For my money, Saturday night’s UFC 145 main event between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans was exactly what I’d want from a high-level grudge match. A quick stoppage could have led of talk of “luck,” or controversy and perhaps an immediate rematch.
Instead, the former training partners got to see each other from many different angles over the course of five long rounds. In so doing, each man passed tests they had yet to before, each got their licks in and we still had a clear winner.
In only his second career loss, Rashad Evans proved that he could get seriously hurt in a fight and keep going. The young champion Jones showed us much as well in going to a decision.
We know that Jones has the conditioning to go the distance. Perhaps more important than that, we now know that Jones, who recently steamrolled Lyoto Machida, Mauricio Rua and Quinton Jackson, won’t necessarily get frustrated when an opponent doesn’t quickly crumble under his onslaught.
Jones stayed patient, measured and effective throughout the fight with Evans, even when the challenger refused to quit after getting rocked. Jones also has a chin on him.
It would have been easy to miss because of how little he reacted to them, but Jones took some heavy single shots from Evans, right to the chin, temple and neck. And he didn’t even flinch.
We know that Evans has single strike KO power and he did find Jones on several occasions, with overhand rights and a clean head kick, but “Bones” ate those shots and kept coming. For someone that has been so elusive and barely touched over the course of his short career, Jones will undoubtedly have some extra confidence when he watches the fight film and sees how cleanly Evans hit him several times, and how well he himself reacted and countered those shots.
Being able to effectively absorb big single shots is kind of a prerequisite for fighting Henderson, who has one-punched more than his share of top stars over the years, in three different weight classes. Does Henderson’s punch more of a whallop than Evans’? I may be alone in thinking that, not necessarily.
But even if it does, Evans certainly sets up his more varied striking attack better, so that bodes well for Jones. What we can’t possibly know is how well Jones could handle Henderson’s upper body takedowns if Hendo gets in close as Evans did many times last night.
Jones kept his perfect takedown defense streak going Saturday against Evans but Henderson could snap it…or not. Here’s why:
Henderson’s takedown ability, especially from Greco roman style clinches, are on another level compared to Evans’ or anyone not named Randy Couture or Matt Lindland. So, a Hendo focused on staying safe on the feet and getting inside could probably put Jones on his back.
Thing is, trying to “stay safe” on the feet is not really Henderson’s thing. He usually comes out guns blazing with wild punches and that’s why we we’ve seen him get so many knockouts over the years. It’s also why he’s been taken down so many times in fights by people with less wrestling ability than him.
So there’s also a good chance that Jones would put Henderson on his back, which would be disaster for the forty something mega star. In any case, with his power and wrestling ability, Henderson is an easy sell as a title challenger to Jones.
Evans to middleweight?
Where Rashad Evans goes from here is open to question. On the one hand, he fared better than anyone else ever has against Jones by simply surviving for five rounds and also hitting the champ more than a few times.
On the other hand, he’d likely have win another 2-3 fights to be considered for another title shot at light heavyweight. However, if Evans were to drop to the compelling challenger-starved middleweight division, he could conceivably get a title shot with just one win in the division.
Yeah, I know, Evans originally fought in the UFC at heavyweight, but he (like Vitor Belfort before him) was over blown at that weight. And Evans might just be overblown at 205 as well.
Evans’ skill and talent has done a pretty good job of masking what could not be ignored Saturday night – and that’s that he is a small light heavyweight, period. Sure, he looks like a He-Man action figure, but that’s the point.
Someone with Evans’ muscle proportions at light heavyweight is clearly packing on extra weight – albeit muscle – to compete at 205. Evans looked like he was fighting his uncle against Jones, and that size disparity isn’t going anywhere. Hell, Evans is shorter than many top middleweights, including, (in my eye-ball estimation) champion Anderson Silva.
If Evans can find someway to, over time, change his body composition a bit and head to middleweight, he would immediately be a legit title contender, both in terms of marketability and in terms of his skill set. He’s a former champion, one of the bigger names in the sport, so that could help him get a quick title shot, like we’ve seen with Kenny Florian.
But Evans also brings the type of speed, power and wrestling that could give Anderson Silva or Chael Sonnen problems. Immediately after his loss Saturday to Jones, Evans’ pride wouldn’t allow him to concede his chances at light heavyweight, but he didn’t slam the door on middleweight either.
“I’m a 205-pounder,” Evans said at the post-event press conference. “I’ve only lost twice…But if an opportunity happens at 185, I’ll take it.”