When is a main event not the main event?
When another fight suddenly appears on the card and supersedes it.
Even back when the event was announced, with two of the three bouts on Saturday night's telecast (8 p.m. ET, FOX) different from what we have now, it should have been given a name such as "UFC on Fox: Eliminator" or "Fight for the Right" or something more poetic but no less vague.
After all, Rashad Evans and Phil Davis will be fighting for the right to take on Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight championship. (Actually, only Rashad has been assured of a title shot if he wins, though a Davis victory would make him difficult to overlook.) And the original second-billed bout, between Chael Sonnen and Mark Muñoz, was an eliminator to determine who'll next challenge middleweight belt holder Anderson Silva. Then Muñoz was injured in training, and the UFC called on Michael Bisping, who'd been slated to fight Demian Maia in the telecast's opening bout, to step in against Sonnen. That ramped up matters considerably. You might say it created a mismatch.
No, I'm not counting out "The Count." A fight with Sonnen (26-11-1) represents a step up in competition for Bisping (22-3), just as Evans (16-1-1) is a bigger challenge than the 9-0 Davis has ever faced. But both Michael and Phil have the skills and toughness to get the job done or at least give it a good go. The mismatch I'm talking about is not in the octagon but rather in the pre-fight hype.
Sonnen and Bisping are two of the most polarizing figures in the UFC, making their serendipitous matchup a trash-talking superfight. When their fight was announced, they actually started out by saying nice things about each other. It was surreal. But they've since begun to get into a rhythm of disharmony (see "Fighting Words," below), and we still have plenty of time until fight night.
Evans vs. Davis? They're trying to talk trash, they really are, but neither seems to have it in him. Davis is an amiable fellow, always smiling, and Evans showed himself to be a soft-spoken, humble mama's boy during his frequent appearances on ESPN's MMA Live. It's true that Rashad has become a guy the fans love to boo ever since he and former training partner Jon Jones became sworn enemies. And he brought some condemnation upon himself when he tried to hype the Davis fight by making a crass, over-the-line remark about the Penn State child molestation scandal. But as a trash talker, he's not so convincing.
At least not in comparison to Sonnen, who is like the sitcom character whom you know is a caricature but you still can't wait to see what he comes up with next. Just as no goofy neighbor is quite as goofy as Kramer, no MMA fighter talks the talk with the virtuosic voice of Chael Sonnen. He might not be fighting in the final bout of Saturday night's UFC on Fox event, but you can expect him to get in the last word.
45: Takedowns landed during his UFC career, placing him eighth in the organization's history. (This and all stats to follow are by Fight Metric.)
4: UFC bonuses for Fight of the Night (TKO of Tito Ortiz in August, TKO of Forrest Griffin for light heavyweight belt in 2008) or Knockout of the Night (Chuck Liddell in 2008, Sean Salmon in '07).
2: UFC title bouts -- the win over Griffin and the 2009 loss to Lyoto Machida. Since then, he's been slated to fight for the belt three times, but injuries to him or the champ have scuttled all three bouts.
.38: Strikes absorbed per minute during his UFC career, the best in the organization.
3.01: Strikes landed for every one absorbed, third best differential in the UFC (behind Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos).
4: Bouts he's ended in the first round (two TKOs, two submissions).
What we should expect: Rashad has always been the better wrestler in his fights, but that's not the case this time. While Rashad was a junior college national champion who went on to wrestle at Michigan State, Davis won a 2008 NCAA Division I national title, was runner-up in '06 and was a four-time All-American at Penn State. However, he was just two months into his MMA career when Evans won his UFC belt. So Davis is, by comparison, a green fighter. His standup game is a work in progress, while Evans has lightning-quick hands. That spells danger, because it means that Rashad's grappling doesn't need to be good enough to match "Mr. Wonderful" on the ground. It just needs to be good enough to keep the fight standing.
Why we should care: If you're in it for the drama, you'll be rooting for Evans, since a Rashad win would set up the long-awaited showdown between him and Jon Jones. On the other hand, a Davis win could set up a Jones vs. Dan Henderson fight, which had better happen soon for the 41-year-old Hendo if it's going to happen at all. Or, if Davis is a dominant winner, he could get the title shot himself.
"One of your buddies, Jon Jones, said you don't have much of a chin."--Davis to Evans during last month's UFC on Fox press conference
"I guarantee you'll be the first one to take a shot, 'cause I'm going to put my hands on you worse than that dude did them other kids at Penn State."--Evans to Davis, a Penn State alum, during the same press conference (a comment for which Rashad justifiably came under fire)
"After I beat Rashad on the 28th, they won't really have anything else to do with me other than to have me fight [Jones]. Rashad is the true No. 1 contender, and after he loses, who else do I fight? The champion."--Davis, during a conference call with MMA media last week
"He ain't ready. He knows he ain't ready. I look in his eyes and see he ain't ready. Just a boy."--Evans during the conference call
5: Submissions among his last five losses, dating to October 2005.
.96: Strikes absorbed per minute during his UFC career, second fewest only to Davis.
2.15: Strikes landed for every one taken, the ninth-best differential in the UFC. He's landed 1,134 during his UFC career, 10th most in UFC history.
746: Significant strikes landed during his UFC career, placing him fourth in the organization's history (behind Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn and Chris Lytle).
71.7: Percent of strikes successfully defended in his UFC fights, fifth-best in the organization. He's No. 6 in strike differential, landing 2.37 for every one absorbed.
3: Fight of the Night bonuses in the UFC (decision over Yoshihiro Akiyama in 2010, TKO of Dennis Kang in 2009 and TKO of Elvis Sinosic in 2007).
What we should expect: Sonnen is a wrestler who's no slouch on his feet, Bisping a striker who can handle himself on the mat. So playing to strengths might not be enough to keep either of these guys in a comfort zone. At some point, we can assume, Bisping is going to end up on his back, as so many Sonnen foes have before. Who'll be the bigger threat in that scenario, the guy on top trying to ground-and-pound his way to a stoppage, or the guy on bottom looking for a submission against someone who's been subbed so many times that his entrance music should be "Taps"?
Why we should care: If we're to believe Sonnen -- and, really, is there a more credible source of MMA information anywhere? -- Anderson Silva will be watching this one with grave interest, hoping Chael doesn't win to set up a rematch of their 2010 title bout, dominated by the challenger for 23 minutes before he was caught in a triangle armbar submission. Now, I don't think "The Spider" is truly afraid (sorry, Chael), but I also don't think he's aching to avenge what happened in the last meeting since, um, he won. But the UFC would love to stage Silva-Sonnen II this summer in a soccer stadium in Brazil ... with much extra security.
"Bisping, you make good points about deserving a title shot. After all you did beat, umm, well ahh ... Hum and then there was ... Ah ...Wait, what!?"--Sonnen, on Twitter last September (long before the match was made)
"He's been submitted more times than I care to mention. Not to mention, the last time he lost a fight by submission, there were some issues involving performance-enhancing drugs. I don't know what the deal is. Apparently, he has one testicle. One testicle! This is why he uses performance-enhancing drugs. He's gonna need more than one little ball to fight me next weekend!"--Bisping, interviewed on HDNet's Inside MMA this week
"I can beat any man God ever made. Michael Bisping does not survive."--Sonnen, interviewed by ESPN Radio
"Chael's biggest weapon is his mouth, but this ain't no kissing contest and he isn't going to talk me to death. ... Chael Sonnen can take me down if he likes, because I know I can submit him off my back. I know I can. That's his big weakness."--Bisping, speaking to Fighters Only magazine
Too much too soon?: When Muñoz was injured and Bisping was shifted into the fight with Sonnen, Demian Maia was the odd man out. Not for long. The UFC enlisted rising prospect Weidman to take on the Brazilian in the third bout of the Fox telecast.
Weidman is 7-0, coming off a pair of first-round submissions. But the two-time Division I All-America wrestler out of Hofstra, who in 2007 placed third nationally in the 197-pound weight class (Phil Davis was fifth), might want to be cautious when on the mat with Maia, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and 2007 ADCC Submission Wrestling world champion. Is it too soon for Weidman to take such a step up in competition? I don't think so. Win or lose, the experience will do him well.
Out of fuel: Not being one of the three or four people in the country whose cable systems carry Fuel TV, I won't get to see the rest of the undercard. But if you're among the lucky ones, there are a couple of lightweights you should keep your eyes on. Both Evan Dunham (who fights Nik Lentz) and Charles Oliveira (who fights Eric Wisely) were unbeaten and seemed destined to contend for the UFC title until they were suddenly derailed in 2010. Dunham lost a controversial decision to Sean Sherk, then was TKO'd by Melvin Guillard, but since then has beaten Shamar Bailey to get back on track. Oliveira ran into Jim Miller, was submitted in under two minutes and hasn't won either of his bouts since.