It’s been more than a year in the making, but UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones will finally step into the cage to defend his title against friend-turned-foe “Suga” Rashad Evans Saturday night in the main event of UFC 145.
The two best 205-pound fighters on the planet have had a contemptuous relationship over the last 14 months, as Jones ascended to the throne in the light heavyweight division after filling in for his former teammate opposite Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128.
[pullquote_right]UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans
Saturday, April 21
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
available on ESPN UK[/pullquote_right]
Along the way, the prodigious talent said he’d face off with Evans if the UFC forced his hand, causing a rift to form between the training partners that eventually led to Evans’ decision to break from Greg Jackson’s team. He’s since set-up shop in South Florida, and put a pair of impressive wins on the board to solidify his standing as the top contender for Jones’ title.
But it’s not like the champ has been resting on his laurels. After dispatching Rua in March, Jones earned submission victories over former champions “Rampage” Jackson (UFC 135) and Lyoto Machida (UFC 140) to complete what many believe is the best individual year in MMA history.
After a couple of missed connections, volumes upon volumes of trash talk and banter, and more than a year’s worth of waiting, Jones and Evans will set to settle things in the Octagon this weekend in Atlanta, Georgia at UFC 145.
Here’s a look at what to expect from the main event, and a couple of the other key match-ups from this weekend’s event.
Jon Jones (15-1) vs. Rashad Evans (17-1-1)
The 24-year-old champion is on an incredible roll right now, and Evans will be hard pressed to stop him.
In a sport where everyone knows that anything can happen on any given night, Jones looks as unbeatable as anyone in the game right now. He’s rolled through three consecutive former champions, and six straight opponents overall, with his lone loss coming via disqualification in a fight where he was absolutely manhandling his opponent. What’s scarier is that “Bones” just keeps getting better with each appearance.
Evans has the best chance to beat Jones of anyone who has faced the talented champion in recent years, bringing a proven blend of fast, powerful hands and explosive, controlling wrestling. The former champion has looked outstanding in his two bouts since moving to Boca Raton, Florida and becoming a founding member of “The Blackzilians,” dominating both Tito Ortiz and the previously undefeated Phil Davis in the process.
Everything points to this fight favoring Jones — he has a serious reach advantage, is exceptionally well rounded and gifted in all facets of the game, and has never been more confident… but if anyone is going to beat him, it’s going to be Evans.
The challenger will either need to catch him clean on the button with an overhand right or keep him on his back for the majority of the fight, neither of which are going to be easy. If he can, Evans will reclaim the title he lost three years ago in the only loss of his career.
One note for the superstitious lot: the last time the UFC held an event in Atlanta, Evans pulled an upset in the main event, putting “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell on ice with a blistering overhand right two minutes into the second round.
Rory MacDonald (15-1) vs. Che Mills (14-4)
You’ve gotta feel a little bad for British striker Che Mills.
After scoring a 40-second knockout in his UFC debut — a performance that earned the Gloucester native the Knockout of the Night bonus at UFC 138 — the former Cage Rage standout gets paired with the most talented prospect in the division for his encore appearance.
MacDonald has been tabbed as “The Next Georges St-Pierre,” a fitting comparison as the two are training partners, as well as both being Canadian. The 22-year-old has put together a 3-1 record through four UFC appearances, his lone loss coming against current interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit in a bout MacDonald was controlling through the opening two rounds.
It’s not a completely unwinnable fight for Mills — you don’t get to the big stage by being a stepping-stone for anyone — but MacDonald has the more diverse weaponry at his disposal. Since Mills is primarily a strike, don’t be surprised if the Canadian upstart eventually turns to his wrestling and brings this one to the ground.
Miguel Torres (40-4) vs. Michael McDonald (14-1)
Not to be confused with the former Doobie Brother and blue-eyed soul singer from days gone by, this Michael McDonald stands alongside Rory MacDonald as one of the best prospect in all of MMA.
Just 21-years-old, McDonald has already racked up three wins in the UFC, most recently blasting newcomer Alex Soto into unconsciousness in just 56 seconds. As skilled on the ground as he is in the striking department, McDonald is another promising young talent who has been earmarked as a future champion, with the future drawing closer with each successful trip to the cage.
He faces his toughest test to date this weekend, however, stepping in with former WEC bantamweight champ Miguel Torres.
Now 3-1 since losing back-to-back fights for the first time in his career a couple years back, Torres has been refining his approach under the guidance of Firas Zahabi, the coaching wizard who has helped GSP dominate since his shocking upset loss to Matt Serra back in the day. He’s not the crazy aggressive fighter he used to be in his WEC heyday, replacing his all-or-nothing approach with a more patient style that has dropping him down a few notching in the public opinion polls.
This is a pivotal fight for both men, and the division, as the winner will put themselves on the short list of potential challengers for the winner of this summer’s trilogy bout between champion Dominick Cruz and challenger Urijah Faber.
Most experts are siding with experience in this one, but something about McDonald’s performances to date has me leaning towards the youngster in what could end up being the Fight of the Night.