We've all been down this road before, haven't we?
For me, it goes back to the epic McCarthy vs. Sweeney fight. You probably haven't heard of that one because it happened around 40 years ago at my grammar school. But just like Saturday night's grudge match between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans, this memorable tussle from my youth featured two school chums suddenly at each other's throats, launching accusations that only the two of them could verify or refute. It left the whole rest of our class -- training partners, if you will -- in the uncomfortable position of choosing between friends.
If you're guessing this is my subtle way of saying that all of the back and forth that's been going on between Jones and Evans for the last year or so is a bit childish, you're right.
Fortunately, the main event of UFC 145 in Atlanta (10 p.m. ET, PPV) has more going for it. A lot more.
The fighters' background together in the Greg Jackson gym does factor in. That Evans (17-1-1) used to roll with Jones (15-1) on a regular basis suggests that, unlike other "Bones" foes, he will not be mesmerized by the sight of the UFC light heavyweight champion cartwheeling his Boeing 747 wingspan across the canvas upon entering the octagon. Rashad knows how Jones measures up. He's not going to underestimate him, but just as important, he's not going to overestimate him, either. In other words, he will not be so intimidated that he loses this fight before it begins.
Once the fight does start, however, Evans faces an uphill battle. Remember: All of that time together in the gym in Albuquerque taught Jones some things about Rashad, too. And Jones has strengths -- some genetic, some gym-developed -- that would seem to negate Evans'. For instance, as a striker Rashad targets an opponent's head far more than any other part of the body, but Jones' five-inch height advantage will make that a more difficult plan of attack to execute. And while Evans has more takedowns than any other light heavyweight in UFC history and has been successful against every opponent he's tried to put on the mat, Jones has never once been taken down.
Of course, you could flip some of that around in Evans' favor. Maybe he'll be the first to take Jones off his feet. Maybe one of his headhunting fists will prove to be a sudden game-changer. Anything can happen in a mixed martial arts fight. With two elite fighters facing off, we could witness 25 minutes of momentum shifts. Or the fight could end violently before Bruce Buffer has taken his seat at cageside.
I don't know that Rashad Evans will walk out of Phillips Arena with the UFC belt Saturday night, but I do think he'll give Jon Jones the best fight he's ever had. Much has been made of Jones having defeated reigning or former world champions in each of his last three bouts. And the champ deserves all accolades for that. But Evans, also a former belt holder, is at a better place in his career than any of them. Lyoto Machida faced Jones after having lost two of three fights. Quinton Jackson has been a shell of the fighter who legitimately could call himself "Rampage." And on the night in March 2011 when Jones became champ at age 24, Mauricio Rua was on an upswing in some ways, having taken the belt from Machida. But "Shogun" was coming off an injury. Evans, by contrast, is healthy and in the midst of a string of dominant wins. He's long been over the only loss of his career, to Machida nearly three years ago. He's at the top of his game.
The attacks they launch from those positions are far different, of course, but what I take from the stats is that these guys share comfort zones. So that could mean we'll see less feeling out and more pure engagement. That's good for the fans. And I think it'll be mostly a standup fight, despite all the yammering between the fighters about whether Evans truly has an edge on the ground. Rashad has made striking his game, and Jones will have no quarrel with that.
In MMA terms, however, this fight has it all. There's a championship belt at stake. It pits two fighters in their prime. We have acrimony between two guys who were friends and trained together enough to have developed some familiarity with each other's games. And if Jones wins, he could ascend to top of the mythical pound-for-pound mountain. What more could you want?