UFC Middleweight Head-to-Toe Breakdown: Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen
I legitimately got goosebumps when I saw this picture pop up on Rashad Evans's Twitter feed yesterday. The former UFC light heavyweight champion has been wavering on a move to the middleweight division for months now, but the right fight hadn't really presented itself.
It's a tricky piece of matchmaking. Evans, according to UFC President Dana White at least, can't just drop down and expect an immediate title shot. He has to earn his spot like everyone else. But as an established star, he can't fight just anybody, either. His opponent needs to be a "name" fighter, and those are few and far between at 185 pounds.
Enter Chael Sonnen.
Despite a loss to Silva at 148, Sonnen remains one of the biggest stars in the sport. Booking his fight is just as tough as booking a bout for Evans. Ideally, you'd match him with a fighter who can test him athletically, while also providing the box-office punch to merit a PPV main event.
That's what makes this a match made in heaven. It's a perfect test to see where Evans stands at 185 pounds and a high profile-fight for Chael.
What would it look like if this dream came true? Let's see how these two match up with a head-to-toe breakdown.
This is the one area where Evans stands head and shoulders above Sonnen. A slick boxer who possesses a sly head kick as well, Evans is much more polished standing than Sonnen.
Chael has developed dramatically in this area over the years, but his standup game exists primarily to secure the takedown. He just needs to be good enough to bridge the gap and get the fight to the ground.
Evans can do much better than that. In fact, he's good enough standing that avoiding Sonnen's vaunted takedown and keeping the fight on the feet may be a viable game plan for him in this fictional fight.
Major Advantage: Evans.
It all comes down to this.
Sonnen has the stronger amateur pedigree, but Evans has shown throughout his career that you can't judge his current wrestling prowess based on what he accomplished as an amateur. That's a lesson Phil Davis learned the hard way.
Sonnen's success as a fighter is predicated on his ability to take opponents to the mat. It's been his bread and butter for a decade, and that's never going to change.
Evans is also a takedown artist, but he carries that tool in his back pocket, only bringing it to bear if he isn't winning standing exchanges decisively. How will his wrestling success translate to 185 pounds? At light heavyweight, he relies on a significant speed advantage. That won't really exist at middleweight, and it will be interesting to see if a drop in weight actually decreases Rashad's ability to take the fight to the ground if needed.
With these two fighters, grappling really comes down to top control and their ability to keep a man down on the mat once they put him there.
Sonnen excels here. When he puts you down, it's very tough to get back to your feet. In recent years, only Michael Bisping has been able to challenge Sonnen in this area.
Top control hasn't always been a strong suit for Evans, but some of his struggles have been size related. He gives up so much weight competing at light heavyweight that keeping some of his behemoth opponents on the ground has been a real issue. That problem won't exist at middleweight, and his ground-and-pound game may improve in a major way.
While neither man has ever been a submission threat, Sonnen is working hard to develop that area of his game. Evans, though, hasn't been submitted in 20 professional fights.
Sonnen can't say the same. Submissions have been his Achilles heel, but against Evans he should be able to breathe easy.
Slight Advantage: Sonnen
Both are great in the clinch. Evans dominated his fight with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in the clinch and did well against Jon Jones in tight as well. When he presses his opponent into the cage, he is a triple threat, capable of punches, knees to the leg and body, or dropping levels for a strong double-leg takedown.
This is an area of strength for Sonnen as well. His Greco Roman background helps him control his opponent in this position and he does a good job of using the threat of a takedown to open up striking opportunities.
While both men are coming off the biggest losses of their professional careers, Evans seems to be in a better place mentally. He's won the big one before and that means something. For Sonnen, nagging doubts about whether he can beat the best of the best still must plague him.
Evans also has the advantage when comparing training camps. Sonnen continues to train in Oregon with local judo and boxing coaches. He's done well with this approach, but it's possible that the lack of top coaching and training partners has stunted his growth as a fighter.
Evans has the cream of the crop with him at the Jaco Hybrid Training Center in Florida. Top coaches from around the world have gathered to help him and a team of professional fighters prepare for their bouts. This more modern approach could provide Evans the small edge he needs to win.
This is a tough one to call. Much will depend on how well Evans handles the cut to 185 pounds. If he emerges the same fighter he was as a light heavyweight, I think he has too many tools for Sonnen.
Even if Chael can get the fight to the mat, and that's a big if, he's unlikely to finish Rashad early. That means Evans will have several opportunities standing and his better and more powerful punching will ultimately prove the difference.
This is a fight that fans would flock to and the perfect bout to springboard the winner, whomever he may be, right into the middleweight title picture. I'd love to see it and hope the UFC gives it strong consideration as a headliner later this year.
Winner: Rashad Evans
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