Throughout the history of man, great expansive kingdoms and empires have fallen.
What thought to be endless eras of domination and influence, suffered the follies of time and crumbled on their unforeseen expiration dates. This historic cycle has been proven over and over again, despite the century and despite the heights of success occurred by the ones on top.
It’s said that nothing great last forever. That all man-made triumphs can be charted like a pyramid: the ascending climb and peak precluding the decline and the inevitable defeat. There has yet to be a notable exception to the rule, no individual’s or society’s grasp on power has stood the test of time.
The sporting world is no different.
What we witnessed last Saturday night at UFC 128 was a stealing of the torch, a brutal reminder that all era’s come to an end. With Jon Jones’ decimation of iconic Pride star Shogun Rua and the staggering knockout defeat Mirko Cro-Cop suffered at the right hand of Brendan Schaub, all Pride faithfuls will have to prepare themselves for the end of a destiny.
For all these Pride fanboys (myself included), the start of 2011 has not been kind to our active heroes. Fedor Emelianenko got booted from the first round of Strikeforce’s Heavyweight Grand Prix—convincingly by Big Foot Silva. Now Shogun, the youngest and most hopeful of the Pride alumni, got steamrolled on all fronts by a younger, more athletically capable and impressive fighter in Jon Jones—simultaneously marking the end and beginning of two different schools in MMA.
Now that the healing process has started, the youngest trailblazer and most successful of the new breed is Jones—the new light-heavyweight champion—who has begun to shape a future all fight fans can be excited about.
Could the 23-year-old kingpin find himself in a position to realize his potential as champ, to accomplish an actual reign at 205lbs? The last time the UFC had a champion lay waste to consecutive contenders in their prized division was during Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell’s peaking years as a superstar.
Like with Liddell’s decline, fellow light-heavyweight contender Rashad Evans will look to become the beginning of the end for Jones too, as the challenger to the new champ’s first defense of the belt.
The match-up is still reverberating through the headlines, mainly due to the very public split between Rashad Evans and his prized coach Greg Jackson—also Jones’ head trainer. Jackson’s training facility is notorious for producing talented champions and contenders in numerous divisions throughout the UFC. On the other hand, the strong bond forged between teammates has been a thorn in Dana White’s side for the last couple of years, a complex obstacle in the way of matchmaking.
Fighters at Jackson’s, like many notable camps, vow never to compete against each other—especially for titles. This act of brotherly solidarity has forced the UFC to look at many alternate routes for different fighters and plans moving forward…until now.
Jones has clearly expressed his desire to please Dana and Co. by being more than open-minded about a potential fight with teammate Evans. In fact, the new champ has been so accommodating that the fight has been booked, Evans has parted ways with Greg Jackson and has even described Jones’ willingness to defend his title against him as disrespectful.
The battle lines have been etched in the sand.
The following days after UFC 128 have been filled with enough speculation and he said s(he) said drama; it’s starting to put the WWE’s storylines to shame. Regardless of this tabloid turmoil, the fact remains the same: Jon Jones will be defending his belt against Rashad Evans.
So let the pre-fight analyses begin.
How well do these guys match-up? If you ask a Vegas bookie, not well for the former champ, who is being pegged as a 5-to-1 underdog right out of the gates—an overzealous attempt at respectable odds.
Considering the few advantages Evans has coming into the fight, he is certainly not the favorite. But, as a game competitor and former titleholder, those betting lines should read something closer to +215 and -350.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the pros and cons each fighter brings to the table:
Clearly Jones and Jackson make a dynamic duo.
Whatever inside secrets Rashad might have absorbed during his training time with Jones will be neutralized by the same fact that Jones was sharing the same experiences under the same roof as Rashad. Unlike Rashad, who will have to readjust his training partners and training locations, Jones has a permanent home with a stable team of coaches.
The art of striking in MMA traditionally consists of very little variety due to the low success percentage of the overly unorthodox techniques. Attempting a full rotation before any strike is risky; the opponent typically notices the telegraphed twitch making it easier to avoid or counter, and those types of strikes are too slow to land any real damage.
Jones is one of the very few, especially at his age, who has compiled a highlight reel of such strikes. His creativity and accuracy on the feet will have Rashad guessing at every turn.
Size, strength, reach
Jones is a giant light-heavyweight coming in at 6’4” with a reach of 84.5in, ten more inches than Rashad’s. With such a height and reach advantage, Jones will be able to frustrate Rashad with the jab and a nice variety of kicks, preventing him from executing a counter take-down from such distance relative to his opponent. In turn, shooting from the outside will only make it easier for Jones to stuff the take-downs.
If Rashad discovers a way to get inside to the clinch, he’s at the mercy of a more powerful fighter capable of falling into top position after a throw, foot sweep or double-leg. Jones had no problem defending Ryan Bader’s take-down attempts at UFC 126, a more decorated wrestling pedigree than Rashad, so he shouldn’t have any issues repeating that success during his first title defense.
Rashad’s frenetic energy gives him the fuel to fire off his lightening hands and shots, allowing for quick level changes that are hard to handle for most of his opponents. Once Rashad gets his rhythm in line, his quickstep footwork keeps him slightly off balanced, but even harder to hit. Jones' unorthodox striking is at its most dangerous when his opponents linger in front working few angles—a predicament Rashad will unlikely find himself in due to his speed.
Who takes the title home after this fight?
Obviously the core facility for Rashad’s vital speed advantage is his relentless pace—most effective in the first half of fights—budding from a finely tuned cardio regiment from years of training as a pro. At the start of the third round against Shogun, a good portion of Jones’ steam had dissipated. He wasn’t at dangerously low levels, but he was becoming more sluggish, his movements a little more labored. Rashad’s cardio has been through the grinder in some hard fought three rounds matches. If he can weather the early storm and tire Jones out, his chances of capitalizing on some mistakes increases tenfold, especially late in the fight.
Simply put: Rashad is a black-belt to Jones’ white-belt. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could be the underlining factor. Rashad has yet to win a fight by submission and Jones is more a one trick pony at the moment, winning with his headlock guillotine. But, if Rashad has taking anything away from his time at Jackson’s gym, it should be the ability to formulate a perfect, often surprising, game plan. Being able to tap into a black belt level arsenal of submissions could be a luxury Rashad will have to tap into after finding himself on his back more often than not against his rival.