The UFC 156 co-main event tonight (Feb. 2, 2013) between Rashad Evans vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, which takes place at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, is a mixed martial arts (MMA) match up between two of the better 205-pound fighters on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster.
However, it is an odd duck because a 185-pound title shot could result from it for "Suga" should he win impressively (read more on that here).
After an impressive Octagon debut where he brilliantly dissected Luis Cane via knockout, Nogueira's problem with power grapplers became a recurring factor in performances. Struggling to a razor-thin decision win over Jason Brilz, he was then decisioned by Ryan Bader and Phil Davis, with the same issues apparent -- mileage in the game, modest takedown defense and the relative resistance of opponents to submissions, compared to his earlier days in Pride FC, limited his success.
However, Nog remains a durable veteran with solid boxing and tons of experience;
Evans' task is to dictate the action and win rounds in such a fashion as to capitalize on the buzz he'd create if he dropped to Middleweight. It's a matchup that completely favors Evans, whose blend of wrestling and striking give him options aplenty to dictate the pace and style of the bout.
Nog has been off since his Dec. 2011 stoppage of the faded Tito Ortiz, recovering from a knee injury, which are always tough, particularly at 36 years old after a long career. Evans' return after his five-round domination at the hands of division champion Jon Jones brings some questions, too.
How well will he perform having been completely whitewashed last April?
Evans has always been once of the best gameplanners in the sport, as his smart blend of tactics have given him considerable success that outweights his relatively modest wrestling credentials. He's also always in top condition, which will be key for him to register a big performance against what could be a Nog that fades down the stretch.
For Nog, he's definitely aware that this is a bubble fight for him to keep himself from being relegated several notches down the light-heavyweight pile. Will he take risks if he falls behind? Will he open up his strikes if he's outwrestled early and clearly loses rounds?
It won't be enough to put together a modest performance -- it's almost certain that Evans will surge ahead early, forcing a meaningful response from Nog if he's to get the win.
Evans' striking is probably good enough to stay at least even with Nog, and maybe even hurt him. His ability to land solid shots on minimal openings is excellent, and his quickness and footwork are really solid assets. He'll flit in and out and use angles, establishing his stand up while wearing down Nog; the Brazilian has shown improved takedown defense in recent bouts, but Evans will simply keep mixing in strikes and tie-ups en route to getting it to the mat.
From there, by mid-fight, Evans will be landing hurtful ground-and-pound enough to build a clear lead on judges' cards. By the third, he'll have stunned Nog enough to mount a big closing flurry that will prompt a referee stoppage.
Evans via third-round knockout
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the UFC 156 PPV main card action, which is slated to start promptly at 10 p.m. ET. Up-to-the-minute updates and fight-by-fight coverage will begin to flow earlier than that, however, around 6:30 p.m. ET with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook and FX.
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst.