ATLANTA -- They're tired of talking about it, you're tired of reading about and I'm tired of writing about it. Thankfully, Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans is finally here. As intriguing as all the pre-fight bickering was, everyone's ready to move on to the actual fisticuffs.
The exhausting build-up should at least lead into a quality UFC 145 main event. Jones was installed as and remains a sizable favorite, as much as 6-to-1, according to some oddsmakers, but that number is a bit out-of-whack with reality.
Evans has not been a fan favorite for most of his career, and partly because of it, he's suffered when it's come to receiving credit for his accomplishments. In today's modern MMA world of extreme weight-cutting, Evans should probably be a middleweight. There's little doubt he could make 185, but he's just never made the move because he didn't have to. He's beaten Chuck Liddell and Quinton Jackson and Tito Ortiz, and someday, maybe he will get the credit he deserves. Maybe it will come if he beats Jones on Saturday.
That will be, quite literally, a tall order.
At 6-foot-4, Jones will have a five-inch height advantage on Evans, and a ridiculous reach advantage of nearly 10 inches. Because of that, Evans will have some distance to navigate.
He's said several interesting things this week, but one of the most interesting things he said was that Jones doesn't necessarily use that reach well.
"As a tall fighter, he doesn't fight tall," he said on Thursday. "He gives away his height a lot with his stance. In MMA, you do want to give away your height to an extent, but he does it a lot. He doesn't fight long and rangy. I'm sure that's something that Mike Winkeljohn and those guys have been working on him with, but as of his last few fights, he doesn't fight like a tall fighter."
That goes against almost everything you hear about Jones. Even though he's not the type of fighter to pump out the jab repeatedly, he does throw a lot of front kicks, which serve the same purpose of keeping an opponent at distance. Perhaps Evans simply sees something that others don't. Years ago, when Randy Couture fought Tim Sylvia as a huge underdog, he spoke with the same kind of certainty about the same aspect, and he went out and demolished Sylvia after flooring him with his very first punch.
But Jones is a different kind of beast to slay. It's not that he's unbeatable, it's just that he offers so many problems to solve that it becomes too much until his opponent drowns. He lands 52 percent of his strikes. He doesn't get hit much. He's so far proven impossible to take down, and he seems to take down whoever he wants.
On the other hand, Evans doesn't go into this fight with any sort of awe for Jones, because he's had first-hand experience against him. Even if that version of Jones isn't the same as the one he'll face on Saturday, it was close enough to give Evans confidence, whether it's in specific positions or the totality of the fight.
The biggest problem for Evans to solve will be getting inside. He noted during fight week that Jones tends to confuse opponents by throwing a lot of different looks at them. He'll switch from southpaw to orthodox. He'll target the body then the head. He'll throw spinning punches and elbows. He disguises his takedowns. All of that leaves the guy standing across from in the mode of reactionary rather than aggressor.
According to Evans, when that happens, the fight speeds up. Your mind has to start processing things instead of simply reacting to them. And that's dangerous. So how would he combat that? He'd want to strike first. He'd want to be the initiator. He'd want to put Jones into a position of adversity to see if he'll break.
This is not a fight he'll want to fight outside for long distances. Expect him to try to clinch and work Jones against the fence, hoping to sap him of some of his energy. Evans does good work in that position, and it takes some of Jones' best attributes away. But getting inside for the clinch won't be an easy task. Jones has manhandled most of the opposition that's dared to wade inside, taking them down, where his ground and pound has become nearly an automatic finish. Evans probably trusts his wrestling to stand up more than Jones' previous opponents, so he'll no doubt go for this position.
If they do stand from the outside, it's Evans' power and speed against Jones' versatility. Evans doesn't historically attack the legs with kicks. He's more of a headhunter. Take for instance his most recent fight against Phil Davis, when he landed just one kick among his 106 scoring strikes, according to FightMetric. He did the same thing against Thiago Silva in 2010, with only two of his landed strikes going to the legs. Jackson had some success against Jones with kicks, so it will be interesting to see if Evans sprinkles this element into his offense.
The true X-factor, though, is Jones' power. The only knock on him is the lack of one-punch knockout power, but rest assured it's coming. His technique is getting better, and he's growing into his body. He briefly wobbled both Jackson and Machida. Sometime soon, he's going to start flooring his opponents with single blows.
Does that start on Saturday? Maybe. Evans has been historically underrated for everything he's accomplished, and a win over Jones would be his most impressive, because it would undoubtedly come against a champion in his prime. But in my opinion, the obstacles are just too many. Evans may have some success with the early clinch, but Jones will adjust, and eventually turn it into a takedown. Evans isn't going to get overwhelmed on the ground. He's too competent there, but things are going to get uncomfortable for him if he repeatedly finds himself in the disadvantageous position. He said himself that Jones gets in opponents' minds with his diverse attacks, and it's the same thing he'll face as his normal wrestling advantage is negated. In the end, Jones beats his fourth straight former UFC light-heavyweight champ, this time by fourth-round TKO.