This Saturday night (Nov. 16, 2013) light heavyweights Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen will square off in the pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event of UFC 167 from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The fight presents an interesting dynamic in that it doesn't have the trash talk and build up of a normal Sonnen bout. That's because Sonnen and Evans are friends and broadcast partners on "UFC Tonight." They'll have to put that friendship aside if they ever want to fight for the title again.
Both fighters won their last Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bout. Former 205-pound champion Evans defeated Dan Henderson via split decision at UFC 161 last June. It certainly wasn't "Suga's" finest effort in the Octagon, however.
Evans claims that he's found renewed vigor for the sport and is eager to make another title run.
Sonnen, on the other hand, comes in off an impressive submission victory over Mauricio Rua at UFC Fight Night 27 in August. Most thought submissions were Sonnen's downfall, so it was a bit surprising to see him use them to his benefit. Despite being thoroughly handled by then-UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva and UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones before facing off with "Shogun," Sonnen has shown that he can handle most opponents outside of the very best in the world.
UFC 167's co-main event features two of the best wrestlers in MMA. But can Evans and Sonnen put their friendship aside for 15 minutes and deliver the bout that fans actually deserve?
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Rashad Evans vs. Chael Sonnen:
Record: 20-3-1 overall, 13-3-1 UFC
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 145), Lyoto Machida (UFC 98), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (UFC 156)
Keys to Victory: Number four-ranked Evans has a few glaring keys to victory at UFC 167.
First, his speed and movement have always been his greatest assets inside the cage. To win he'll need to stay one step ahead of Sonnen's aggressive takedown game. Evans has guaranteed that Sonnen will not outwrestle him at UFC 167; he can deliver on that promise with excellent footwork and elusiveness.
That quickness is also going to help him win the battle on the feet. Sonnen has never been known for top-level striking, so it's here that "Suga" should have an edge. If he can avoid Sonnen's shots and pick him apart with jabs, hooks, and combinations, he'll be well on his way to sealing up a decision win. He might even get a technical knockout stoppage.
Sonnen has been finished by technical knockout four times and he's lost an incredible eight fights by tapping out.
Evans is rarely regarded as a high-level submission practitioner despite having a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. If Evans does get taken down he should start to look for a fight-ending hold to surprise Sonnen. He should do the same if he can score a takedown of his own.
Overall, Evans is a well-rounded mixed martial artist who has immense skills in wrestling, striking, and grappling. It's up to him to put his friendship with Sonnen aside to further his cause in UFC. He's an experienced professional so that should be no problem.
If Evans can avoid getting smothered and keep a high volume of accurate strikes going, a convincing win will be within reach this Saturday night.
Record: 29-13-1 overall, 7-6 UFC
Keys to Victory: It's no secret that former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler Sonnen is going to look for his patented power double leg takedown the minute this fight begins. It's his most effective weapon. Even though his opponents know that it's coming, few have been able to wholly neutralize it.
Although Sonnen claims that he doesn't count on getting Evans to the ground in this bout, you can bet that won't stop him from trying. It's what worked against Silva initially, against Bisping, and even against "Shogun," to a lesser extent. Sonnen has to prove that his wrestling pedigree is a cut above Evans' polished mat skills.
If he can do that, an opportunity to smother Evans will arise.
Sonnen doesn't exactly have the most power in his punches, so a stoppage via ground-and-pound is unlikely against an opponent of "Suga's" caliber. Sonnen has shown proficiency in chokes as of late and could definitely look to end Evans' night with an arm triangle or guillotine.
But he'll most likely look to grind Evans down with wrestling and top control.
Sonnen is a company man who always looks to deliver for the fans and his employers. He won't have any thoughts about he and Evans' friendship resonating in his head. Number seven-ranked Sonnen knows that his relevancy rests on this fight.
Sonnen will bring the fight to Evans early. He'll lock up the victory if he can negate "Suga's" lateral movement and footwork.
Bottom Line from Las Vegas: The bottom line for this fight is obviously going to come down to the wrestling game. With two highly skilled mat technicians such as these, the bout might be contested mainly on the feet.
If that is indeed the case, Evans is going to hold a significant advantage.
Sonnen has surprised at times with his striking, but overall, he's just middle-of-the-road.
He doesn't possess a whole lot of knockout power, and there's just simply no way that he can consistently beat Evans to the punch in Las Vegas. He may have a few new tricks up his sleeve this Saturday night; they just can't be along the lines of the ill-fated spinning backfist he attempted against Silva at UFC 148.
Beyond that, whoever puts their emotions aside for the sake of furthering their career will have a big leg up here. Sonnen has his long-awaited bout with Wanderlei Silva looming, which could definitely affect his focus concerning Evans. Evans has claimed that this the reason this fight isn't getting the "burn" it could have.
"Suga" needs to capitalize on that in order to prove that he's still among the best light heavyweights in the world. Stylistically he's a bad match-up for Sonnen; he needs to prove that in the Octagon this Saturday night.
A very big fight will await the winner of this bout, so the stakes are high in this battle of friends. There's no love lost in the fight game. Let's hope that this bout can deliver on the great potential that both Evans and Sonnen bring to the Octagon.
Can Rashad Evans prove that he still belongs in light heavyweight title discussions or will Chael Sonnen send "Suga" to his third loss in four fights? Let us know your predictions below!