore through the heavyweights on the show, eventually working his way to the finale where he earned a split decision victory over the significantly larger Brad Imes to become The Ultimate Fighter season two champion.
After some less than dominant split and majority decision victories over Sam Hoger and Stephan Bonnar, Evans finally found his groove, earning a technical knockout (TKO) over Jason Lambert with ground and pound and then scoring one of the UFC's all time nastiest finishes with the head kick knockout of Sean Salmon.
Evans would go on to have his now infamous draw with Tito Ortiz and would follow it up by defeating Michael Bisping via decision, sending him to the middleweight division. The victory would earn "Suga" a number one contender match against former champion Chuck Liddell and one massive overhand right would change his life forever, flooring Liddell, earning "Knockout of the Year," and earning him his first title shot against champion Forrest Griffin.
After a shaky first couple rounds against Griffin at UFC 92, Evans took advantage of a slip, pounced and pummeled his way to victory to take the title and standing atop the division. His title reign would be short, though, halted by Lyoto Machida in his first defense just five months later.
Since losing the championship, Evans has rebounded nicely by defeating Thiago Silva and "Rampage" Jackson via decision, but an ill-advised choice to sit on the sidelines and wait for Mauricio Rua's knee to recover cost him badly. After nine months on the sidelines, "Suga" injured his knee while training and had to watch teammate Jon Jones crush "Shogun" and win the belt he'd had his eyes on for over a year.
After cutting ties with Jackson's MMA and feuding with Jones, Evans had to deal with opponent change after opponent change from Jones, to Phil Davis and now late replacement Tito Ortiz
How he gets it done: Evans' secret weapon ever since losing his title was going back to his roots in the wrestling department. He was able to completely dominate Thiago Silva positionally, even if he didn't do much damage in the fight and he used a mix of everything to defeat Quinton Jackson.
That's not to say Evans doesn't have power. His ferocious knockouts of Liddell, Salmon and his title victory over Griffin should be a testament to that. He was also the only person in the UFC thus far that has really hurt "Rampage" Jackson in the stand-up, landing a huge right hand in the opening minute of their grudge match.
Expect "Suga" to dance around Davis early, utilizing his speed and movement and looking to land the power. He should be confident in his stand-up for this fight as he should have a significant power and technique edge over Davis with his punches. If Davis comes out throwing a ton of kicks, Evans will likely try to catch one and take him down.
I'm not expecting the same ferocious Evans from the Tito Ortiz fight, as he knew he had his opponent severely outmatched. He will likely be much more cautious on the ground this time around if he can put Davis down. He'll likely be content to stay in Davis' guard and ride some time off the clock, posturing up and dropping punches only if he feels weakness from his opponent.
Record: 9-0 overall, 5-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Phil Davis was a very successful wrestler at Penn State, competing in the 197 pounds where he was a four-time All-American and the 2008 NCAA Division I national champion. When his college career was over, Davis immediately transitioned into mixed martial arts, even working alongside fellow newcomer Jon Jones for a short time.
After just four fights, "Mr. Wonderful" was signed by the UFC and thrown in against former WEC light heavyweight champion Brian Stann in his debut with the promotion. The Pennsylvania natives scrapped, but it was all Davis as he outmuscled Stann so badly that ex-marine dropped a weight class afterwards.
Davis followed up his victory over Stann with a string of impressive performances which included two submissions over Alexander Gustafsson and Tim Boetch as well as a decision victory against Rodney Wallace. The Boetsch submission in particular was impressive as he used a hybrid move he got to name after himself.
The Alliance MMA fighter took on his toughest test to date in his last bout against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, in which he had to make quick adjustments on the fly and was forced to utilize some of his stand-up attack after having some trouble putting his opponent on the ground. Davis eventually passed the test, scoring a unanimous decision victory over the Pride veteran.
He was originally slated to face Evans at UFC 133, but had to back out with a knee injury and now he once again finds himself matched up against the TUF season two winner.
How he gets it done: Davis has had a significant amount of time to work on his striking since last fighting Nogueira in March. If he's forced to stand for any significant duration, keep an eye out for his kicks more than his punches. "Mr. Wonderful's" kicks weren't thrown with the best technique his last time out, but with all the practice he's had, I expect them to be considerably sharper this time around. Expect lots of kicks from Davis, whether to the leg, body or even the head.
Evans utilizes a ton of movement to the point of wasting energy, so if Davis really wants to hit him, he needs to close the distance and either clinch or work for takedowns. The former Penn State standout doesn't need much space to get the fight to the ground, instead all he needs is an opening to knock Evans off balance whether it's with a trip or simple leverage with his terrific technique.
If he can put Evans on the ground, keeping him there is more important than doing damage. He's got to wear Evans out a bit as "Suga" has been known to slow down in the later rounds. Expect to see a lot of positional control from Davis as he's likely not going to take too many risks if he can put his opponent on the ground. If Evans tires in the later rounds, it could create an opening for him to pull off a submission.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest factor for this fight is not only who can score the first takedown, but how good are both men off their backs? While we've come to expect stand-up fights when two high level wrestlers collide in MMA competition, both of these guys are almost certainly going to try to impose their will on their opponent early and often. We really haven't seen much if any of either man off their backs other than when Evans got dropped by Machida and Rampage. If either man panics or is incapable of defending themselves properly from their backs, it could put them in a very rough situation.
Bottom Line: This fight could be a very intriguing grappling exhibition, featuring some sweeps, ground and pound, takedowns and occasional stand-up exchanges, or it could turn into a very boring drawn-out affair of two men afraid to open up in the stand-up for fear of the other's wrestling. It could also turn into a fight where both men utilize very safe gameplans. There's a title on the line and Rashad Evans has been wanting this for so long and been delayed time and time again, he might do whatever it takes to win, even if it's not exciting. I'm preparing myself for both outcomes and you should as well.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FOX 2? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!