A lot of people don't think that Rashad Evans stands much of a chance against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
The way people have been talking, you would think that Evans had just beaten Kimbo Slice, not Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
To be fair, the Evans doubters out there do have their reasons for predicting his defeat at the hands of Rua, but I don't think it's nearly as much of a lopsided matchup as some others have suggested.
Before explaining why Evans can be a tough fight for Shogun, let's first look at what has been said on the contrary.
Why People Think Evans Is No Match for Shogun
Aside from the haters out there who will predict an Evans downfall regardless of who he has just beaten or how he did it, there are some legitimate reasons to be concerned about how well he'll do against Shogun.
Ignoring some of the more unintelligent jabs at Evans, here are some more reasonable ideas I've been hearing over the past few days.
1. Shogun is a better striker than Evans, and he's a better submission grappler as well. Evans has the better wrestling, but that just means he gets to choose where he loses.
2. Evans has a glass jaw, while Shogun's chin is granite.
3. Evans got destroyed by Machida and Machida got destroyed by Shogun, therefore Evans will get destroyed by Shogun.
Why We Shouldn't Buy These Arguments
1. It may be true that Shogun is a better striker, and a better submission grappler than Evans, but that doesn't mean Evans can't win.
A good example of this kind of thinking occurred at UFC 114 when Rogerio Nogueira fought Jason Brilz. One of the reasons people thought Brilz stood no chance (aside from the fact that casual fans didn't know who he was) was that Nogueira was supposed to be much better than Brilz both on the feet and on the ground.
What wasn't taken into account was Brilz's wrestling and how critical top position is in MMA.
In the early days of MMA, wrestlers weren't able to fend off submission attempts very well, but things have certainly changed since then.
Say what you want about the legitimacy of Evan's BJJ black belt he got from Rolles Gracie.
If you're bored, you can cite Shogun's omaplata sweep on Ricardo Arona and tell me that things would be much worse for Evans.
Certainly I see the point of those statements.
Yet I struggle to understand why people are so convinced that Evans couldn't possibly have some success on the ground against a guy who couldn't submit Mark Coleman in nearly three rounds of grappling.
Another important thing to keep in mind is the way the wrestling may end up affecting the striking.
Some of the best punches in MMA have landed when a fighter feigns a takedown and throws a punch instead. Evans is certainly one of the fighters who is capable of mixing his strikes with his takedowns, and he landed his first punch on Rampage in a similar fashion.
Evans' wrestling should give Shogun one more thing to think about while the fight remains on the feet. The threat of takedowns can only make Evans' striking more effective.
Evans may not be as good of a striker as Shogun, but he still hurts people when he hits them, and I think he can have a lot of success on the feet with hard punches if he forces Shogun to respect his takedowns.
2. Evans has been rocked badly in each of his past three fights, so it's natural to question his chin.
That being said, I think the concern over Evans' chin is a bit overstated.
When Evans got rocked by Machida, he got blasted repeatedly afterward, but still managed to stay in the fight for quite a bit of time. In fact, one of the talking points after that fight wasn't how bad, Evans' chin was, but rather, how GOOD it was.
Since then, he's been rocked a few more times, but Thiago Silva and Quinton Jackson are both heavy hitters, so it's hardly an indictment of Evans' chin that he was rocked by those guys.
If there is something negative to be said about Evans, I think the issue is less about his chin, and more about the fact that he's been caught with heavy punches. That's a concern, but as much as he might be hittable, I also think he's done a great job of recovering his composure in both of his last two fights, which is a good sign, and is better than a lot of fighters who start self-destructing the instant they get hit.
Shogun's chin has been durable in the past, but that hardly means that Evans can't knock him out. If you get hit on the chin hard enough, you're going to go out no matter who you are. Shogun is no different.
3. The third "argument" is another fine example of MMAmath.
The equation goes something like Shogun>Machida>Evans.
By this point in time, most MMA fans have seen enough fights to know that stylistic matchups count, and that MMAmath doesn't work, but for some reason, people still look at what happened to Evans against Machida and use that as a reason why Evans can't beat Shogun.
However, the problems that Shogun represents are very different from those represented by Machida.
For starters, Evans couldn't really incorporate his wrestling against Machida because Machida has some of the best takedown defense in the light heavyweight division. Shogun's takedown defense is not nearly at that level.
Those using MMAmath to support Shogun against Evans also need to dig into their bag of excuses in order to discount the other equation, Evans>Griffin>Shogun, as well as the other fight "equations" favoring Evans.
Why I Think Rashad Evans Can Beat Mauricio Rua
Out of everything written above, there are two main points I've mentioned thus far:
1. Evans can have some success with his wrestling and top control. He can use his wrestling to win rounds, or to inflict damage.
2. Evans can have some success with his striking if he can force Shogun to respect his takedowns.
Aside from these things, I think there are a few more things to consider, but the most important thing might be endurance.
Most people see Shogun's lackluster performances as a result of a series of injuries that kept him away from training. There is probably some truth to that, but I also think that Shogun got tired against Forrest Griffin and Mark Coleman because of the grueling nature of those fights as much as because of his injury issues.
I won't discount conditioning as a factor for Shogun until I see him pushed again in another grueling fight. Evans may not have the greatest cardio himself, but when it comes to cardio, I favor him over Shogun, because I think he can use his wrestling to force Shogun to expend more energy, much like Griffin did.
I do think that Shogun has improved since the Griffin fight, but in my opinion, his biggest improvement has been in the way he's embraced strategy and tactics.
If Rashad Evans can choose some sound strategies and tactics of his own, the UFC title fight with Shogun should be a highly interesting one.