Has The Student Exceeded The Master? Jon Jones Has To Use Reach, Distance To Beat Rashad Evans at UFC 145

The difference between Jon Jones coming into UFC 145 and the one who made his debut at UFC 87 are two different fighters. The one who debuted years ago was not even a year into an MMA career begun out of necessity, had high level wrestling and was athletic enough to try and replicate things in a cage he’d seen on YouTube. The one stepping into the cage Saturday night is a well rounded champion and perhaps the best fighter on the planet.

To think Jon Jones has accomplished all of this within the span of a couple years is remarkable. And Saturday night he faces his toughest test: Rashad Evans.

A former training partner and friend, Jones’ title win over Shogun Rua ended Evans stay at Jackson’s MMA and the formation of his own gym in Florida. And with Rashad’s title shot having been pushed off for quite some time due to injuries and timing, Jones has had the ability to begin a stretch nearly unprecedented in the short history of the sport. A year ago Jones was on the verge of title contention, thought maybe to be a year away from a title shot. Now he’s a dominant champion, coming off stoppages of two men who normally don’t get finished in Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida. Now it’s Evans turn to get inside the cage with the champion. And Jones will need to bring his A-game if he wants to leave Atlanta, GA, with his title.

The key to this fight will be how Jones uses his length to keep the much shorter Evans at bay. Towering over him by about six inches, Jones comes into the fight with a near foot long reach advantage to go with it. And he needs to utilize it to keep Evans at bay; Evans’ game plan is to get inside and neutralize the obvious physical advantage Jones has coming in. Jones has to keep him on the outside with his reach, using his limbs to pepper him. He has to make Rashad take chances to get inside and keep him at a distance; Rashad is generally comfortable with kickboxing type fights and if Jones can turn this into one he has the physical tools to out strike the former champion.

The other thing Jones has to worry about is going to be Rashad’s takedowns. Evans has perhaps the best takedowns in the division and is one of the best in the UFC, proper, when it comes to getting the fight to the ground. No list of takedown artists in the UFC is complete without Evans on it and Jones had better have worked on his takedown defense and bottom game. So far no one has taken Jones down in his UFC career, and he has spent a grand total of 12 seconds working from bottom position, and you can expect Evans to be the man to change it.

On the bottom Jones’s length could make for an interesting style matchup with the champion; if Evans postures or stands up Evans can hit him with an upkick on the bottom fairly easily. The longer Jones stays off his back the more the fight will tilt in his favor. The key will be to avoiding situations that can lead to Evans getting the takedown like long kicks across his body that can get caught. His vaunted offense of wildly implausible elbow strikes from various positions will probably be tapered down for risk as well.

The big strength for Jones will be if he can take Rashad down. He’s significantly larger than Evans and he can wear the former champion out if he’s able to get Rashad on his back. His ability to punish from top position has ended fights before and could end this one as well. Evans has a solid chin but he’s been rocked enough that Jones could catch him and finish the fight quickly. The key is to make Evans fight out of a bad position; if he can do that he can retain the light heavyweight title.

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