For weeks, months, what's felt like decades, Rashad Evans and Jon Jones have gone back and forth. The former training partners have battled in the press, through proxies, even face to face at a Las Vegas nightclub. Tonight, the time for talk is over.
When you strip away the glitz, glamour and endless trash talk, mixed martial arts is the most intimate of sports. Two fighters enter a steel cage, wearing just some athletic shorts and a bad expression and try to break another man's will. It's the most primal of all competition—and tonight at UFC 145, we will see two of the very best who have ever strapped on gloves and attempted to render an opponent unconscious.
Jon Jones is the wunderkind. Sources close to the fighter tell Bleacher Report he's never been more motivated. He has stayed away from the nightlife and party scene for 12 long weeks to prepare for Evans. When he enters the cage, he will be the best he's ever been. People can't stop raving about his potential.
Seems like a strange word for someone arguably the best fighter in the sport. He's already the champion of the world, how much better can he possibly get? The answer you get from UFC insiders? Big enough to transcend this sport. To take his place at a higher level of cultural consciousness. To stand side-by-side with Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, and Floyd Mayweather and actually belong in that august company.
Before he can do that though, there's the little matter of Rashad Evans. Evans is the underdog for a reason. He stands a smidgen below six feet tall. He's so small for his weight class that he can dine at Chipotle while everyone else of the card is furiously cutting weight. Against Jones he will likely give up close to 20 pounds in weight and a whopping 10 inches in reach.
And yet, it's hard to count Evans out. He's been counted out his whole career and has managed to triumph again and again. Evans has been in the cage against the best and survived. It's that veteran presence, combined with strong takedowns, and a fast, powerful right hand that makes him a viable threat to Jones.
Forget about personal animus—when it comes right down to it, we'll see two savvy professionals exchanging techniques at the highest level, not two drunks in a furious bar brawl. It's a nice reminder that beneath all the artifice and the noise, mixed martial arts is a sport. And sporting events don't get much better than UFC 145.