Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans is beginning to sound scripted. In fact, if the back-story to UFC 145's headliner was a movie, we'd be inclined to criticize the plot—a tale of betrayal between two brothers, two former champions, the master and the student, the young lion and the seasoned veteran, one divided family and a long-standing grudge. It's all just too much.
By some trick of the stars, however, "Bones" and "Suga" have brought Hollywood and reality together, producing a treasure-trove story line for the UFC's PR team. The papers are signed, the date is set and the hype-train is gathering speed; all eyes are on April 21st.
Naturally, then, the Internet is brimming with tentative articles discussing the fight's outcome: will Rashad prove to be Jones' kryptonite, or will the young upstart nonchalantly brush his former teammate to the side, continuing his meteoric rise towards pound-for-pound stardom? Who, cry the commentators, can confidently call such an intriguing match-up?
We can, ladies and gentlemen. We, the writers at Bleacher Report, have little time for journalists with mealy mouths and weak constitution, preferring to walk the fine line and place our cards firmly on the table. Jon Jones may be a phenom and Rashad Evans a resurgent and skilled veteran; nothing is going to change between now and fight-night, however, and it's time to make some noise.
Without further ado, strap yourselves in and enjoy 10 bold, brassy predictions for Jones vs. Evans.
You heard it here, folks: Jon Jones is going to spend more time on his back against Rashad Evans than in the rest of his other UFC bouts combined.
Admittedly, Jones' incredible counter-wrestling makes this initial prediction sound like a cop-out, but there's more: Jones is going to be taken down by Evans in every round, and will fail to return the favour. How so, you ask?
Jones is a Greco-Roman wrestler, who uses his long limbs to execute throws and trips from the clinch. Evans will avoid the clinch like the plague.
In fact, Rashad is going to take Jones down not by wrestling with the champ, per se, but by cutting angles and shooting tackle-style takedowns, using his lightning-fast hands to "hook and shoot," thereby avoiding a technical wrestling match.
While both fighters have gassed in the past, Rashad's conditioning turned a corner prior to his fight with Tito Ortiz. Suga dispatched the "People's Champ" in an explosive, fast-paced fight, hardly breaking a sweat in the process.
On April 21st, Rashad will use his improved fitness to run rings around the champ, cutting angles and circling constantly, causing Jones to tire himself out by punching air and chasing the smaller man.
Another point to note is that while Bones has not yet shown any nerves in the Octagon, if ever the 24-year-old does suffer the energy-sapping effects of a large adrenaline dump, it will almost certainly be against Rashad.
In a fight built on negativity and emotion, the youthful phenom may find keeping his focus difficult, causing Suga to be the fresher man come the championship rounds.
With Rashad taking Jones down repeatedly, the champ will be forced to use his height to his advantage, keeping Suga at bay with double butterfly hooks.
While Jones hasn't spent much time guard-fighting in the Octagon, expect to see Bones using this strategy to avoid ground-and-pound and to manipulate Rashad's center of balance when looking for reversals.
When Jones ends up on top, he enters dominant position by sweeping Evans from the position, elevating the smaller fighter and flipping him like a pancake.
In a fight where Bones will be unable to negate Evans' speed, yet finds himself in possession of a ridiculous reach advantage, it is almost inevitable that we see both men on wobbly legs at some point during the night's proceedings.
Rashad will move in and out of the pocket, using head movement to slip Jones' shots and fire off lopping blows from inside; Bones will snap Suga's head back with powerful straights, blasting the former champion from half-way across the Octagon at every opportunity.
While neither will go to sleep, both men may well be heading to the hospital after this one.
Don't expect this one to be a barn-burner right out of the gate. With so much on the line, each man will take a while to settle into his game plan, feeling out his range and testing the water.
In a fight which Evans must win through tactics, expect a lot of circling and air-pawing in the first few minutes—think of the first round as a "calibration period."
While it may not be Griffin-Bonnar, Round 1 will no doubt be tense.
We're well accustomed to watching Jones work the "hell-bows" from the top position, but we'll see the champ doing his best Kenny Florian impression on April 21st, firing off shots from the guard to reasonable effect.
The corollary of this? Blood, I'm afraid, possibly lots of it. Evans will receive more than a few head nicks, courtesy of Bones', well...bones.
Let us—all of us—hope that this one isn't stopped on a cut.
Rashad Evans: 5'11". Jon Jones: 6'4".
While Jones has landed his trademark spinning shots on a number of smaller opponents, MMA is a game of inches, and the champ would have to be insane to present his back to Suga for the sake of a low-percentage strike.
Mr. Jones may well be less "creative" with his stand-up on this outing, aiming to keep Evans on the end of his jab.
Given my earlier comments concerning both men having their respective bells rung, this slide requires a degree of explanation. Jon Jones will put his hands on Rashad Evans multiple times in their UFC 145 title fight. Of that I have no doubt. That being said, Bones is not a good striker; indeed, Bones doesn't have to be a good striker.
With an 84-inch reach, Jon Jones can stay out of the pocket and happily pick away at his opponents with kicks and punches. At 6'4", Jones lifts his knee to hip level and clocks opponents in the chin. In short, the champ can land shots without having sharp footwork, clever angling or crisp hands—all the qualities we normally associate with "good" strikers.
Against a clever boxer like Evans, however, Jones is going to have trouble. While Bones has faced talented strikers such as Shogun Rua in the past, speed kills. Evans, unlike Shogun, does not use a plodding Muay Thai style, and, unlike Rampage Jackson, uses a lot of lateral movement.
Expect to see the champ landing at times, while looking frustrated and out-gunned at others.
We've mentioned it again and again: the key to this fight is Jon Jones' leg length. As Rashad gains confidence and settles down in Bones' guard, expect to see a Sonnen-esque tapout in the final moments of the fight.
Evans, smashing away, leaves an arm in, prompting the champ to flick his hips up, capturing Rashad's neck with his stilt-like limbs.
After the biggest ego-check of his career, the champ retains his title, heading back to Jackson's with bruised cheeks and plenty to contemplate.
Maybe not now, not immediately after the fight, not for the remainder of 2012, even, will Rashad Evans return to Jackson's MMA.
At some point, however, return he will.
Clichéd as it may seem, time heals all wounds, and the original Jackson's MMA product has much to gain by making a return to his former home, prompting a "rebirth" storyline on one of 2013's UFC Primetime shows.
"In an effort to reverse his fortunes, Evans has gone back to his roots..."