This Saturday night after 22 high-level athletes have graced the famed octagon at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia it will be time to settle a score and determine who the top dog at 205-pounds really is when Rashad Evans challenges Jon Jones.
It’s been a long journey filled with many twists, turns and roadblocks for the challenger back to a title shot – A little less than three years ago he lost his first fight and the UFC light-heavyweight championship all in the same night.
On three separate occasions since that time he has been dubbed the number-one contender for the title and this Saturday night will be his first shot due to a string of injuries forcing him to be benched for considerable amounts of time, the most notable being last March when he was unable to face Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
Jones was considered the next big thing in this sport amongst fans and industry insiders alike at this stage, remarkably just five years ago he had never trained in hand-to-hand combat – Beginning his MMA training at age 20 he would have the UFC knocking down his door within five months.
Fast forward two years and he was on the brink of contendership and Evans injury gave him the chance to fight for all the marbles at 205-pounds – This move indirectly began the “bad blood” between the two resulting in Evans packing his bags and moving to Florida.
Now 13 months after Jones captured the title the landscape at 205-pounds is completely different, with this seemingly indestructible 24-year-old champion ruling the roost and the former champion right on his tail it’s time for their much anticipated grudge-match.
The most interesting thing about this match-up is the amount of similarities between the two, not the least the fact they made their rose to the top under the guidance of Greg Jackson & Mike Winklejohn down in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Both began their foray into the sport with a background as successful amateur wrestlers, Evans collected two state titles in high school, a national title in junior college and was an NCAA division I wrestler for Michigan State where he also served as an assistant coach.
Jones was a state champion in high school and a national champion in junior college before he dropped out from studying Criminal Justice to pursue this crazy dream of being a prize-fighter, a smart move in retrospect.
Interestingly enough, neither man has been put on their back during their stints in the octagon despite being in there with powerful wrestlers in the past, Evans might be advised to seek the takedown but he would have to rush the young champion with a barrage of speed and power and that’s no easy task while he’s winging elbows and forearms his way.
The submission chops of both men is an interesting question, Jones has a tendency to choke his opponents out after battering them on the feet as he’s done with his last four opponents and Evans has never tapped an opponent inside the UFC so it’s easy to discount his mat game but that would be a mistake.
The 32-year-old received his black belt under third degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Rolles Gracie last year so putting Jones to sleep wouldn’t be completely out of the blue if he slipped up just once.
The biggest difference between these two is their striking styles; Evans is a power-punching boxer while Jones is flashy muay-thai striker who racks up more style points than anyone in the game.
The most obvious point is the height and reach edge that the champion possesses – Standing 6-foot-4 with a gigantic 84.5” reach he will be able to have a huge range edge on Evans who sports a 75” reach but Jones has never dealt with such an active striker.
“Suga” Rashad has some of the best footwork in the entire game coupled with his head movement and frenetic pace he is able to get in and out and land shots and he will have to do that against Jones, if he can get inside he packs mind-numbing power that can change the course of this fight.
Jones will have to be a wild and unpredictable striker as he usually is mixing up his attack with a barrage of knees, elbows and punches to keep him at bay and not allow him to get on the inside and land 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 so Jones might be able to exploit this.
That being said, the chin of Jones still remains a question mark, knockout artists Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson both didn’t get a chance to catch him off guard with a powerful right-hand.
One of the most important ingredients to this bout is the addition of Greg Jackson, a lot of the animosity coming from the challengers’ camp is aimed at Jackson and with him agreeing to support Jones in the biggest fight of his career is only a plus for him.
Jackson is widely considered to be the best coach in the game and has been in his corner giving him guidance for all his big matches in the UFC, if he were to have stepped aside as he promised it could have affected the inexperienced fighter if this bout went to the championship rounds.
All the pressure is on the back of Jones as we enter this fight though, being 4-to-1 favorite and most expecting him to blaze Evans because of his track record as he faces his third-straight ex-champion he has a lot to live up to.
While we don’t truly know who got the better of who behind closed doors in New Mexico while they were training partners, all the questions will be answered this Saturday night.
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