A championship battle of undefeated light heavyweights is slated to headline UFC 98, SI.com has confirmed. Rashad Evans (13-0-1) will defend his UFC belt May 23 against Lyoto Machida (14-0).
Evans-Machida is the third planned main event for the MGM Grand Garden Arena-hosted card in Las Vegas. UFC heavyweight titleholders Frank Mir and Brock Lesnar were originally scheduled to make the title whole, but Mir bowed out late last week after injuring his knee while training.
The UFC quickly scrapped the anticipated rematch in favor of Evans' first fight since he stopped Forrest Griffin to take the 205-pound title last December. Following his decision win Saturday over Keith Jardine, former UFC champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was offered the first crack at Evans. Though he was left off Ohio's list of medically suspended fighters stemming from the March 7 card in Columbus, a short turnaround for what would have been Jackson's third fight in five months is believed to be his justification for declining the fight.
Rampage -- who knocked out Chuck Liddell to capture the title, before defending against Dan Henderson and losing the belt to Griffin -- will be first in line to face the Evans-Machida winner.
After racking up a solid record in events around the globe, Machida won his first six fights with the UFC in February 2007. His most recent triumph came at the end of January. Machida, 30, impressively handed fellow Brazilian Thiago Silva the first defeat of his career at UFC 94. The smooth karate fighter is regarded as one of the top defensive and technical fighters in MMA.
"Sugar" Rashad, 29, comes into the bout with an 8-0-1 UFC record, including a victory that made him the The Ultimate Fighter 2 heavyweight winner. Maligned for playing it safe after needing the distance in his first five fights inside the UFC, the powerfully built former Michigan State wrestler has morphed into a finisher. Four definitive endings in his last six contests -- the other two were a tight decision over Michael Bisping and a fortunate draw against Tito Ortiz, who cost himself the win after suffering a point deduction for grabbing the fence -- include knockouts of Liddell and Griffin.
In addition to the five-round title bout, which was finalized Tuesday evening, the pay-per-view card features welterweight rivals Matt Hughes and Matt Serra; Yushin Okami against up-and-coming middleweight Dan Miller; and grapple-happy lightweights Sean Sherk and Frank Edgar.