Recently defeating Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 114 made Rashad Evans the number one contender for the UFC light heavyweight title. Although many UFC fans expected fireworks, what resulted was a systematic, technical match ending in a decision.
In the fight, Rampage was able to briefly display his power during the third round when he happened to stuff one of Evans's takedowns and catch him with a hook, but the Evans pulled through and the rest of the fight was a complete domination.
Throughout the fight, Evans expertly threw jabs and crosses that lead to clinching Rampage, and then he turned to his wrestling arsenal to beat him in the clinch and take him down to ground-and-pound him.
A lot of fans have been critical of Evans's performance, but what is there to complain about? He has learned that he shouldn't try to beat another fighter at his own game, and he clearly had the better overall strategy.
One can't help but notice the similarities between Evans's recent strategy and Randy Couture's style. The difference between the reception? Most people like Couture's personality, but both fighters deserve respect.
Couture has made a career out of effectively nullifying dangerous strikers with his expert Greco-Roman wrestling against the cage. He does it all: dirty boxing, shoulder punches, knees to the inner thigh, and a foot stop here and there.
Evans had the same strategy at UFC 114, although he specifically geared it towards exhausting Rampage, slowly taking him down and then scoring points. The bottom line is that it worked.
Couture is given a lot of credit for hindering some of the best fighters the same way, though Evans often goes without the credit he deserves. One way or the other, though, the similarity of their approach to the game is undeniably effective.
Is wrestling against the cage the new Jiu Jitsu? Its affect on dangerous strikers seems to be just as sound as Jiu Jitsu was against those same strikers in the 1990s.
With Couture gaining victories over the likes of Brandon Vera and giving the toughest time of all to Brock Lesnar, and with Evans's systematic dismantling of Thiago Silva and Rampage, we may be seeing a shift of strikers and grapplers strategically winning their fights in a pummeling contest.
As for the similarities between Evans and Couture's record, they both have knockout victories over some of the tougher opponents the UFC has to offer, yet after being knocked out themselves, both have harnessed clinch wrestling as their staple leading them to victory.
Both Couture and Evans have found a way to stay fighting against top level competition. Couture expertly clinches nearly everyone and scores a bunch of points against the cage; Evans has recently done the same.
The good part is that MMA is continuing to evolve, which makes strategy more integral than ever. The bad part is that viewers who simply want to see a knockout or brutal submission will begin to complain and lose interest in the sport.
But what's important is that winners get the credit they deserve, and true fans of MMA have to appreciate the strategy of a technician. Otherwise the sport would be nothing but a coin toss resulting in haymakers and dreams of knockout-of-the-night bonus checks.
As for the others, they can always turn to professional wrestling...