Two of the best Light Heavyweights in the world will finally meet tonight (April 21, 2012) when Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 205-pound king Jon Jones looks to defend his title against former division champion Rashad Evans in the main event of UFC 145 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Jones is the new poster boy of the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, being featured in extensive marketing campaigns after he defeated a trio of UFC champions in 2011. A victory over Evans would cement his status as the without-a-doubt best light heavyweight on Earth and potentially even the best fighter pound-for-pound in the sport.
Evans has been aching for this fight ever since Jones stated he'd be willing to fight him. He's been delayed time and time again by unfortunate injuries, but after handing Phil Davis his first career loss this past January, he's finally healthy and ready to try and reclaim the title from his heated rival.
Can Jones put a stamp on his complete and utter domination of the UFC light heavyweight division? Will Evans' personal insults and trash talk get into Jones' head? What's the key to victory for both men tomorrow night?
Let's find out:Jon Jones
Record: 15-1 overall, 9-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Lyoto Machida (UFC 140), Quinton Jackson (UFC 135), Mauricio Rua (UFC 128)
Key Losses: None
How he got here: Jon Jones' path from can't-miss prospect to world champion has been very fast. Just five months into his professional MMA career, he was already 6-0 and making his UFC debut in place of an injured Tomasz Drwal at UFC 87. He defeated his opponent, Andre Gusmao via decision but his star turn didn't truly take place until his next fight against Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94 in which he showcased a diverse array of attacks and all kinds of slams and throws.
"Bones'" star continued to brighten as he began finishing his opponents in increasingly impressive fashion, smashing tough light heavyweights Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko in the first round. After handing Ryan Bader the first loss of his career in another two round destruction, Jones was offered a title shot in place of his injured teammate Rashad Evans.
The young gun took it to the champ, smashing "Shogun" over the course of three rounds and stopping him to become the youngest titleholder in UFC history. If there were any doubts at all about his ability to be a long-reigning champion, Jones answered them in September and then December with a four round thrashing of former champion "Rampage" Jackson and then a second round technical submission of Lyoto Machida.
Jones will be looking to close the book on his feud with Rashad Evans tomorrow night.
How he gets it done: Jones has a plethora of weapons and he's capable of finishing a fight by multiple means. The best plan of attack, at least at first, will be to keep his distance to a point where he can still snap his jab against Evans, who's ridiculously smaller than him and has a much shorter reach. The further he can keep Evans away from him, the easier it will be to avoid Evans' takedowns and lunging efforts to land inside hooks.
Jones is capable of utilizing all kinds of tricky attacks like spinning elbows and more, but I doubt he throws too many because they could leave him open to potential counter takedowns from Evans.
If "Bones" really wants to hurt Evans, the best plan of attack is to wear him down, frustrate him with his reach. If he wants to close the distance at all, he should initiate a clinch where his elbows are especially dangerous and he can utilize his strong Greco Roman background.
If Jones can score a takedown, Evans is going to be in trouble as he has some of the most lethal elbows in the business and his ground game has been improving by leaps and bounds. There aren't many men who can choke Lyoto Machida unconscious. If he can wrap up Evans with his long reach, he could put "Suga" in serious trouble.
Record: 17-1-1 overall, 12-1-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Quinton Jackson (UFC 114), Phil Davis (UFC on FOX 2), Forrest Griffin (UFC 92)
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.
Evans smashed Tito Ortiz and Phil Davis in the interim and now he's finally getting his shot at Jones.
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 utilize it very effectively against Thiago Silva, Quinton Jackson and most recently against former national champion Phil Davis.
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 Jones early, utilizing his speed and movement and looking to land the power. The key for Evans is to get Jones to second guess. He needs to throw his hands when Jones is expecting a takedown and then shoot when Jones is expecting punches.
If Rashad can take Jones down, he needs to not only keep him down, but also to try and score some damage with strikes. He's not going to go for submissions, he just needs to keep Jones on his back and keep punching him. He could potentially score a TKO or win three rounds if he can be effective.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is how much both men have improved since they last trained together. It was a little over a year ago when Evans moved to Florida to train with the Blackzilians and Jones remained at Jackson's. Since then, Jones has looked better and better each time out, adding more to his game in each fight and he's finished three straight former champions.
Evans has also looked better, his shots look stronger and his conditioning has improved, but will that be enough compared to all the different weapons that Jones has added to his game? Both men were pretty even when Evans left in March, but whoever has displayed the most growth is going to be victorious. It looks like Jones, but we won't find out until they step into the cage together.
Bottom Line: This fight is going to be terrific. There's heat buried deep as both have been feuding and there's potential someone could lose their composure. This fight could be all kinds of amazing as Jones is a "must-see" talent whenever he steps into the cage. Evans will either be trying to stop him with strikes or stifle him with takedowns so if Evans is effective, he could definitely slow the bout down. Regardless, I'm expecting some serious highlights in this fight at some point.
Who will come out on top at UFC 145? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!