Quinton Jackson had just won a hard fought unanimous decision against Keith Jardine in the main event of UFC 96. It was his second consecutive win -- the first being a brutal knockout against Wanderlei Silva three months prior -- since losing the UFC light heavyweight title to Forrest Griffin.
It was supposed to be a moment for "Rampage" to enjoy, a moment where he stood inside the Octagon and made his intentions to get back the title he had lost less than a year earlier. He had bested a man who held wins over Griffin and longtime foe Chuck Liddell and figured out the riddle they could not.
But instead of celebrating, the PRIDE Fighting Championships veteran was too busy talking. He traded in physical sparring for verbal when fellow former champion Rashad Evans stepped inside the Octagon after seeing his teammate get defeated. The two light heavyweight titans stood nose to nose, trading barbs back and forth, whetting the appetite of every fight fan in the process.
To help promote their bout -- which would end up being one of the most successful in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history -- the promotion pegged them both as The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) coaches and added internet street fighting sensation Kimbo Slice along to the already volatile mix.
Evans is no stranger to bouts with bad blood. He is currently six days away (April 21) from yet another, this time against former teammate Jon Jones. He will meet the 205 pounds champion at UFC 145: "Jones vs. Evans" in a fight with hype not unlike the UFC 114 bout with "Rampage."
Let's take a closer look at that bout.
Jackson takes the center of the Octagon as soon as the bout starts and throws out a quick jab. Evans answers back seconds later with his own. He doubles up on a left jab all the while bringing a right hook across. It's a right hook "Rampage" never sees coming.
It slams against the Memphis native's jaw and sends him staggering towards the mat. The fans in attendance explode in applause as Jackson tries to get back to a vertical base and reorganize his thoughts. Evans pounces, pressing his opponent against the cage. He looks for a quick takedown but momentarily begins working with punches before going back to working towards getting the fight to the mat.
Imposing his will on "Rampage," Evans begins kneeing his opponent's thighs and punching the body. Every attempt Jackson makes to reverse position is squashed by the TUF 2 winner. After a couple minutes of jockeying against the chain-link fence, the two are broken up and reset in the center of the cage.
Evans begins pawing his jab out, keeping Jackson at bay. He finally moves forward with a combination and changes level at the last possible second to avoid his opponent's counter. He latches onto Jackson's legs and dumps "Rampage" onto the mat. Jackson is able to get to his feet several seconds later but eats several punches in the process. And even though he's now vertical, Jackson still has Evans grinding against him, hoping to sap energy and will out of his opponent's body.
The second round begins with both men trying to size the other up. Evans finally wades in, getting tags by several of Jackson's punches but none land with consequence. "Suga" is able to grab ahold of his opponent and once again forces him against the cage. Jackson is able to force his opponent off in much quicker fashion this time around but not before eating more body punches and knees to the thigh.
The gameplan being employed by Evans goes unimpeded, however, and a stuffed takedown leads both men to the same position they were in only seconds earlier. A little over halfway through the stanza, they are broken up and reset. Throughout the rest of the round, "Rampage" lands basically nothing in the stand-up. His offense amounts to a couple of punches in the clinch combined with a handful of knees.
Evans is absolutely having his way with Jackson.
The final five minute period begins much like the previous did. Evans shoots in but is shrugged off by "Rampage." It seems Jackson isn't as tired as Evans' corner would hope. Still, though, he is down two rounds and needs something big to go his way if he hopes to come out victorious.
Then, a little over a minute into the round, it happens.
"Suga" dives in for a takedown which Jackson defends perfectly. As Evans begins to stand back up, "Rampage" nails him with a huge uppercut that sends the UFC 145 headliner straight to the mat. Much like they did in the opening round, the crowd lights up as Jackson begins to deliver ground and pound. Evans, for his part, is trying to simultaneously recover and avoid getting rocked for a second time.
Jackson stops the onslaught, likely to avoid gassing himself out or possibly because he's already exhausted. Regardless, he works to improve and then maintain his position on top of Evans as opposed to attacking. Evans uses this reprieve to get back to his feet a minute later. Although Jackson still has ahold of a leg, he releases it and resets in the center of the cage, hoping to use his boxing to secure the win.
At least, if this was Jackson's plan, he executes it horribly. He throws absolutely nothing in the next minute, allowing "Suga" to recover and then eventually nail a takedown. From there, Evans begins landing ground and pound until the round ends.
Evans would win the decision that night and earn a title shot but opted to wait out Mauricio Rua's injury. In doing so, he suffered an injury himself and saw Jones take on -- and defeat -- "Shogun."
Four fights and a ton of trash talk between them later, we're finally ready for the two to meet inside the Octagon.
Can Evans become a two-time champion or will Jones add another notch in "Suga's" loss column?