Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
ATLANTA -- Proving that his unpredictability goes past what he does in the cage, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones threw many observers for a loop on Wednesday when he was asked about his toughest UFC fight to date. This is a man who fought three former champions within a seven-month span in 2011, yet his answer was none of them.
So who was it? The durable and crafty veteran Stephan Bonnar. As Jones explained, when he fought Bonnar, he was still so new to the game that Bonnar could exploit his defense. On the flip side, Jones connected many times but couldn't manage to put him away. As he tells it, his punching power wasn't quite where it needed to be then as he was still growing into his lanky frame. But that's changing, and quickly. The power, he says, is coming. And because of it, he has designs on Rashad Evans' chin as a target.
"I feel stronger and my technique's getting better and cleaner," he said during a UFC 145 press interview. "When I watch my first fights I used to flail. Everything's flail-y, and I realize the power of flexing your abdominals when you try to strike and things like that. I definitely feel as though I'm hitting harder, and I'm excited. I wobbled Rampage [Jackson] a little bit when I hit him, and I wobbled Lyoto [Machida] when I hit him, and I think out of all those guys, Rashad has the weakest chin. I think he has the weakest chin of anyone I've fought since 2010, and I think I'm going to exploit that."
Evans has only been KO'd once in his career, in his loss to Machida in 2009. But he's had a couple of shaky moments since, getting rattled by both Thiago Silva and Jackson in fights.
But the champion's doubt in his challenger didn't end there. He also took aim at his base skill set, wrestling. While Evans has undoubtedly broadened his focus over the years to include a dangerous standup game, much of his success stems from the takedown or its implied threat. According to FightMetric, Evans has 48 takedowns in 14 career bouts, and has successfully taken down opponents on 55 percent of his attempts.
But Jones, who was a junior college national champion and a high-level Division I recruit before dropping out of school to pursue MMA, has announced his own intention to challenge Evans where he's best.
"Rashad being a wrestler, I'm sure it will affect his psychology being on his back," he said. "People don't realize, Rashad was not a Division I national wrestling champion. He's been taken down on numerous occasions. Michael Bisping got him down, I think. And Michael Bisping is not a wrestler. So, I worked a lot on my takedowns. I'm not going to be a victim to his takedowns. He needs to worry about my takedowns, too. So I've worked a lot of different shots."
Notably and recently, however, Evans out-wrestled former Division I national champion Phil Davis during their UFC on FOX 2 headliner, a fight that got Evans here to face Jones. But Jones said he was not impressed by the ground game that led Evans to the win.
"I'm not afraid of Rashad's ground game. If anything, he should be afraid of mine," he said. "When I take people down, they open up. There's blood. My elbows, I'm realizing, they do work. Rashad doesn't do anything but kill the clock."
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