The UFC returns to our screens on Saturday night with UFC 145 from Atlanta, Georgia. This Saturday night sees the culmination of over a years’ build-up to one of the most eagerly awaited grudge matches in recent MMA history. “Suga” Rashad Evans attempts to reclaim the Light Heavyweight title from his former team-mate Jon “Bones” Jones.
Elsewhere on the card we have some intriguing bouts between welterweights Rory “The Waterboy” MacDonald and Che Mills; as well as two former TUF show winners facing off in Mac Danzig and Efrain Escudero. There is also the returns of notables Mark Hominick (who is trying to get back on the road to title contention following a devastating knock out loss in his most recent fight) and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson to the Octagon.
As we will have a betting guide for the event with the fights broken down later in the week; I’m going to concentrate on the build-up to the main event of the evening in this entry and break down the fight with the betting preview later this week.
Where to start to give you an idea of why this fight has generated so many questions and such a huge build up? Lets rewind the clock to February 5th 2011. On this night Jones stepped into the Octagon to face an unbeaten Ryan Bader. It was seen as a bout with the potential to produce a future championship challenger given both the men’s records to that point (Bader being undefeated and Jones only having a highly disputed disqualification loss to tarnish his record). In the background the UFC had been searching for a new challenger for then champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua following Rashad Evan’s being pulled from the fight with a knee injury. After not finding a suitable opponent that could take the fight on short notice from recognised challengers. The UFC took the route that if Jones won the fight that they would offer him the title shot against Shogun. Of course Jones had to get through Bader first. In the second round Jones locked in a guillotine choke submission and won the fight. During the post-fight interview with Joe Rogan Jones was offered the title shot at UFC 128. Jones went on to dominate Shogun in their title fight and claimed the 205lb title. Evans was brought into the Octagon as the next challenger for the belt to set up a photo-op and the start the build-up to the two men fighting. This was a unique situation for Jackson’s MMA as they had long held a rule that team-mates do not fight. Some media questioned what was happening in the background to allow this happen.
This is where the story appears to start separating for Evans and Jones. Both fighters trained out of Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico and had grown to have a close relationship to the point where Evans joked that Jones was like a little brother. In a post match interview with Ariel Helwani at UFC128; Evans stated he was “done” with Jackson’s MMA and would no longer train with them. He didn’t elaborate further despite being pressed. He has since gone on to help form the “Blackzilians” in Florida as his main training camp.
The two were to originally fight at prospectively at UFC 133 but this was nixed by a thumb injury to Jones. Even this event had multiple grumbles regarding “fight dodging” from both parties. Evans protesting that Jones was avoiding him. Jones protesting his innocence regarding the injury. Whatever the reality was it lead to Evans being scheduled to fight Phil Davis, who was later replaced by Tito Ortiz and Jones being booked at UFC 135 against Quentin “Rampage” Jackson. Both men dominated their fights and yet again faced off for a photo-op in the Octagon shortly after Jones’ post fight interview. Evans at this point was sporting a cast around his thumb and hand following an injury picked up in the fight. It was announced shortly afterwards that Jones would be fighting at UFC 140 in December. Sadly for fans this was too close for Evans to rehab his injury and he was later to be booked for a fight with the returning Phil Davis in January for the UFC on Fox 2: Evans vs. Davis. Jones was booked to fight another former champion (and the only man to have ever beaten Rashad Evans) in Lyoto Machida.
Both men again came out of their respective fights in impressive fashion. Jones literally putting Machida to sleep with a technical submission victory. That remains one of the most dramatic images of the year in 2011 as Jones released the hold and Machida’s almost lifeless body collapsed to the floor. Evans largely dominated the then undefeated Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis in a five round encounter by decision, winning all five rounds in the process.
It was announced shortly afterwards that the two would finally meet at UFC 145 in Atlanta. This has been met with some interesting moments. Evans has appeared to be on the offensive more often than not with his approach to the mind games in the lead up to the fight. He’s consistently questioned Jones’ attitude and his persona, calling Jones “fake” on numerous occasions. Jones has tried to remain stoic in nature and avoid getting dragged into arguments but the tension has been palpable when the two have been in each others company.
The differing attitudes towards how the fight came to be, as well as both men’s attitude towards each other have been covered in the excellent UFC Primetime preview shows . If you’ve a passing interest in MMA I would suggest giving them a look to see what’s fuelled the fire in this intriguing battle.
Whatever the outcome is, it’s likely that victory in this fight is going to mean more to the victor than just claiming the championship belt. After all the talking is over and the door on the Octagon is locked shut. Who’ll come out victorious? We’ll soon find out and I for one am looking forward to it.
Here’s how this weekends fight-card looks.
Main card (ESPN)
- Light Heavyweight Championship bout: Jon Jones (c) vs. Rashad Evans
- Welterweight bout: Rory MacDonald vs. Che Mills
- Heavyweight bout: Brendan Schaub vs. Ben Rothwell
- Bantamweight bout: Miguel Torres vs. Michael McDonald
- Featherweight bout: Mark Hominick vs. Eddie Yagin
- Lightweight bout: Mark Bocek vs. John Alessio
Preliminary card (UFC.TV)
- Heavyweight bout: Travis Browne vs. Chad Griggs
- Welterweight bout: Matt Brown vs. Stephen Thompson
- Lightweight bout: John Makdessi vs. Anthony Njokuani
- Lightweight bout: Mac Danzig vs. Efrain Escudero
Preliminary card (Facebook)