It was the final hurdle in an exhausting journey, but Rashad Evans' win over Phil Davis Saturday night (Jan. 28, 2012) at the United Center in Chicago, Ill., secured him a chance to regain the light heavyweight title.
The long-elusive opportunity has been a quest for Evans, with only slightly less chapters than a Dostoyevsky novel. First slotted to take on Mauricio Rua, which was delayed by Shogun's knee injury, Evans subsequently was injured with then-teammate Jon Jones filling in for him against Rua last March. Then, after winning the title in a brutal performance over Rua, Jones claimed a hand injury prevented him from fighting Evans, and he followed it by defending against Quinton Jackson instead.
This one's been cooking in the pot for while, folks, and when it's served up April 21, 2012, as the main event in UFC 145 at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Ga., it will be ready to serve.
But the interesting subplot is that if Jones wins, it essentially cleans out the top-tier run of potential light heavyweight opponents for him, outside of the seemingly ageless Dan Henderson.
Jones hasn't just beaten Rua, Jackson and Lyoto Machida, but essentially dominated and destroyed them so much that it's going to be tough to promote more than one rematch. Why? Because Jones is improving with each fight, while all of these guys are either in their prime or merely getting old.
In a second go-round with any three of them, I'm predicting he beats them even easier, if that's possible. I feel confident saying this only because I predicted Jones in three over Rua and in a fourth-round submission over Jackson. I have been high on him for a while, because he's doing things that simply weren't done before, with a kind of easy mastery that only the truly great ones have.
And the scary thing is he's probably three-to-four years away from his physical prime. That is plain scary.
I don't expect Evans to give him much of a test, and that's why you have to wonder what the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and fans will want from Jones. Are they going to take him down a series of increasingly hard-to-sell rematches? He's already aced a vexing series of light heavyweight tests, and his 2011 -- with four wins over top-five opponents -- and a submission of then-undefeated Ryan Bader, was the single-greatest calendar year showing in the history of the sport (Rua's epic tear through Pride in 2005 runs a close second).
Evans-Jones is a logical next fight. The two have legitimate bad blood with one another, and it's nicely placed in Atlanta, a city that prides itself as a showpiece of African American achievement. But I can't help but think that this is little more than a likely checkmark on Bones' hit-list until people start wondering when he'll move up against the big boys. Because while Evans did enough to win against Davis, there wasn't anything new he showed that suggested he'll have the striking to trouble Jones, or the kind of high-level takedowns he'll need to take the fight down to the mat.
And while I'll always hold Henderson up as one of the all-time greats, he's going to have a really tough time against Jones, too. After Hendo's had his crack, what's left?
But being champion also means performing at a consistent level that drives people to suggest future fights aren't competitive, and Bones will have to prove he can stay focused. It's enough to carry me through to UFC 145, but after this fight, my prediction is that people start openly asking when he moves up.
A tour through Rematchville will only be exciting for so long.
Jason Probst can be reached at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst or at firstname.lastname@example.org