Good Friends, Better Enemies – Rashad Evans Has Tough, But Not Impossible, Task Ahead of Him Against Jon Jones at UFC 145

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA

The matchup of Rashad Evans and Jon Jones, and the fallout therein between the two that preceded it, is almost Shakespearean in a way. You have the grizzled veteran who brought in one of the best talents in the sport to his camp, becoming friends with him along the way. Only the rookie would usurp his position and get the title shot long since promised to him, causing his exit from the training camp he helped to establish as one of the best. The veteran would establish himself and a new camp but bad blood remains.

Now, after seeing his former training partner and friend turn into a dominant champion while he missed out on several opportunities to challenge for his title due to circumstance, Rashad Evans is now back in the spot he was supposed to have after several title eliminators: opposite the light heavyweight champion, 25 minutes away from figuring out who’s the better man. And it’ll be a tough proposition for the former champion but let’s not forget one thing.

It’s a very doable proposition. It’ll just be a really tough one.

The big disadvantage coming in for Evans is going to be physically. He’s giving nearly a foot in reach, five inches in height and 15-20 lbs after weigh-ins. Rashad is a small light heavyweight, under six feet tall and without the big weight cut that Jones has in front of him as he walks around closer to 215 pounds than the 230-40 Jones does. Functionally this is the equivalent of a medium sized heavyweight against a middleweight.

The biggest middleweights in the division are roughly the same size as Rashad; Chael Sonnen, Brian Stann and Chris Weidman are all roughly the same size as Evans. Jones is one of the biggest light heavyweights in the division. Jones, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonner are all close to the same size as heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos. The size gap between those three and the Brazilian heavyweight champion isn’t significant and that’s going to be a factor.

If Jones can get Rashad on his bad, and that’s not an easy task, he can wear out Evans with his size on top of him. Evans’ takedown defense is going to be key here; if Jones gets him to his back then Evans is in trouble as Jones can hold him there. Rashad has to be the first guy to take Jon Jones down and hold him there longer than the 12 seconds of his UFC career he’s spent on his back. He has to neutralize the size advantage, not an easy task.

Once he gets Jones down the key will be to prevent him from using his length from his back. Someone with the sort of proportions Jones has is a cagey proposition when it comes to top control. Jones has shown that he can dig a choke in deep with his ridiculously long arms and Evans has to avoid being over-aggressive on top. He has the advantage in this department and grinding out rounds and avoiding the scramble will give him the win.

On a pure size basis alone Evans has a near Herculean task ahead of him; Jones maximizes his size in a way that none of Evans’ prior opponents have. A good fight to watch as a precursor to this one will be Phil Davis vs. Evans; that was a preview of what Evans could do against someone with better athletic ability but not enough cage-savvy. For that fight he relied on his ability to get inside and make the size difference less of a factor. He has to move fast on the inside and use his speed as effectively as possible. Uglying it up by using the clinch and the cage to secure takedowns is key.

For Rashad to take the win here he’s going to have to find a way to get inside as quick as possible. He can’t let Jones gauge the distance and use his length to keep him at bay. Evans has to get inside and do so quickly. Standing on the outside trying to get in ala Quinton “Rampage” Jackson will result in something similar happening to Evans. He has to get inside and get into a dirty boxing game as fast as he can; the longer he lets Jones dictate where the fight takes place the worse off he will be.

He’ll also have to modify his striking game. Evans is a bit of a head hunter when he throws punches, much more content to box with a fighter than he was in the beginning, but that’s easier when someone is closer to your height than Jones is. Trying to continually punch upwards is going to expose his chin. While only Lyoto Machida has been able to stop him, plenty of guys have rocked him badly when Evans leaves an opening. It’s something he has to be cautious of and something Jones could exploit.

The one factor Evans has is that he’s trained with Jones before. There’s no effective method of preparing for someone of his physicality outside of actually training with Jones himself and Evans has done so. There’s a familiarity to Jones, at least there was a year ago, that Evans has. He knows Jon and knows how he moves in every place. It’s something you can’t buy and can’t train; Evans and Jones have rolled and struck one another to the point where Evans has more than a passing familiarity.

But it’s been some time since they’ve trained together and both fighters have changed drastically in style and ability. For Rashad Evans to win he has to nullify Jon Jones’s strengths and grind out a victory on top.

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