Saturday night in Chicago saw the UFC take to the main FOX network for the second time, with criminally underrated former 205-pound champion Rashad Evans handling upstart wrestling standout Phil Davis in the main event.
For those who have followed Evans and know his game, and have also seen the rise of a fairly raw talent in Davis, the outcome wasn’t shocking. It wasn’t so much a matter of if Evans would be the better man, but rather by how much would he be the better man.
The answer was "a lot."
Evans worked Davis on the feet, getting in and out with slick boxing combinations, complimenting his standup attack with a focused ground game that was equal parts improved jiu-jitsu and experienced wrestling.
After collecting his 50-45s from all three judges, Evans was officially lined up with friend-turned-foe Jon Jones, who holds the title he so badly wants back. Fans and pundits immediately began wondering—as they have for nearly a year now, since this feud started—how he’ll approach the young champion.
There are plenty of things to wonder about in the matchup, such as how Jones’ powerful Greco-Roman style will play against the more traditional freestyle approach to wrestling displayed by Evans, or how the tight boxing of Evans will play against the unorthodox striking of Jones.
However against Davis, Evans previewed how he might match the champion, showing incredible footwork and timing, slipping and juking around punches coming from his much rangier opponent. He’d get inside, blast Davis with shots, and get back out before the former Nittany Lion could reset.
Expect the same against Jones.
Jones has had success in utilizing his range against all shapes and sizes to this point, however he hasn’t faced a boxer like Rashad yet. Evans is quick, and he clearly knows how to get into range and do damage while frustrating a longer man.
The only comparable striker Jones has faced is Rampage Jackson, who often plods along with his chin up and his feet flat as he headhunts for a highlight. Evans is much better defensively, much quicker, and much more adept at setting up combos before slipping out the other side. He could pose problems for a champion not used to being pushed, especially when one factors in the time they’ve spent training together.
That’s not to say that Evans is a lock to dethrone Jones. Just as Evans knows Jones from training together, so too does Jones know Evans. The times the champion has been tested, he has risen to the occasion, and there isn’t any reason to believe things will be different now.
However Rashad Evans proved he has the tools to make things happen on Saturday night, as he beat a physical specimen in Phil Davis who is quite similar to Jones. He proved that he can handle long and rangy, and he can do it convincingly.
All that’s left for him now is to do it again against someone a little bit further along, a little more diverse, and little bit harder to figure out, and he’ll have his belt back after three years of waiting.