The UFC 145 main event featuring UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones taking on former training partner and former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans is one of the most anticipated MMA fights in some time. I’ll admit this fight preview will be lengthy and very detailed, so I will not waste anymore of your time. Let’s get it.
Jon Jones (15-1) comes into this fight after defending his UFC light heavyweight title for the third time by defeating former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida via submission back at UFC 140. It was the sixth consecutive win via finish for Jones since receiving the only loss on his record against Matt Hamill in 2009 due to illegal strikes (elbows). He has eight wins via TKO/KO and five wins via submission while only going to a judges decision twice in his career. Jones is an unorthodox striker, has good wrestling, and an underrated submission game. Jones doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, but he doesn’t have huge power in his hands or feet. However, he is capable of finishing violently with ground and pound once he takes his opponents down and seems well versed in submissions.
Rashad Evans (17-1-1) comes into this fight off a dominant unanimous decision win over light heavyweight prospect Phil Davis at the UFC on FOX 2 event that took place this past January. Evans has won four consecutive fights since suffering the only defeat of his career against former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 98. Evans has six wins via TKO/KO and two wins via submission while winning nine fights via decision. Evans has knockout power in his hands and feet, has good wrestling, and is excellent in transitioning between striking and wrestling. He has had some cardio issues in the past, but has seemed to correct that issue in the past few years.
In September, I wrote what I believe to be the blueprint on how to beat Jon Jones. A fighter must overcome the reach advantage of Jones and avoid being taken down for a legitimate chance of beating the current champion while being in excellent physical condition.
As I mentioned earlier, Jon Jones does not have what one would call devastating punching or kicking power. We haven’t seen him straight up flat line somebody the way Rashad Evans did Chuck Liddell, or the way Rashad Evans did Sean Salmon. The best defense is to be offensive against Jones while using controlled aggression, otherwise you’ll end up like Vladimir Matyushenko (see the .gif below). Evans is great at transitioning from takedowns to striking and vice versa, and that skill set could help keep Jones off balance in what he wants to do in this fight. The hardcore fans can think back to UFC 68 when Tim Sylvia was dominated by the much smaller Randy Couture. Sylvia didn’t know if Couture was going to go for a takedown or strike with him which allowed Couture to dictate where the fight took place.
The difference here is that Jones has much better wrestling when compared to Sylvia. When it comes to striking, Evans is going to have to do damage from the clinch position, either exploding with power strikes during clinch breaks or getting a takedown. I think it should be noted that Evans has improved his striking significantly over the past two or three years even though Jones refuses to admit the improvements. Evans has developed a solid jab and nowadays has very little wasted motion compared to his “herky jerky” style he used early on. He can’t afford to fight from the outside and get picked apart the way Jones did Rampage Jackson. This is where is speed and movement will be key.
You see in the .gif that Jones relies on the inside leg trip to take Matyushenko down from a clinch position, and that’s how the majority of his takedowns occur. He doesn’t rely on the traditional power double or single leg takedowns which brings me to the wrestling department.
The number one rule for Rashad Evans in this fight when it comes to wrestling is to be on top, and never allow his back to touch the canvas with Jon Jones on top of him. Jones is absolutely deadly from that position, and all is takes is one takedown to change the entire fight or end it for that matter. Just think back to how well Lyoto Machida was doing against Jones, even arguably winning the first round. However, one takedown and one elbow later the whole complexion of the fight changed and Machida was laying lifeless on the canvas just a minute or so later. Here are some more takedowns that Jones has used in the past:
As you can see, Jones is excellent at using the trip and understands the use of leverage really well. However, these takedowns were against Stephen Bonnar and Evans has much better wrestling, and a better base than Bonnar. I should mention that the threat of a takedown could limit what Jones uses in regards to kicks. Evans showed the ability to catch the kicks of Phil Davis and then easily take him down, so that’s some else to factor in. Evans should be able to defend the majority of the takedown attempts from Jones as Rampage did until his cardio started to go later in the fight which brings me to the final category.
This department is probably the most important aspect in regards to Evans being able to get a win in this fight. He has a puncher’s chance of winning this fight at best if he isn’t in excellent shape for this fight. Evans has had some stamina issues in past fights, but he has seemed to sure up that hole in his game over the years. The thing is he’ll be using lots of movement and possibly be in many clinching positions with the larger Jones which will zap a great deal of energy. Evans is a veteran now and should understand this, and this could be where training with Jones in the past is most beneficial. However, if Evans isn’t in great shape, he’ll eventually succumb to a takedown and a tired Evans has no chance with Jones on top of him.
The most important this is Evans needs to be in tip top shape, and everything else can get thrown out of the window if he isn’t. We know Jones has good cardio. Evans needs to control the pace of the fight and use his offense as his best defense. Jones, nor many fighters aside from Chuck Liddell are dangerous when backing up. Evans needs to fight from close range, not from a distance as Rampage Jackson did, and needs to avoid being taken down at all cost. If he’s taken down he needs to get right back up to his feet immediately if possible. If Evans is able to take Jones down, he needs to work from the half guard position as the length of Jones could pose problems, there’s no sense is laying around in the guard of Jones with those long limbs. He should be able to control Jones better from half guard while doing damage, while also not allowing Jones the opportunity to set up submissions. I could see Evans hurting Jones and finishing him via TKO, or possibly grinding out a decision win with a mixture of striking and wrestling.
I think Rashad Evans has the tools to beat Jon Jones, and I think it’s ridiculous that Jones is such a large betting favorite. As with everything at the highest levels, it all comes down to execution. Here’s to hoping we have an excellent main event on Saturday night. Stay tuned for my prediction on the fight on Friday when our Pro MMA Now staff predictions go up, and don’t forget to connect with us via our social network connections at the top of this piece.