ATLANTA -- Shogun. Rampage. Lyoto. Rashad.
Jon Jones successfully navigated the murderer's row of opposition, adding former training partner and friend Rashad Evans to his list of defeated former champions with a unanimous decision win in the UFC 145 main event at Philips Arena. The champ won by scores of 50-45, 49-46, 49-46.
"It's definitely my most satisfying victory," Jones said afterward. "I did a lot of things I didn't plan. I didn't want to make any mistakes. I didn't feel the cleanest, but who I beat, it was very important to me."
Jones might not get a break in his grueling schedule, as multi-division champ and future Hall of Famer Dan Henderson is likely next up for him.
The grudge match didn't provide the exclamation point finish or fireworks that most desired, but by the time it was over, it was clear that Jones was the better fighter, landing the more significant strikes and controlling the fight's pace and distance.
The two fought a measured first. Jones took the center of the cage and walked Evans around the perimeter, keeping him at distance. Evans had trouble navigating the space, getting punished with a hard knee his first time wading forward. But he seemed to find the distance as the round wore on, and had his moment late as he landed a head kick that backed Jones up. Jones was never really in any trouble though, and landed a hard left of his own at the closing horn.
Jones buckled him with an uppercut early in the second, but Evans bounced back quickly as he maintained his movement. Jones calmly followed him around and closed the distance with elbows. Evans got rocked with a right hand against the fence but he initiated a clinch, giving him recovery time. But Jones kept on with his attack, utilizing a series of standing elbows as a serious weapon. Jones also hurt Evans in the final seconds with a left hook that punctuated his most dominant round of the fight.
"He had those sneaky elbows that kept coming in," Evans said. "I played the wrong game."
Surprisingly, Evans chose to play at distance for most of the fight, declining to shoot in for a takedown over the first three rounds. He did, however, show his resolve in the third, landing his best punch of the fight, an overhand right that scored, but Jones took it without much issue. Jones wobbled Evans again with a flying knee midway through. Soon after, he scored with a body kick as Evans appeared to start to tire.
The entire first three rounds were fought standing, but Evans finally attempted to bring Jones to the mat in the fourth. Jones, however, stuffed the attempt, as well as a follow-up moments later. Evans shot in again a minute later, and Jones latched on to his neck and fired a knee to the body before Evans could pull away.
Though he was cruising towards a win, Jones didn't slow up in the last round, hurting the challenger with a crisp right. His varied offense continued but he didn't come close to putting him away. Jones scored his first takedown in the final minute, landing one strike but Evans was able to pop up and escape further trouble. Jones pulled guard in the final few seconds, but Evans landed a few strikes to close it out.
"He was pretty crafty and tricky, stuff like that," Evans said. "Give him props, he kept me on my toes.
The 24-year-old champ is now 16-1 following his third successful title defense. Evans is 17-2-1.