(Vid: MMA Fighting)
For being one of MMA’s more tried-and-true institutions, there is always something a little awkward about those postfight confrontations in the cage between champion and challenger. Emotions are running high and the heat of the moment has a way of testing fighters’ grasp of the English language, spawning hilarious internet memes and sometimes even sparking enormous, embarrassing brawls. Still, we’re not sure our sport has ever seen an in-ring altercation as hard-to-watch as Jon Jones and Rashad Evans at UFC 128. Both dudes looked more like they were entering into a suicide pact than agreeing to face-off in a professional sporting contest as they mumbled halfhearted “trash” talk into Joe Rogan’s microphone and then sealed their impending friend-vs.-friend fight with the world’s least enthusiastic handshake.
We’re talking second-season-of-the-British-“Office” levels of discomfort here, like The Situation bombing at Donald Trump’s roast or Carl Lewis singing the anthem at that Bulls game. Everybody involved (including us) couldn’t wait for it to be over. Immediately afterward, when Evans cut the above interview with Ariel Helwani where he declares he’s “done” working with Greg Jackson’s camp and then Jackson himself had to think of five or six different ways to explain how badly this situation sucks for him, we realized: We’re just getting started here. In Jones vs. Rashad, we may be poised on the brink of the most uncomfortable feud in UFC history.
The UFC, obviously, is loving it. Rashad wasn’t up there in that cage in his suit and giant tie knot by accident, after all. No, by insisting on this fight Dana White has found a golden opportunity. He gets to stick it to Rashad, who irked him first by sitting out nearly a year waiting for Shogun, then by momentarily asserting he didn’t want to fight Jones; he gets to stick it to Greg Jackson, who he’s clashed with in the past over the camp’s “safety first” style; and he gets to stick it to all the other fight camps – AKA, for example – who turn their noses up at teammate-vs.-teammate fights. We all know there’s nothing Dana likes quite like sticking it to people who disagree with him.
As sort of a happy accident, the company has also lucked into a hugely promotable fight and what seems like the perfect first match-up of The Jon Jones Era. With Jones now ensconced as UFC champ, the biggest problem for the UFC might well be finding compelling opponents for it brand new promotional juggernaut. That is, finding other top light heavyweights Jones won’t just instantaneously murder. The only guy who currently seems to fit the bill is Rashad and he comes factory-equipped with a killer storyline and fresh tests for the 23-year-old phenom.
As the UFC broadcast team correctly pointed out on Saturday night, we’ve never really seen Jones encounter any adversity in a fight. After Shogun proved totally incapable of providing any, it left us wondering exactly which light heavyweight contender could manage to give Jonny Bones a test. Maybe one of the fighters who knows him best? For the moment, it’s feels like that’s the best we can do, anyway. By setting up this fight we’ll also get to see how Jones – seemingly a consummate game-planner – is able to get himself mentally prepared to fight a friend. And the brother against brother plotline? Shoot, that sells itself.
First, though Evans is going to have to find a new camp. If Rashad continues to work out at Grudge Training Center in Colorado, he will effectively pit the whole Jackson-Trevor Wittman alliance against itself, so we wouldn’t be surprised if he looks elsewhere. Early rumors have been about Black House, but any number of top camps seems to fit the bill.
Where ever he goes, he’ll go as a significant underdog and whatever happens next, it kind of seems like it’s going to be pretty painful to watch.