Rashad (Suga) Evans
Just about a year ago, at UFC 114, former UFC light-heavyweight champion Rashad "Suga" Evans defeated his arch nemesis Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, also a former titleholder, in a fight that would determine the No. 1 contender to the 205-pound belt, held at the time by an injured Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
After earning his title shot, Evans chose not to take another fight and risk his contender status while waiting for Rua to heal, even fully well knowing the Brazilian-bred champion would be out for an extended period of time.
When Rua was finally ready to compete after a 10-month layoff, Evans injured himself in training, and in his place to fight for the belt was his teammate at Greg Jackson’s Submission Academy, the budding superstar Jon (Bones) Jones, who took the fight on only six weeks' notice.
Jones ended up defeating Rua in devastating fashion at UFC 128, and since teammates have not traditionally fought each other in the UFC, Evans was forced to leave Jackson’s camp to cash in on his title shot—even though he was a pioneer of the club and Jones had only been there for a few years.
The bout between Jones and Evans was set to take place this August at UFC 133 in Philadelphia, but Jones pulled out, citing the need to get surgery on his injured hand. Since Evans had been without a fight for over a year, he decided to take a fight against undefeated, fast-rising contender Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis instead of waiting yet again for an injured champion to return.
But after further consideration, Jones decided to elect not for surgery, instead saying he would be ready to return to the cage this fall.
However, the UFC decided not to pull Evans from his fight with Davis, and now Evans will have to beat a tough fighter in order to retain his contender status. With Jones scheduled for a September-October return, it is up in the air now who he will make his first title defence against, since the UFC announces title fights months in advance in order to promote them.
One suggestion has been to match Jones up with the flamboyant Jackson if he defeats the surging Matt Hamill at UFC 130. But how do you give Jackson a title shot before Evans, considering Evans already defeated him in a fight that was supposed to determine the No. 1 contender? It just doesn’t make sense.
Another idea has been to match up Jones with Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida, the former champion who is fresh off knocking 48-year old MMA legend Randy "The Natural" Couture into retirement with a brutal flying front kick at the UFC’s biggest event ever, UFC 129. This doesn’t make sense either since before the knockout Machida was on the bubble, having been decisioned by Jackson at UFC 123 last November and before that being knocked out by Rua and losing the light-heavyweight title at UFC 113.
Although Machida’s drubbing of Couture was an exciting and memorable moment in the annals of MMA history, it is not enough to overshadow the fact that he lost consecutive fights in the calendar year before it. Evans, on the other hand, has only lost one fight—in his whole career.
If this all seems complicated, that’s because it is, even though it doesn’t really have to be. The solution to this mess is obvious: Pull Evans from his fight with Davis. Although this is the main event of UFC 133, the UFC can replace it with a featherweight title fight between Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes, a fight that has been rumored to take place on the card as the co-main event but hasn't yet been made official.
The dilemma with is that it doesn’t make sense to have a title fight on the undercard to a non-title fight headliner, even if it is featuring a more recognizable star in Evans. The UFC can solve this problem by scrapping the Davis-Evans fight altogether and having Evans wait another month or two extra to make his return to the Octagon against Jones.
The backfire to this plan is that it would mean Evans would have been out 16 or 17 months since his last fight, and he would likely suffer from ring rust when he finally does fight Jones. But the upside for Evans is tremendous, since he would have his title shot and not have had to unnecessarily risk losing it to Davis, who himself could use time off after having had five UFC fights in the past 13 months.
The fans win too by getting the fight they desperately want to see, since the feud between Evans and Jones has risen to a boiling point lately through their nightclub run-ins and online Twitter feuding. It makes sense for the UFC as well since the fight between Jones and Evans will surely be a financial boon to the company if the current hype level is any indication.
Evans has earned his title shot against Jon Jones. Dana White, make it happen.