Saturday’s main event presents potential title implications in the light heavyweight division as “Suga” Rashad Evans (16-1-1) finds himself in the familiar position of having to solidify his place as the number one contender, this time facing “Mr wonderful” Phil Davis (9-0).
The contest had been set to take place on several occasions, but through a succession of injuries to several of the UFC’s light heavyweight elite, it was removed and then rescheduled to finally commence upon the UFC’s second outing to be broadcast on Fox.
Evans had endured a difficult 2011, punctuated by injury and missed opportunity. After being finally installed as the then champion Shogun Rua’s next opponent he was forced to withdraw with a knee injury and saw his chance, training camp and the belt he once wore all taken in quick succession by his former training partner and friend Jon Jones.
It has been a difficult descent for the former champion, resembling something akin to a Greek tragedy. But his luck appears to have finally turned, as a reinvigorated “Suga” produced a stellar performance in his long awaited return to the octagon, delivering a brutal knee to the body that his opponent, Tito Ortiz, could never recover from. The TUF season 2 winner, brought a heightened sense of urgency and focus to the fight, displaying no sign of “ring rust” or injury as he powered his way toward the TKO victory. Now training out of Imperial Athletics in Florida, a highly motivated Evans will be primed to deliver an equally impressive performance.
Standing between Evans and a possible showdown with Jones is a rising star who has yet to taste defeat. Phil Davis has risen steadily through the light heavyweight ranks and has gone from prospect to established star in a remarkably short space of time. In fact if it wasn’t for the spectacular rise of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones then Davis would surely have been vaunted as the next big thing and leader of a next generation of mixed martial artists. Davis is a supremely gifted athlete who has utilized his superior strength and wrestling prowess to control opponents from the top position, exemplified by lopsided victories over Brian Stann, Alexander Gustafsson and most recently, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
With the return of Dan Henderson to the UFC fold and younger fighters like Davis delivering on their potential, the pressure on Evans is more prominent then ever, as anything short of victory would leave him in a highly precarious position. UFC President Dana White had been reticent in fully committing to Evans as being the next in line to face Jones for the light heavyweight title, but it is highly probable that if he emerges victorious and for the most part unscathed, he will be granted the title shot that has slipped through his fingers more times than he would care to remember.
A defeat for Davis on the other hand, would be less damaging as the twenty seven year old emerges from the infancy of his MMA career. However, if he can seize this opportunity and defeat an opponent that many have questioned his readiness for, it would present a huge landmark in his career and shake up a division that is crying out for young pretenders to Jon Jones’ throne.
Wrestling is often a key factor in Evans’ ability to overcome opponents but on this occasion it is Davis who presents the more impressive pedigree as a former NCAA Division I Wrestling Champion. Yet the most significant difference between the two fighters is the striking advantage that Evans undoubtedly possesses. Davis has shown rapid improvements in this area but I expect the more technical Evans to avoid punishment by moving in and out of range and utilize his crisp boxing to ensure the decision victory.
Tags: Mixed Martial Arts, Phil Davis, Rashad Evans, UFC, UFC on Fox 2