Heading into tonight's main event between reigning UFC light heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones and former champion Rashad Evans at UFC 145, much of the attention is being focused on their being former teammates when the fight really means so much more than that.
This is a fight between two of the all-time best light heavyweights in MMA, and while a victory would be just as important for either guy, it's Jones who is the heavily favored fighter, which shouldn't surprise anyone.
After a remarkable 2011 that saw the 24-year-old defeat Quinton Jackson, Mauricio Rua, Ryan Bader and Lyoto Machida, many fans called it the single best year of any mixed martial artist. If he makes it past Evans, he arguably is the best LHW to ever step into the sport.
Evans, a former NCAA Division I wrestler, enters the bout having four victories over Tito Ortiz, Phil Davis, Thiago Silva and Jackson.
Jones has been quick to point out he knows Evans' game plan, and that's to take him down. The former champ is the best wrestler that Jones has faced yet, but nobody has even come close to being able to take Jones down inside the Octagon, so it's still a mystery how it can be done, at least outside of the training room.
That's not to say Evans doesn't have a chance standing, and he probably has a better chance there with his speed and athleticism than shooting for takedowns and taking punishment from knees and elbows on the way in if he is unsuccessful.
With a 10-inch reach advantage and a five-inch height advantage, Jones has all the physical tools needed to play the distance game if he wants, and this will all be decided by Evans, who will have the choice early regarding his plan of attack.
Jones is going into this fight without a game plan, and that means he is going to have to adapt to what his opponent does, as all great fighters do.
Evans isn't the quickest starter, but he will need to start quickly here to find success against an opponent who will respond to his own strategies early in the fight. An in-and-out type of attack would best suit Evans, who won't want to be so close that he gets kneed or kicked at range.
Knockout power is on Evans' side, and he will need to find success landing combinations before setting up a knockout blow that he will most likely need to win. This will have to be done early because any stalling from Evans will result in Jones figuring him out even quicker.
Many predictions are falling on Jones winning in the third round by submission or knockout, and if a finish is to come on his side, that's probably where it will be after two feeling-out rounds.
If Jones is able to gauge the distance and begin to impose his size, look for him to clinch and go for the takedown, where his brutal elbows can be utilized more effectively.
Jones' unorthodox attack might be his biggest key to victory, and unpredictability could be one thing that catches Evans off-guard and leads the former Greco-Roman regional champion to victory.
Jones' success tonight is going to have everything to do with adapting, and that's always something that separates good fighters from great ones.
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