"It's a huge relief," Evans said afterward. "Me and Quinton put on a good show. If he wants to do it again, I'd love to fight him again."
Jackson and Evans are both former light heavyweight champions, and they first confronted each other publicly at UFC 96 in March of 2009, after Jackson beat Evans' good friend Keith Jardine. After that confrontation they coached against each other on The Ultimate Fighter and were supposed to fight each other in December, but Jackson decided to leave the UFC to film the upcoming A-Team movie, and that left fans waiting for this fight.
It was worth the wait.
Evans landed a hard right hand just seconds into the first round and badly hurt Rampage, then chased him down and grabbed him against the fence. Rampage -- who hadn't fought in 15 months -- seemed stunned at first, but he held on and recovered without taking any more damage, and a fight that got off to a shocking start when Evans landed that punch actually turned slow for the next couple of minutes.
Midway through the first round, Evans (a former Michigan State wrestler) executed a textbook-perfect double-leg takedown and got on top of Jackson against the cage. Jackson did a good job of getting back up, but only after eating several punches from Evans. At the end of the first round Jackson finally landed a couple of punches, but it was a first round that Evans had dominated.
The fans in Las Vegas started chanting "Rampage! Rampage!" at the start of the second round, clearly showing that Jackson was the fan favorite. Evans, however, calmly grabbed hold of Jackson and clinched with him against the cage, causing the fans to boo. Eventually referee Herb Dean separated them from the cage, and Evans showed that he was quicker and more elusive than Jackson, sticking and moving successfully.
After the second round, Jackson's trainer said to him in his corner, "You need a knockout."
A minute into the third round, Jackson almost got that knockout: He leveled Evans with a brutal punch and then pounced and landed several more punches on the ground. Jackson appeared close to finishing Evans, but Evans managed to cling to Jackson for dear life and clear his head. Evans got back to his feet and was wobbly, but Jackson failed to pressure Evans and eventually Evans took Jackson down and started landing punches on the ground. The fight ended with Evans in control, and he deserved the decision.
The judges scored it 30-27, 29-28 and 30-27 for Evans.
"I tried my best," Jackson said afterward. "Rashad was faster than I anticipated. He was the man here today. There's no loser walking out of this Octagon. Millions of other guys wish they could do what we do but they can't."
The loss drops Rampage's career record to 30-8. Evans improves to 15-1-1, and in his next fight he'll challenge light heavyweight champion Shogun Rua for another chance at the belt. Evans will be the underdog, but he showed on Saturday night that it's never a good idea to bet against him.