SportsIllustrated has confirmed that former UFC light-heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson has turned down the opportunity to challenge Rashad Evans for the 205-pound title at UFC 98 (May 23rd, Las Vegas), due to the short turnaround and his lingering injuries. Taking his place will be Lyoto Machida, the undefeated — and virtually untouchable — Brazilian contender who most recently knocked out Thiago Silva at UFC 94 in January. Evans vs. Machida is the official main-event replacement for Mir vs. Lesnar, which was scrapped from the card thanks to Mir’s bum knee.
"Sugar" and "The Dragon" are very similar on paper. Both are undefeated in 14 professional fights — Evans is 13-0-1, while Machida is 14-0. Both have gone the distance in the majority of their UFC appearances, but are coming off of dramatic stoppage victories. And they have three opponents in common: Tito Ortiz (who Machida beat by unanimous decision last May and Evans drew with in 2007), Stephan Bonnar (who Machida won a cut-stoppage TKO over in 2003 and Evans beat via majority decision in 2006) and Sam Hoger (who Machida defeated by unanimous decision in 2007 and Evans took a split decision over in 2006).
Evans/Machida may not turn out to be Fight of the Year — we’re expecting more of a cautious and technical match than a thrilling one — but it’s also not the easiest fight to predict, which makes it compelling. Will Evans and the Team Jackson camp be able to come up with a gameplan that solves the confounding riddle of Lyoto Machida? Will Machida still look invincible against a true top-of-the-food chain light-heavyweight?