We are less than 12 hours away from the UFC’s second foray into network television as Fox hosts UFC on Fox: Evans vs. Davis.
In the main event, "Suga" Rashad Evans will be facing off against undefeated prospect Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis. Rashad Evans, the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, is looking to secure a long-awaited title shot against former Jackson's MMA teammate and current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon "Bones" Jones.
Phil Davis will be looking for his first win over a top-five ranked light heavyweight and a chance to put himself on UFC President Dana White’s radar for a title fight in the future.
Both fighters bring a strong NCAA Division I wrestling pedigree into the Octagon, although Evans—16-1-1 with his last two wins over former champions—is clearly the more experienced and more complete mixed martial artist. Can Phil Davis utilize his outstanding wrestling and vastly improved striking to disrupt Rashad’s title hopes?
Let’s look at the breakdown of each fighter.
Phil Davis has been on a meteoric rise since his UFC debut in February 2010.
A former NCAA national champion wrestler at Penn State, “Mr. Wonderful” possesses a strong wrestling background and one of the most impressive physiques in all of mixed martial arts—similar to the original “Mr. Wonderful”, Paul Orndoff.
In only his fifth career fight—his first in the UFC—he defeated former WEC Light Heavyweight Champion and dangerous striker Brian Stann. He has won all five of his UFC fights, most recently over PRIDE and UFC veteran Antonio Rogerio “Lil Nog” Nogueira.
Davis’ greatest talent is his impressive wrestling. His muscular lower body gives him a very strong base and the ability to shoot in on his opponents.
In his fights with Stann and “Lil Nog”, Davis frequently exploded toward his opponents looking for the takedown and then used his superior upper body strength to outmaneuver and inflict punishment on his foes from top position.
While his striking is still evolving, he has improved by leaps and bounds since his debut. In the early rounds against Nogueira, Davis’ takedown attempts were largely ineffective. However, he began moving in-and-out, delivering punches and a variety of kicks to confuse Nogueira and to set up more successful takedown attempts.
Davis’ size and strength will serve him well in his bout with Rashad Evans, as he will be the larger, stronger fighter come fight time. That advantage may allow him to smother any onslaught from Evans and to impose his will on the ground.
Rashad Evans’ resume speaks for itself: junior college national champion, The Ultimate Fighter Season Two winner, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.
At 16-1-1, Evans has fought and defeated some of the best in the sport. His list of victims include four former champions—Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Forrest Griffin and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Evans has been on a warpath to regain his title ever since losing it in a devastating knockout loss to former champion Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida. Since that loss, he has changed camps, improved his striking and racked up three straight wins.
Rashad is a wrestler by trade. Like Davis, Rashad competed at the NCAA Division I level, though his career pales by comparison. Where the difference lies is that Rashad’s striking and standup ability far exceeds that of Phil Davis.
Six of his 16 wins were by knockout, the most memorable being against Sean Salmon and Chuck Liddell. Both were knocked unconscious, and both won him Knockout of the Night honors.
Rashad uses a very loose, fluid style which allows him to move into various techniques more effortlessly. He’s rapidly becoming more known for his ability to land power shots and can also land some vicious knees and brutal ground-and-pound—just ask Tito Ortiz.
As his career has progressed, he has become more of a well-rounded mixed martial artist, using his striking ability to put his opponents on the defensive while also looking for the opportune moment to shoot in for a double leg.
Rashad has been the consensus No. 1 contender for a span of almost two years, stretching across two championship reigns—Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Jon Jones. Yet injuries and inopportune timing have consistently derailed his quest for UFC gold.
He has been scheduled to fight current champion Jon Jones on two separate occasions with both instances being canceled due to injuries to each fighter. Tonight, he will look to finally clinch a showdown with Jones if he can secure the win over Phil Davis.
Phil Davis is getting the opportunity of a lifetime and his first crack at a truly elite opponent.
He has drawn several comparisons to Jon Jones primarily due to his size, wrestling ability and his rapid ascent into the upper tier of the light heavyweight division.
Where he differs from the reigning champion—which will certainly hinder him against Rashad Evans—is that his talent has not evolved at as rapid of a pace as the champion.
Davis is a skilled wrestler, and he will look to use his larger size and reach advantage to keep Rashad at bay. Look for him to shoot in for some double-leg takedowns and possibly switch to single-legs if his early attempts are thwarted by Evans.
While Rashad has been criticized for having a questionable chin, or as my sensei would say, “he has no beard,” Phil Davis doesn’t possess the striking accuracy or acumen to exploit Rashad’s inability to take a punch.
Davis has also shown that he can be rattled by a clean strike, as he displayed against Nogueira. He also appeared visibly tired after three rounds with a high-level but aging fighter in “Lil Nog.”
While Phil is a very good fighter, I believe he has neither the experience nor the tools to defeat someone as seasoned as Rashad Evans. Look for this fight to start off slow with a feeling out process for the first three minutes or so.
I expect Davis to be more the aggressor, especially in the early rounds of the fight. However, Rashad has been fighting bigger fighters since he came into the UFC, and, having trained with Jon Jones, he has had experience in dealing with a fighter with such lanky proportions.
Although I could see Davis getting clipped by Rashad, I believe he could recover enough to use his wrestling to protect himself on the ground. Whatever happens, Rashad will not be denied his date with “Bones.”
Rashad Evans wins by unanimous decision.