It’s a fight that’s captured our imagination. Jon “Bones” Jones versus “Suga” Rashad Evans has that big fight feel that is often missing these days when UFC events are quite frequent.
Perhaps it is the prolonged build-up, the personal animosity between the duo or the rivalry, built on friendship and later hate that has made this fight feel rather special.
On Saturday, it will be all over – well barring the unlikely scenario of a draw – and both fighters will have to move on, away from the saga that has run for the guts of two years now.
So, who will win? It’s been debated everywhere for months and now, former UFC light heavyweight champions have picked their winners.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was due to defend his light heavyweight title against Evans at UFC 128, but ended up squaring off against Jones when Evans suffered a knee injury. The rest is history as Jones stopped Rua to become the youngest ever UFC champion at only 23-years of age. So who does Shogun have in this titanic clash?
“They are two very smart, strategic athletes. Both of them fight thinking of their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and think about how to fight the best possible fight to win.
“But I think Jon Jones has an advantage, since he is very hard to reach. He is not only long (limbed) but also fast and he can react very quickly, I know this. So, I think it’s going to be Jones’ match. “However, let’s not forget Rashad is also very strategic. I believe Rashad will have a good game plan and I am very interested to see what he will try to do in this fight.”
Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida, champion from May 23, 2009 to May 8, 2010 cannot pick a winner. He beat Evans for the title, handing Evans his only loss of his MMA career and later came up short against Jones at UFC 140 in a bid to re-capture the title.
Jones vs Evans is a big fight for the fans and a big fight for the division. It is a very interesting fight; Jones is very unorthodox and is strong in all aspects of the game, but Rashad is a great wrestler and has the hand speed to catch Jones.
Forrest Griffin, a former light-heavyweight champion who lost his belt to Evans, is going with the challenger.
“This is a great fight. I’m glad I’m not fighting Jon Jones anytime soon, but I think Rashad has the right style to give him problems. There are so many emotions between these guys going into the fight, and I know the Atlanta fans will be getting their money’s worth. Jones looks very nasty, but I’m not going to underestimate Rashad. I kinda did that before once…”
Evans has been through a bitter feud before, when he fought Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 114 after a lengthy verbal battle which went back and forth for over a year and escalated on The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights.
Evans emerged victorious against Jackson, the latter also came up short against Jones at UFC 135, so having been in there with both, Jackson is well-placed to give his thoughts on the fight.
“Rashad has to go for it right from the start, for real,” said the former champion.
“Rashad can’t play on the outside, you can’t fight no Jon Jones on the outside, believe me. Rashad is fast and can surprise you. He surprised me by faking a takedown and hitting me with a right hand which kinda stunned me.”
Despite the tension between Evans and Jackson in the past, “Rampage” thinks Evans can beat Jones.
“I think he can do that to Jon Jones, but he has to do it right away because the more time you give Jones, the harder it is to set him up for a punch. I think Jon Jones will win, but I think Rashad has a chance.”
Two UFC Hall of Famers also weighed in with their opinions as legendary champions Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture voiced their opinion on the super fight.
Liddell said: “Everyone is different but, I think, for most fighters getting into the Octagon with someone they don’t like is a great motivation in training. Every time you are tired or holding a little back, you think about losing to this guy you can’t stand and it helps you give 100%. That’s how I was with Tito, I couldn’t stand the idea of losing to him and so I trained harder.”
“I’d love to know who really got the best of it when these guys trained together. You get a feeling for someone when you spar with them. That’s why I was so confident against Tito; I’d beat him up standing, wrestling and at BJJ when we trained together years before out fights and I knew I was in his head because of that.”
“Listening to Rashad, it seems from watching the Primetime show that he feels he’s in Jon’s head a little. He sounds very confident and I think that’s based on experiences in the gym. I’m glad he is confident, because that’s something you have to have against Jones. If you don’t go after Jon you are in for a bad night.”
Randy Couture, two-time champion at 205 lbs thinks Jones could become a special kind of champion.
“I think it is going to be very interesting, Rashad has the speed and skills to win. Rashad has to avoid his propensity for standing up and just striking, which he has done in the past. He can’t just strike with Jones; if he does he will lose because Jon has more tools in the toolbox.”
He added: “Rashad has to take Jones down, not just once or twice but every single time he has any opportunity. If Jones is worried about getting taken down, that’s when Rashad can put his hands on him and do some damage. But he has to keep Jon guessing if it is a takedown or a strike that’s coming.”
I think Jones is super-talented and he is clearly getting better in each fight. He could turn into a very special type of champion. He poses some very unique problems in the Octagon – and so far no one has solved too many of them. I think this is a huge fight for the division. “Bones” Jones is very hot right now and with the personalities and the back story, it all hypes this up into a very interesting fight.
Tito Ortiz, who defended the light heavyweight title more times than anyone else in UFC history thinks Evans can use his speed to reclaim the title.
“Jones is looking very good. But Rashad is fast, man, and once he hurts you he’s on you. I’d like to see Rashad use his wrestling and takedowns and really mix it up. I think it will be a great fight.”
Vitor Belfort, champion from January 31, 2004 to August 21, 2004 admitted he cannot wait to see the two throw down.
“I think this fight will be great for the sport because Jones and Evans used to train together. That changes things, now they are going to fight against each other. We are in the new era of sport with these athletes like Jon Jones and the techniques they can do. Both guys have a chance to be the winner, and it could come down to who is better on that one night. I am looking forward to seeing this huge fight.”
And finally, Frank Shamrock, the company’s inaugural champion from December 21, 1997 to November 24, 1999 expects a war due to the “drama that fueled the fight.
“This fight has a tremendous story behind it, with it having grown out of a friendship that went sour back when these two were teammates. The drama that’s fueling this is incredible. Fans can expect a fight that, stylistically, will be extremely challenging for Jones to overcome, and he’ll have fits with Rashad’s wrestling if he’s able to put Jon on his back.”
“But ultimately, I see Jones being able to inflict more damage and walk away with the belt still in hand. This will be a fight that will not end as easily and devastatingly as Jones’s others have, but rather one of those moments in his career where he’ll have to pull himself up and battle until the final bell. In the end, this fight will help Jon become a better fighter and a better champion, and will endear himself to fans for years to come.”