After a two month break from pay per view, the UFC is back on the big stage tonight
in Atlanta. BlackSportsOnline MMA Insider Alex Donoo looks at UFC 145 featuring long anticipated light heavyweight title fight between friends-turned-enemies: Jon “Bones” Jones and “Suga” Rashad Evans. It will be Jones’ third title defense, and likely his toughest yet.
Not only are Jones and Evans former training partners, but they’ve described one another
as “brothers” in the past. In 2009, in the early stages of his young MMA career, Jones
joined famed trainer Greg Jackson’s Albuquerque, NM camp. Rashad Evans was already
a long time Jackson’s member, and expressed initial concern as to why Jackson would
welcome in another marquee fighter in Evans’ weight class. In combat sports, training
partners don’t typically relish the idea of fighting one another. With Evans being a
former belt holder, and Jones considered a blue chip prospect, it seemed inevitable to
Evans that they’d one day be asked (or perhaps forced) by the UFC to fight. However,
Jackson assured Evans that he wouldn’t let that happen. Well, fast forward to 2011, and
his suspicions became reality. Evans was forced to pull out of a March 19th title fight
against Champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, due to a knee injury. The UFC replaced him
with Jones, who won the belt with an emphatic TKO. Prior to that fight, Jones admitted
in an interview with Versus (now NBC Sports) that he’d be willing to fight Rashad Evans
for the belt, but only if their jobs with the UFC were on the line. Check out the quote
here. It seemed like a benign comment to most, but Evans took deep offense to his friend
even entertaining the idea of fighting him. From there, the dominos started to fall. Evans
felt betrayed by both Jones and trainer Greg Jackson. He left Jackson’s gym and formed
the “Blackzillians” in Florida. In his new camp, Rashad began preparing for an inevitable
match up with Jones. Due to sporadic injuries to both men, the fight was delayed on
multiple occasions. Jones successfully defended his belt against Rampage Jackson and
Lyoto Machida, while Evans kept himself in the title picture with victories over Tito
Ortiz and Phil Davis. After 13 months of suspense, tonight, they finally fight.
When the cage door closes tonight, Jon Jones will hold one significant advantage over
Rashad: his reach. At 84.5” Jones has the longest wing span in the UFC. Evans’ reach
is 75” and he’s 5” shorter than Jones (5’11” to 6’4”). Opponents have had a hellish time
finding range against the lanky champion. Jones throws a steady diet of jabs and kicks
to establish distance, and displays enough quickness to avoid punishment. For Evans to
have any success, he must find a way to navigate inside the pocket. Clinch work, dirty
boxing, and knees to the body will be paramount. And if he can find a way to take Jones
down, it would boost his chances tremendously.
On paper, Evans is the more accomplished wrestler. But Jones’ wrestling has been
devastatingly effective in the UFC. He was able to stop Ryan Bader’s takedowns, and
tossed excellent wrestlers Vladimir Matyushenko and Matt Hamill around like rag dolls.
And when Jones gets on top of you, he’s at his most dangerous. His elbows from top
control are arguably the best in the UFC. He cut Machida open with an elbow in his last
title defense, and broke Brandon Vera’s eye socket with a hard elbow back in 2010. And
he’s more than just a TKO threat on the ground. He’s won three of his past four fights by
With his reach advantage, astute wrestling defense, and ability to improvise in the
striking range, it appears this will be Jones’ fight to win. But don’t count Evans out. His
superior head movement and quick hands may be Jones’ kryptonite. Plus, Evans has a
knack for darting in and out of the pocket quickly; a skill that’s painfully necessary in
a fight with Jones. Expect Evans to push the pace and try to make Jones uncomfortable
with his aggression. In the standup range, Jones is at his best when you give him enough
time to establish a rhythm. Rashad must not allow this to happen. Jones is capable of
creating jaw dropping moments with spinning elbows and kicks. When he starts throwing
these unorthodox techniques, it’s probably a sign that he’s getting comfortable. Evans
cannot allow him to get comfortable. I’m leaning heavily towards Jones for the win, but I
expect Evans to make this one interesting. The x-factor here might be leg kicks. Jones is
known for having chicken legs. If Rashad can punish those twigs with a barrage of kicks,
he could effectively limit the champion’s mobility.
All in all this fight should be a ton of fun, given the bitter rivalry between the two. Check
out their epic (yet awkwardly close) stare down from last night’s weigh in.
And if you don’t believe me when I say that Jones and Evans truly despise one another,
have a look at their awkward sit down interview with UFC broadcaster Jon Anik.
In the co-main event, one of the top welterweight prospects, Rory MacDonald, meets
an explosive Che Mills. At just 22 years old, the young MacDonald appears to be on
roughly a two-year track to perhaps fight for the UFC title. His only loss came to current
interim champ Carlos Condit, a fight MacDonald was clearly leading on the scorecards
before succumbing to a miraculous TKO finish in the final seconds. He was only 20
at the time, and has since recorded impressive consecutive wins over Nate Diaz and
Mike Pyle. He’s big and strong for 170 lbs, with a well-rounded skill set. He represents
a new breed of MMA fighter, one where a well-rounded arsenal replaces a strong base
in a specific discipline. In other words, he’s equally dangerous whether he’s striking
or grappling. He’s a product of Montreal’s Tristar Gym, where he trains with current
(injured) champion Georges St-Pierre. If GSP is still champion if and when Rory earns
a title shot, both men have publicly stated they’d rather change weight classes than fight
one another. Hmmm… does this remind anyone of the Jones-Evans fiasco? MacDonald’s
opponent tonight, Che Mills, is an explosive British striker. He won his UFC debut in
November by TKO’ing Chris Cope with knees and punches. Mills will have a puncher’s
(and knee-er’s) chance in this fight, but expect MacDonald to win in dominant fashion.
The remaining bouts on the six-fight main card will be a heavyweight clash between
Brendan Schaub and Ben Rothwell, a bantamweight fight between Miguel Torres and
Michael McDonald, a featherweight fight between Mark Hominick and Eddie Yagin, and
a lightweight clash between Mark Bocek and John Alessio.
Torres vs. McDonald will be especially interesting, as it may decide the next contender
at 135 (to face the upcoming winner of Cruz vs. Faber III). Plus, most of the so called
experts out there expect this one to be exciting enough to earn Fight of the Night honors.
For the record, Brazilian standout Renan Barao is also “in the mix” for a bantamweight title shot, so the winner of Torres vs. McDonald is in no way guaranteed the shot. Barao
isn’t fighting tonight, so I hope I didn’t confuse anyone, but I’m just trying to keep you in
the loop. You’re welcome.
UFC 145 starts tonight at 10pm EST on pay per view. You can catch two hours of
prelims on FX from 8-10. Also, a half hour of prelims streaming live on Facebook at
7:30. All you have to do is “like” the UFC’s Facebook page, and you’re in. The opening
fight between Marcus Brimage and Maximo Blanco should be a great one.