When “Suga” Rashad Evans steps into the cage this Saturday in the windy city he will have something to prove – A lot has been said about Rashads choice to in his words “chase the belt” which through various twists and turns has moved him away from his original camp and ended a blossoming friendship along the way.
Evans was a staple of Greg Jackson’s camp out of Albuquerque, New Mexico for many years. Under the guidance of Greg he was lead on a path of destruction defeating the likes of Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Thiago Silva & Quinton Jackson while adding the UFC light-heavyweight title to his mantle along the way.
A wrench was thrown into the works when a talented 205-pounder who was racking up more style points than technique joined the camp named Jon Jones who quickly became a training partner to Evans and was groomed into one of the hottest prospects to watch.
At UFC 114 the organization committed to one of the most anticipated grudge matches in the sports history when Evans fought opposing ‘Ultimate Fighter’ coach “Rampage” Jackson in the highest selling non-title main event in UFC history.
1,050,000 threw down their pay-per-view dollars to see the straight-shooting Evans get his mouth shut but that was not the case as he was wrestled to the mat repeatedly en route to Evans being named the number-one contender for the UFC light-heavyweight title.
Almost two years later he still hasn’t challenged for the chance to challenge for the ultimate prize in the division due to a string of injuries forcing him away from the cage, most notably he was forced to step aside last year when slated to face Mauricio “Shogun” Rua before blowing out his knee that gave Jones the chance to steal the show and the belt.
Evans has all eyes set on facing his former friend and training partner but first he has to worry about Phil Davis, a major obstacle for anyone at 205-pounds.
Davis first raised eyebrows on the wrestling mats earning one of the most accomplished resumes – A four-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler for Penn State; he was runner-up in the National Championships in 2006 and won it in 2008.
The naturally athletic Davis seamlessly added to his wrestling base from day one implementing boxing and jiu-jitsu while training under Lloyd Irvin with frequent visits to Brandon Vera’s Alliance Training Center.
Despite having a solid wrestling base he made a name for himself as a finisher putting away three of his first four opponents in a little over nine months before getting the call up to the big time.
Davis has shown no signs of slowing down since entering the UFC defeating heavy-handed slugger Brian Stann, fellow prospects Alexander Gustafsson and Rodney Wallace as well as a submission of the night winning modified kimura that he later dubbed the “Wonderbar” on Tim Boetsch before getting the biggest fight of his career to that point.
A battle with the younger of the legendary Nogueira brothers, Rogerio was the ultimate test to see if he could stick around with the big dogs in the division but “Mr. Wonderful” passed that test with flying colors working his wrestling game and earning a unanimous decision victory to set up this weekend’s clash.
These two were originally slated to square off against one another in the main-event of UFC 133 last August but a knee injury to Davis forced him to step aside, leaving Evans to rematch Tito Ortiz but now this much anticipated tilt gets top billing on one of the most important events in UFC history.
It’s a tired cliché but every fight starts on the feet so first let’s take a look at the striking regiment of both combatants – It’s no secret that the striking game of Davis is a work in progress having only been training his stand-up game for three years.
Davis however has shown great improvements in his striking game each time he steps into the cage, he has shown a great ability to throw punches in bunches while moving in and out setting up his power shots.
Many people have called to attention the strength of the chin that Evans possesses in recent times that Davis could exploit, on his record he only has one defeat by knockout to Lyoto Machida but he was put on wobbly legs by Jackson and Silva as well.
Evans is on a different level when it comes to throwing his fists of fury though, the Blackzillian founder has been working on his striking game for many years and shown mind-numbing power in his right hand, the same hand that put the most accomplished 205-pounder of all time Chuck Liddell to sleep.
He uses great foot-work and unmatched head movement pushing a frenetic pace to pressure his opponents to knock them out or get them off balance so he can secure a takedown.
The striking edge that he holds over his opponent is the most glaring advantage he has in this bout, Davis will want to take the former king of the division off his feet and avoid that danger as soon as possible.
Taking Rashad Evans off his feet will be no easy task though, despite Davis being a more accomplished wrestler than Evans and standing 6’2” he brings a huge size and strength advantage on his opponent but Evans hasn’t been wrestled to the mat more than once by any opponent he’s faced in the UFC.
Especially since Rashad got his foot in the door as a cast-member of the second season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ as a heavyweight where he was a small man in the land of the giants edging 6’7” and 300-pound behemoth Brad Imes in the finals.
You can’t discount that the wrestling is the bread n’ butter of Evans game also, he was also a NCAA Division I wrestler out of Michigan State and used that as his base while developing the rest of his game.
This bout gets increasingly interesting if it hits the floor, although Evans isn’t known for his submission chops he has a legitimate ground game silently earning his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Rolles Gracie.
While Davis claims to have much more to show-off in his bag of tricks similar to his flashy kimura against Boetsch this will not be the time to try and do so, Evans will have the submission defense to fence off everything he’s throwing at him while leaving him openings to smash his face with his brutal ground-and-pound.
Speaking of which, that’s exactly what both men want to do when it hits the floor. Evans has shown a great ability to rag-doll his opponents when he has them on the mat doing supreme amounts of damage from both guard and side control much like he did with Ortiz and Jackson.
Davis has shown a similar ability also, last time out against submission magician Nogueira he was able to show off exceptional top control, landing heavy shots and not allowing him to search for his submissions.
Conditioning could turn out to be a factor in this bout if it goes past the third frame, neither man has gone the full 25 minutes in their career and Evans showed huge signs of slowing the later portions of his bouts with Silva & Jackson.
We have to take into consideration the added pressure placed on the back of Davis. He’s got hoards of fans behind him believing that he is the “next big thing” in the division with a perfect record facing one of the best light-heavyweights of all time.
Additionally, due to his meteoric rise to the top of the 205-pound field he has only ever been the most promoted fight on a B-Level Fight Night card on Spike TV which is miniscule in comparison to the FOX platform.
This should not be an issue for Evans though, unquestionably the more seasoned fighter he has walked to the octagon on 14 separate occasions with 8 of them being main events.
UFC President Dana White stated that if Evans can get his hand raised this Saturday at the United Center he will be challenging Jones next for the title, but Davis will not be afforded the same honor.
We might not have the verbal fisticuffs that we are used to before an Evans fight with both men being relatively respectful towards one another but we are prepared for one of the most exciting fights on the UFC calendar to determine what happens to the UFC light-heavyweight title from here.