I'm pretty pumped for tonight's UFC 145 event from Atlanta, GA. And my company, Swirl, was awesome enough to let a few of us MMA junkies at the office use the big screen in the creative lounge to watch the fights together tonight. Should be a great time. We're all bringing our favorite fast food meals to enjoy while we watch some of the best athletes on the planet go toe-to-toe. Oh, the irony.
Tonight's main event is going to have a tremendous ripple effect in the MMA community, regardless of the outcome. I was talking about this with a co-worker yesterday, and the point I made is that the UFC will be in a great place no matter which fighter wins the title bout. If Jones defends successfully, the UFC's decision to sponsor him and essentially put their eggs in the proverbial one basket will be paid off tremendously. Jones will have defeated his rival and biggest test to date, one that was looming in the background the past year since he won the title from Shogun back in March 2011. Evans has always been the guy people wanted to see Jones fight, and it'll finally happen. If he wins, there's Dan Henderson and perhaps Alexander Gustafson down the road, but I think discussions will start to turn to Jones moving up to the heavyweight. He's now walking around at 230 and filling out his frame as he matures. And with Lesnar gone from the heavyweight picture, Jones could fill the void as "the big draw" in that division. And do what Brandon Vera never even came close to doing, despite many, including himself, predicting he would: be the first man to hold both the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles at the same time.
On the flip side, if Evans wins, the light heavyweight division will get flipped upside down. Jones invincibility will be gone, the major deals potentially off the table for the time being, and a major rematch will loom. One that will be bigger than the Silva-Sonnen bout later this year. That would be HUGE money, and the UFC would not be in a bad place if that's the case.
The easy money is to bet on Jones tonight. He's a physical freak: the reach, the athleticism, the added strength, and the ability to soak up so much MMA knowledge in only a matter of 4-5 years. He's the best out there. But the smart money is on Evans. He's a 5 to 1 dog in Vegas, and quite frankly, I think that's a bit aggressive. Evans has shown the ability to finish fights on his feet and on the ground, something he was crucified for early in his career. Ever since the brutal Sean Salmon head kick KO, Evans has gone on to finish multiple opponents in exciting fashion: Liddell via one-punch KO, Griffin for the title via vicious ground-and-pound, and Tito Ortiz via knee to the body. And in other fights where he won via decision, he added excitement and overcame adversity in some cases. Against both Thiago Silva and Quinton Jackson, he survived late scares, overcoming knockdowns to recover quickly and save the win. And against the latter, he put Jackson on his butt early in the fight, turning the tables on the once feared KO artist. His fight against Phil Davis was a tutorial, a glorified practice - or so it seemed. Davis, a highly touted prospect, had nothing for Evans. Literally. Evans is a stud, and he's got enough tools in his box to dethrone the champ.
The difference in the fight will be the jab and front kick of Jones. He'll need to use those at will to keep Evans at bay and avoid the challenger from closing the gap and dictating the pace and location of the fight. If he doesn't consistently jab and kick, Evans will work his way inside and either land a takedown or put fists to face. And either will be a problem for Jones. But for Evans, that's the rub. If he can't get in tight, he doesn't have a chance. No one in the UFC can win a fight from the outside against Jones simply b/c of his reach. Machida did it for a round, but Jones made the adjustment and was able to clip Machida several times in the 2nd round from the outside, the final one putting Machida on the mat, eventually leading to a nasty gash from a Jones elbow and ultimately ending with a standing guillotine.
I'm picking Jones to win, but if I decide to put money on the fight tonight, I'm taking Evans. The odds are too good not to. As for the action, I see Jones and Evans going toe-to-toe for a battle. It will be the defining fight for both fighters; Jones passes a grueling test against his biggest challenge yet, while Rashad shows the world that he really is one of the best EVER at light heavyweight. This won't be a 5-0 shutout. It'll be a 48-47 type of card, one that will earn a tremendous amount of respect for both fighters, and hopefully put an end to this ridiculous, bitter war of words between the two of them.
Jon Jones defeats Rashad Evans via UD
Other Main Card fights
Rory MacDonald defeats Che Mills via 2nd round (T)KO
Ben Rothwell defeats Brendan Schaub via UD
Miguel Torres defeats Mike McDonald via 2nd round submission (rear-naked choke)
Mark Hominick defeats Eddie Yagan via 1st round KO (punch)