UFC 167 Preview: Rashad Evans vs. Chael Sonnen

Rashad Evans (18-3-1, 13-3-1 UFC) vs. Chael Sonnen (28-13-1, 7-6 UFC)

A light heavyweight battle between a former champion and a former title challenger pits together two colleagues from FOX Sports’ UFC broadcasts as former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans meets former two-division title challenger Chael Sonnen in the co-main event of UFC 167. Evans looks for his second straight win after scoring a decision over Dan Henderson at UFC 161 in June. Evans is 5-2 over his last seven fights. Sonnen is also looking for back-to-back wins after submitting Mauricio Rua at UFC Fight Night 27 in August to end a two-fight losing skid. Sonnen is 3-2 over his last five fights.

Fight Breakdown- Evans won season two of “The Ultimate Fighter” as a heavyweight and made quite the name for himself following the reality show. He quickly rose up the rankings and had an unblemished record aside from a draw with Tito Oritz at UFC 73 in July 2007. A big knockout win over Chuck Liddell in memorable fashion at UFC 88 in September 2008 earned Evans a shot at the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship held by Forrest Griffin. Evans defeated Griffin in December 2008 at UFC 92 to win the championship, but he was unable to successfully defend it as he was knocked out by Lyoto Machida at UFC 98 in May 2009, losing the title in the process. Evans got back into a title fight after reeling off four straight wins over Thiago Silva, Quinton Jackson, Ortiz in a rematch, and Phil Davis. This time he fought former teammate Jon Jones at UFC 145 in April 2012. Jones defeated Evans, and Evans’ further journey to get back the championship was slowed by another loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156 in February. Evans got back into the win column by defeating Dan Henderson in June at UFC 161, a bout which Evans showed his speed to win a close fight.

Sonnen is brash, loud, fun and nearly every adjective you can throw at someone would fit him. Fans either love or hate him, but you can’t deny that despite all of that he has become an excellent fighter. His only losses in the last four-and-a-half years have come to Anderson Silva and Jon Jones in title fights, and a win over Evans could very well put him right back into title contention whether he sticks at 205 pounds or moves back down to 185 pounds like he has publicly said he would. Sonnen shocked nearly everyone when he fought Mauricio Rua at UFC Fight Night 26 in August. It wasn’t a big shock that Sonnen won, though he was the underdog in the fight. The way he won surprised people. He submitted Rua with a guillotine choke in the first round, scoring his second submission win since 2007, and over a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu no less. It kept Sonnen in relevant positioning in the UFC, and him being high up on any card gives it a significant boost. Sonnen knows what waits for him following this bout, and that is a coaching gig opposite Wanderlei Silva on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3. Going into his coaching stint with a two-fight win streak over two former light heavyweight champions would get Sonnen just one step closer to getting that twelve pounds of gold he desires.

Both men are world-class wrestlers though Sonnen may have the edge in pure wrestling skill. He qualified for the NCAA tournament three times and narrowly missed out on being on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. Evans just missed being named an All-American during his time at Michigan State, but he has transitioned well into MMA. Evans is very quick and powerful and his wrestling will always be there when it comes time to rely on it. He tends to wanna fight more on the feet, and Sonnen is a pressure fighter who will consistently come forward and land combinations to set up his takedowns. It would be hard-pressed to figure out whether each man will be able to take down the other, and neither man may be able to. Sonnen will probably have an easier time taking Evans down than Evans would in taking down Sonnen, and that is purely due to the pressure that Sonnen brings. Sonnen likes to back his foes against the cage and use quick leg kicks and dirty boxing to help set up the takedown attempts, and he will stop at nothing until he gets them. That is where Evans’ speed and footwork will come into play as he will constantly be needing to circle away from the fence or else he will find himself in Sonnen’s world.

Evans likes to use his striking to set up his takedown attempts, though he may wish to employ a more striking-based strategy against Sonnen. Evans will definitely have the one-punch knockout power advantage as Sonnen hasn’t knocked someone out cold with one punch or kick in ever, and Evans has shown with his destructions of Liddell and Sean Salmon that he can put your lights out just like that. Sonnen may outstrike Evans based on pure volume, but Evans’ ability to change the fight just like that with one punch gives him the slight edge on the feet. Evans is plenty quick and shakes things off quickly, and he could use his speed to keep Sonnen chasing him on the feet. Footwork, angles and circling will be Evans’ strong suit in the fight. Sonnen is bigger than Evans and that size may make it difficult for Evans to take him down, so that should give Evans another reason to wanna keep it on the feet.

If the fight goes to the mat, it starts to favor Sonnen more. He has a very suffocating top game and is relentless with his ground-and-pound, and he does enough to where stand-ups are never warranted. Sonnen is usually not one to mention when it comes to submission specialists, but he has drastically improved in that department. His submission of Rua was very slick, and he did score a solid submission win over Brian Stann in October 2011 that was perfectly set up with a steady series of strikes from the top. Evans does have a black belt in jiu-jitsu, but he has never won by submission in his UFC career. Sonnen may look to finish Evans with a submission, and as he comes out as a southpaw to easily transition to takedowns and clinch work, Evans needs to be ready to sprawl. This fight is very close on paper, and while Evans is the slight favorite, bettors should take notice of Sonnen. Sonnen has looked much more impressive lately than Evans has, and Evans has squeeked by. Evans could use the win more than Sonnen, but Sonnen is a tough fight. It will likely drag out to a decision as both are tough to finish, and takedowns and striking volume will play a big factor in who wins this fight. Sonnen takes a close decision.

Why It Matters- Both men want to get back into the title fight and fight for the chance to claim a UFC championship. Evans has held it before and wants it again. Sonnen has yet to taste it but has come oh-so-close. Both men are 1-2 over their last three fights, and the loser could very well find themselves permanently out of the title picture. Evans really wants to fight Jon Jones again and thinks he could beat him in a rematch. We already know what is next on the docket for Sonnen, that being Wanderlei Silva. Anderson Silva no longer holding the middleweight championship opens doors for Sonnen back at 185 pounds, and he is headed back down there. A win over Evans and then Wanderlei, coupled with Anderson unable to regain the title from Chris Weidman will likely bring him that chance to fight for the title once again.

Prediction- Sonnen

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