UFC veterans Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen are set to meet at UFC 167 in a bout to determine which fighter will take a step closer to a rematch with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
After losing to Jones at UFC 145, Evans was out of action for nearly 10 months and returned with a disappointing decision loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
In another lackluster outing in June, Evans did enough to get back into the win column by beating Dan Henderson on the scorecards.
Evans will have plenty of eyes on him during the co-main event of UFC 167. This will be an important opportunity for the former champion to show that he's ready to make another run at the 205-pound championship.
Sonnen, meanwhile, has rebounded much more impressively from his loss to Jones.
At UFC Fight Night 26, Sonnen joined Forrest Griffin and Renato Sobral as one of only three fighters to submit Mauricio Rua. Although his next matchup is already lined up, coming against Wanderlei Silva, Sonnen has a chance to establish himself as a top five 205-pounder by beating Evans.
As this bout between Top 10 light heavyweights and Fox Sports 1 colleagues approaches, here is a look at how Evans and Sonnen match up in all areas.
In terms of significant strikes, Rashad Evans has been out-landed in three straight outings.
While Evans out-worked Dan Henderson at UFC 161, he was hesitant to pull the trigger on meaningful strikes, landing only 39 significant strikes over three rounds. Evans was even more gun-shy against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, landing only 22 significant strikes at UFC 156.
Although he was stopped in back-to-back fights against Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen historically owns a very solid chin. Unless Evans unloads more frequently, he's going to have a tough time finishing Sonnen at UFC 167.
Still, Evans will have a noticeable speed advantage against Sonnen. If this fight stays standing, Evans should be able to stick-and-move his way to a second straight decision victory.
If it's tough to remember the last time Chael Sonnen beat an opponent with his striking alone, that's because it hasn't happened inside the Octagon.
That said, Sonnen does have some underrated boxing.
Nonetheless, he really only uses it to set up his wrestling, and that won't change just because Rashad Evans is also a solid wrestler. Sonnen committed to his wrestling against Yushin Okami, who he probably had a better chance of beating with his striking than he will Evans.
Like Dan Henderson, Sonnen has the capability to keep a striking match close against Evans.
Unfortunately for Sonnen, close doesn't count in MMA.
Chael Sonnen may be one of the better wrestlers in MMA, but he's been taken down in three of his past six fights. While one of the fighters to take him down over that span was light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, the others were Michael Bisping and Anderson Silva.
Evans is a better wrestler than both Bisping and Silva. At UFC 78, Evans scored six takedowns on Bisping en route to a decision win.
More notably, Evans is excellent at countering pressuring punches with takedowns. That's a key for fighters looking to take Sonnen to the ground.
Against Jon Jones, Sonnen pressed forward right away. As Sonnen opened with a right hook (top left), Jones dropped levels (top right). Jones latched onto a single-leg (bottom left) and drove Sonnen off balance by driving forward and pushing the challenger toward his trapped limb with his right arm (bottom right).
Even in a poor performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Evans showed he's fully capable of hitting a similar counter takedown.
In the opening round of his bout with Nogueira, Evans ducked a lead left hook (top) and drove forward, completing his takedown by tripping the Brazilian's left leg with his right leg (bottom).
Nogueira doesn't have the same wrestling credentials as Sonnen, but he's not easy to take down. The Brazilian has stopped 72 percent of takedown attempts against him, which is comparable to the takedown defense of Sonnen, who denies 68 percent of opponent takedown tries.
Evans doesn't need takedowns to win this matchup; however, they'll certainly help him steal rounds should he throw infrequently on his feet like he has in recent bouts.
Aside from Jon Jones, Chael Sonnen has taken down every opponent he's faced since February 2009.
Demian Maia was the last fighter to avoid a Sonnen takedown in a non-title matchup. The Brazilian was also the most recent non-champion to defeat Sonnen, submitting the American in the opening round.
If he can get inside, Sonnen shouldn't be shut down in the takedown department by Rashad Evans.
Against Jon Jones, Evans was caught leaning too heavily in the clinch. With Evans putting much of his weight on his right leg (top left), Jones stepped to his right (top right), using Evans' momentum against him. To prevent Evans from catching his balance with a step forward, Jones blocked his former teammate's right leg with his left leg (bottom left), leading in the lone takedown of their fight at UFC 145.
Getting into a clinch with Evans won't be easy, though.
When standing, Evans is going to look to land jabs from the outside, so Sonnen will need to be aggressive and use a lot of head movement to get his hands on the former champion.
Michael Bisping came at Sonnen with a similar striking approach, and he took Sonnen to a narrow decision. With wrestling experience paired with his quickness, Evans might provide one of the tougher stylistic matchups Sonnen has faced.
Rashad Evans has the ability to shut opponents down on the ground, but Chael Sonnen is too good of a wrestler to be controlled on the canvas for three rounds.
Against NCAA champion wrestler Phil Davis, Evans dominated with his top control en route to a decision win. While Davis was an excellent amateur wrestler, he didn't have as much experience fighting off of his back as Sonnen does.
Sonnen was taken down three times in one round against Jon Jones. That does not reflect well on his takedown defense, but the fact that he was able to escape from bottom multiple times was an accomplishment against the light heavyweight champion.
Evans shouldn't eliminate takedowns from his game plan, but he can't depend on grinding out a decision win with only top control. Still, any amount of time Evans spends on top is time he isn't allowing Sonnen to take him down.
Chael Sonnen has depended on takedowns in every one of his UFC victories. If he takes Rashad Evans down on Saturday, Sonnen will need to make the most of his time on top.
Although Sonnen's finishing ability isn't overly high, he has a way of making opponents constantly uncomfortable on the ground. If he gets his chance to work from the top, Sonnen has the ability to pass Evans' guard, land shots and possibly even become the first fighter to submit Evans.
In his second meeting with Anderson Silva, Sonnen looked solid on top in the opening round.
From the Brazilian's half-guard, Sonnen continually landed punches (top left), forcing Silva to loosen his guard in an attempt to improve position (top right). Sonnen then shifted most of his weight to his forehead, which was driving into Silva's temple (bottom left). This caused Silva to further loosen his guard, allowing Sonnen to move to full-mount (bottom right).
Evans has never been forced to tap, nor has he been stopped with ground-and-pound; however, like any wrestler used to being the fighter who's scoring the takedowns, Evans is not overly comfortable on top. If Sonnen can get to the clinch and take Evans down, he is more than capable of winning two rounds in what is sure to be a competitive wrestling match.
Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen are two of the more experienced fighters in the light heavyweight division.
Both men have competed in multiple title fights, so conditioning should not be an issue in their three-round bout on Saturday. Ring rust shouldn't come into play either, with Evans and Sonnen having both competed in the summer.
With Sonnen having competed at middleweight for much of his UFC career and Evans having considered a move to 185 pounds, the UFC 167 co-main event competitors are both smallish light heavyweights.
Evans and Sonnen are similar in a lot of ways. There aren't many intangibles that would give one fighter an edge over the other on Saturday.
Wrestling was canceled when Rashad Evans met Dan Henderson at UFC 161.
There's a good chance that will happen again when Evans meets another Team Quest wrestler in Chael Sonnen on Saturday. Both fighters are capable of scoring a takedown or two over three rounds, but it isn't likely either man will dominate the fight on the ground.
While it's very possible Evans and Sonnen will split takedowns at UFC 167, Evans should be able to pull away with his striking. Sonnen is a bit more technical with his striking than Henderson was, but Evans also won't have to be as worried about Sonnen's power as he was Henderson's.
That should allow Evans to be more active with his striking than he has been in recent appearances.
As long as he works his jab and stays on the outside as much as possible, Evans should send Sonnen into his The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil coaching gig with a loss.
Evans will defeat Sonnen by decision.
Photos and statistics via UFC.com.