There was a price to pay for standing in front of him. At the opening bell of the three-round light heavyweight main event at UFC 114 in Las Vegas Saturday, Evans cracked "Rampage" with a right hand that sent him scuffling across the cage.
The key for Evans, who earned a unanimous decision (30-27 twice and 29-28), was fostering a measure of uncertainty in Jackson's mind. Will he wrestle? Will he strike? If Jackson didn't know for sure, both avenues of attack would be there. And they were.
Over the 15-minute fight, Evans (15-1-1) played it the right way: use quick feet to close the gap; stifle the powerful Jackson's clinch with better wrestling technique and capitalize on takedowns when Jackson left himself open.
The game plan -- even though Evans said he didn't have a game plan -- was sound. It allowed him to remain fluid and keep Jackson (30-8) guessing, which created frustration and mistakes from his rival.
For all the hype, talk, and racial garbage brought to bear by both men prior to the fight, emotions remained largely in check, save Evans rushing at Jackson after that first punch landed.
Jackson found a glimmer of hope at the top of the third round, when he cracked the top of Evans' head and followed with a heavy does of ground-and-pound.
"I went numb for a little bit, but that's what happens sometimes," Evans said with a smile. "I was fighting through it in my mind and I was like I'm not giving up no matter what. I'm just moving forward."
It was there, in that moment pinned along the fence taking heavy right hands, where Evans proved his mettle by regaining his feet and making the most of Jackson's failure to go after him by lunging for a double-leg underneath a hasty lead right.
"I was very surprised that he recovered from that," said Jackson, who admitted to suffering from ring rust after a 14-month layoff brought on when he skipped out on a bout against Evans last December in favor of playing
Evans, meanwhile, refined and worked and got better. Where Jackson's skills have flatlined over the past two years -- and some might argue they've regressed -- Evans continues to improve with a team dedicated to that cause.
The biggest difference between the two tonight: their dedication to MMA.
Now that he's proven himself to be a better mixed martial artist than Jackson, Evans can look ahead to a UFC title shot against
The question then: How probable is it that Evans wrestles Shogun and stalemates his clinch?
Evans would have to fight on the inside, though tying up on the feet is a poor idea against a Muay Thai stylist of Rua's caliber. That means, again, he'd need to set up powerful double-legs from distance, which is a strength. Evans has shown the ability over several fights to cover space with remarkable speed and power. Working against him versus Shogun (19-4): the champion isn't one to stay flat-footed like Jackson or
The 28-year-old Brazilian is always moving and mostly stalking. He's a good counter-grappler, and has shut down wrestlers in the past -- none with the physical tools that Evans brings into a fight.
So, how probable? Maybe Evans wins four out of 10 fights. Maybe. I like Rua to hold on to his title when the two meet later this year.
I don't understand the animosity some fans display for fighters like Evans and
And don't tell me that either man's fight tonight was boring. There was nothing slow about Bisping's shellacking of Miller (11-4), who decided to forgo his strength on the ground and slug it out against the 31-year-old Englishman. And Evans-Jackson was a tense struggle between two well-matched, similarly skilled opponents. Booing guy after he fights well enough and smart enough to win is ridiculous.
Don't dismiss the athletic, muscular Duffee (6-1) as some weak-chinned kid. Everyone loses in MMA, and he'll learn more here than from his six previous wins combined. Russow, a Chicago police officer, upped his record to 13-1 with the stunning finish. And by "stunning" I mean absolutely impossible.
The same feeling manifested during
Brilz (18-3-1) and Russow stole the show.
The UFC has done well cultivating British talent since they began promoting there full-time in 2007. We know names like Bisping,
Unlike earlier models of British fighters, the 22-year-old Hathaway appears equipped to handle wrestlers, which has long been his countrymen's biggest handicap in MMA. A tall, rangy kid with tempered striking, Hathaway dominated Sanchez (21-4), whose return to the welterweight division after a stint at 155 saw him outmaneuvered and out-struck. Impressive all the way around.