April 20, 2012

Two friends and training partners turn bitter rivals and step into the cage to settle their differences. Boy, it doesn't get any more heated than this Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans feud.

Except I was talking about Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz.

You might find this hard to believe, but "Bones" Jones and "Suga" Rashad did not invent the concept of a sports feud. When Jones puts his light heavyweight championship on the line against ex-champ Evans in the main event of UFC 145 Saturday night in Atlanta (10 p.m. ET, PPV), it will be merely the latest renewal of mixed martial arts melodrama. Even more recently than Chuck vs. Tito, we've had Frank Mir wishing death on Brock Lesnar and nearly being a prophet. We still have the ongoing debate between middleweight champion Anderson Silva and "middleweight champion" Chael Sonnen. There's also, of course, Dana White vs. any reporter or satirist who doesn't make nice.

Looping in the larger sports world, there's Ali vs. Frazier, Kobe vs. Shaq, Al Davis vs. the NFL. And there may be no more vicious hand-to-hand combat than what's gone on for decades between the Red Sox and Yankees -- from Carlton Fisk vs. Thurman Munson to Pedro Martinez vs. Don Zimmer.

Then again, if you include sharpshooting, the biggest sports feud would have to go back to 1804, when Alexander Hamilton, a former Secretary of the Treasury, was shot to death in a duel with Aaron Burr, who at the time was the sitting vice president. (And we ridiculed Dick Cheney for mistakenly winging a friend during a hunting trip!) Though both politicians lived in New York, the duel took place in Weehawken, N.J., because the pistol feud sanctioning bill was stalled in the New York State Assembly.

And now we have Jones vs. Evans, with the UFC hyping the bout as if it were Hatfield vs. McCoy. The fight organization even has released to the media a colorful graphic showing a detailed timeline of the festering feud. The official timeline, at least. Your humble correspondent has added a little perspective to the timeline by digging up some facts the UFC chose not to include.

Nov. 5, 2005: An undersized Rashad Evans wins the heavyweight tournament in the second season of the UFC's reality TV show, The Ultimate Fighter.What the UFC leaves out: In a humble living room in Endicott, N.Y., a home-alone 18-year-old named Jon Jones tries to tune in to the live finale but cannot because his preacher dad has put a parental lock on Spike TV.

Aug. 9, 2008: After only eight months of MMA training, the 21-year-old Jones makes his UFC debut with a unanimous decision victory over Andre Gusmao.What the UFC leaves out: Jones actually wins two fights that night. After finishing with Gusmao, he retreats to the dressing room and finds, laying around for the fighters to try out, an early prototype of the video game that would later be released as UFC Undisputed 2010. Jones decides to give it a shot and ends up finding a glitch in the software, as the computer continually matches his fighter against Rashad Evans.

Dec. 27, 2008: Evans, who had dropped to light heavyweight following TUF and joined the Albuquerque gym of trainer Greg Jackson, and then swiftly moved up the ladder to earn a title shot, knocks out Forrest Griffin to capture the 205-pound belt.What the UFC leaves out: Jones, watching at home in a dark room, pulls out his wallet at fight's end, unfolds a piece of paper on which he's been jotting down career goals, and adds, "Fight Rashad."

May 23, 2009: Evans loses the belt via knockout to Lyoto Machida, the only defeat of his career.What the UFC leaves out: Jones, watching at home in a dark room, pulls out his wallet at fight's end, unfolds a piece of paper on which he's been jotting down career goals, and where it says "Fight Rashad" crosses out "Rashad" and writes in "Machida."

Aug. 22, 2009: After promising not to fight any of his new teammates in the octagon, Jones is invited to join the Greg Jackson gym. What the UFC leaves out: When Jackson invites all of his fighters on a team-building excursion to a local ice cream parlor and they gleefully start piling into the coach's car, Jones yells "Shotgun!" That's the seat where Rashad always sits, and the team holds its collective breath to see how he'll react. He laughs it off and climbs in the back seat. When no one else is watching, though, Evans shoots the new kid a mean look.

Feb. 4, 2011: Six weeks before Evans -- who has won two straight fights to get back into title contention -- is slated to fight Mauricio Rua for the belt, news breaks that he is injured and unable to challenge "Shogun." The next day, at UFC 126, Jones destroys Ryan Bader and is offered the March 19 title shot. What the UFC leaves out: While continuing to be outwardly supportive of his teammate and reiterating that he'd move to another weight class rather than fight his "brother," Evans secretly plays a big-brother practical joke in the wee hours of fight night by making a prank call to a Las Vegas pizzeria and having 126 pizzas delivered to Jones' hotel room. "Now let's see you make weight in six weeks," Evans is heard chuckling to himself as he hangs up the phone.

March 3, 2011: During a UFC Live fight telecast, Jones says in an interview, "I respect Dana White a lot and, if that's what he absolutely wanted to happen, then I guess that's what would have to happen." What the UFC leaves out: Clever editing by the Versus crew has made it took like Jones was answering a question about Dana's desire to see teammates who are title contenders fight each other. But here, drawn from uncut footage, is the question the UFC president actually was addressing: "So if Dana White asked you to teach him that cool cartwheel you do upon entering the cage before fights, would you do it?"

March 4, 2011: Asked to respond to Jones' new stance on fighting teammates on ESPN2's MMA Live, a visibly upset Evans says: "I am no punk. If Jon wins the [title], I got to sit down with the team and decide what to do." What the UFC leaves out: Evans is displacing his anger. He's actually mad at ESPN for once again delaying MMA Live into the wee hours so it can extend Baseball Tonight and show the same boring package of Grapefruit League game highlights its various channels have been showing all night.

March 19, 2011: Jones becomes the youngest UFC champion in history, destroying Rua at UFC 128 before going nose to nose in the octagon with Evans. What the UFC leaves out: Evans returns to his hotel room to find 128 empty pizza boxes piled in front of his door. And a room service bill.

March 22, 2011: After abruptly quitting the Jackson gym, Evans relocates his training camp to Imperial Athletics in Boca Raton, Fla., forming a team soon to be known as the "Blackzilians." What the UFC leaves out: Feud? What feud? Rashad has been planning this move for years, as the South Florida humidity is better for his skin than the dry heat of New Mexico.

May 12, 2011: Evans and Jones nearly come to blows at Surrender, a Las Vegas nightclub, and are separated by welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre.What the UFC leaves out:Someone has to pick up the energy drink tab.

Aug. 6, 2011: Taking a fight while Jones continues to heal a hand injury, Evans defeats Tito Ortiz with a dominant flurry of punches and knees. What the UFC leaves out: Evans strikes an even bigger blow later that night, during the UFC employees' fantasy football league draft. Selecting one spot ahead of Jon Jones, Rashad picks Baltimore Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones. "Bones" then gets to grab Aaron Rodgers, who goes on to score innumerable more points, but Jones never forgives his fellow GM.

Sept. 24, 2011: Making his first title defense, Jones submits Quinton Jackson. What the UFC leaves out: Underneath the crisply ironed shirt Rashad wears on fight night, he has on a Jon Jones walkout T-shirt. What, you think he'd ever root for "Rampage"?

Dec. 10, 2011: After Evans is forced to pull out of another date with Jones, the champion caps off an incredible 2011 by beating Lyoto Machida. What the UFC leaves out: Machida later reveals that his heart wasn't in it, because he knew Evans was next in line and he's never gotten over the sick feeling he had in the pit of his stomach from seeing the twisted pile of lights out that he'd turned Rashad into in their fight. He couldn't bear to look at that again.

Jan. 28, 2012: Evans defeats previously unbeaten Phil Davis to set up, finally, the showdown all of Western civilization has been waiting for. What the UFC leaves out: Jones is spotted at cageside schmoozing with reps from the Blackzilians team, checking to see if there are any roster spots open. Just to mess with Rashad.

Feb. 16, 2012: Days after their UFC 145 showdown is announced, Jones and Evans appear at a news conference in Atlanta and exchange cutting barbs, with Jones accusing Evans of jealousy and "Suga" saying "Bones" is "all fake." What the UFC leaves out: In the wake of his recent sanctions against fighters for their ill-advised postings on Twitter, Dana White bans the use of the phrase "I know you are but what am I?"

Feb. 18, 2012: After months of saying he will not coach against his former star pupil, Greg Jackson confirms that he will corner Jones against Evans. What the UFC leaves out: To guard against Rashad stealing signals from his ex-coach, Jackson tells "Bones" that between rounds, instead of beginning with his usual "Breath ... slowly" mini-Zen retreat, he's going to tell him, "OK, now, hold your breath." It's code for "hit him in the head and I'll pay you a bounty."

April 21, 2012: Jon Jones and Rashad Evans finally meet, at UFC 145 in Atlanta, to settle their feud, once and for all. What the UFC leaves out: At least until the rematch.

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