Former UFC light heavyweight champion “Suga” Rashad Evans brings a unique perspective to the recent cancellation of UFC 151 and the uproar from fans and UFC brass surrounding UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones‘ refusal to fight Chael Sonnen on a week’s notice to save the card.
Evans is a former friend and training partner of Jones, and on Monday’s episode of Pro MMA Radio, he reminded listeners how Jones became champion in the first place and why he feels Jones owed it to the UFC to take the fight:
“It’s great that fighters have a right to choose a fight. It’s really one of the only liberties that we do have, the option to say yes or no to a fight. On the other hand, you have a tremendous responsibility as a champion. You’re the champion of the UFC. Not only that, you [Jon Jones] became champion of the UFC through circumstances like this. Through having the opportunity to fight for somebody that was injured, he stepped in for me after I got hurt to fight Shogun. So he was rewarded by the very process of somebody stepping in to take a fight. So he owes it to the UFC to take the fight. Not only that, he owes it to all the other fighters on this card who are going to be missing out paydays because of that.”
Evans also pointed out all the success Jones now enjoys, including his Nike endorsement, is because of the UFC. He feels the backlash from Jones’ recent DWI arrest could have been much worse without the UFC’s involvement. And he also feels once the dust settles Jones is going to regret his decision not to help the UFC out in a pinch.
“Let’s not talk about how the UFC has done so much to make him the face of the UFC. They sponsor him. Everything that he has gotten is because of the UFC. The whole Nike endorsement and everything else like that, it’s all been because of the UFC. When he got in trouble a few months back it was the UFC who stood behind him and kind of made it go away relatively quickly. So for him to turn his back on the UFC, it’s very hard to believe, for one, but it’s just disappointing. I’m sure once he has the time to really understand the ramifications of his decision, he’s going to think like, ‘Wow, what did I really do?’ “
Evans’ perspective on this whole thing is interesting from another standpoint as well. As part of the Blackzilians, he is actually helping Vitor Belfort, who will face Jones on Sept. 22 at UFC 152, train for the fight.
Although Belfort is a former UFC light heavyweight champion, it has been several years since he fought at 205 pounds. No one believes Belfort “earned” this fight, but nevertheless, here we are. And with the oddsmakers putting Belfort at +625 compared to Jones at +625, the Brazilian “Phenom” seems to have about as much chance of becoming the next UFC light heavyweight champion as Jon Jones has of receiving a standing ovation when he walks into the arena that night.
Having said that, if anyone has a “puncher’s chance” against Jones, you have to include Belfort among them. Four of his last five wins have been via knockout, and most recently he submitted Anthony “Rumble” Johnson via rear-naked choke at UFC 142 in January.
It also can’t hurt Belfort’s chances to have a former training partner of Jones, and a man who knows Jones’ strengths and weaknesses as well as anyone, in his corner. Evans gave his take on the fight:
“You just get back to old Vitor and some of the things that made him successful before. And I think that’s how you beat Jon Jones. You know, Vitor has a wealth of knowledge and some of the things he does and some of the things he knows he really doesn’t ultimately do every single time he fights. Since he’s been in the UFC he’s been trying to find his way a little bit, he had a few injuries and stuff like that, so I think he’s going to try to find his rhythm, but ultimately I think it’s about where he’s been training and how comfortable he’s been with his training partners and stuff. And I feel now he’s in a good place. He has a lot of great training partners and he has a team that is going to be all about him and all about him getting the belt and getting the title. I think Vitor is going to shock the world. That’s what I really think. I think he’s going to shock the world. I think that he’s going to bring something different that Jon hasn’t seen.”
Incidentally, Evans said he was never offered the fight with Jones at 151, but would not have been able to get ready in time anyway. He did say he would have taken the fight at UFC 152 and done his best to put together a three week camp. Evans indicated his next fight will be at 205-pounds (no opponent or date set) but is considering the possibility of moving to 185.
On a side note: Chael Sonnen doesn’t believe Belfort is really going to fight Jones. He thinks Belfort will pull out and he will end up stepping in to fight Jones after all.