It's not the fight Rashad Evans wanted, but a UFC 108 matchup against Thiago Silva still gives the former UFC light heavyweight champion the opportunity to rebound from his first professional loss in one of the most devastating knockouts of the year.
As we all know, Evans was supposed to return to fighting in a grudge match against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, his fellow Ultimate Fighter season 10 coach and also a former 205-pound champ who eventually surprised the MMA public when he pulled out of the proposed bout to take a role in "The A-Team" film remake.
In many ways, Evans' task mirrors one put to Silva months ago. Like Evans, Silva was undefeated until suffering his first pro loss in 2009. Like Evans, it came at the hands of Lyoto Machida. And like Evans, it came in devastating knockout fashion.
Silva (14-1) made his return fight eight months later, and showed no ill effects from the experience, needing just 95 seconds to knock out Evans' training partner Keith Jardine.
Because of the friendship between Jardine and Evans, this one has been talked about by some as an avenging fight for the Team Greg Jackson mates. But while Evans (13-1-1) may have payback in the back of his mind, he has repeatedly insisted that his focus is solely on getting back to his winning ways.
While clouding his fight with thoughts of avenging Jardine could prove distracting or even disastrous, one aspect of their relationship could help Evans. In the leadup to Jardine preparing for Silva, Evans was right there alongside him in watching film, learning tendencies and forming a gameplan.
In addition, Evans previously scouted Silva after talks of a 2007 matchup between the two heated up. As a result, Evans is well acquainted with the Brazilian striker.
Interestingly, Evans might have to take most of what he knows about Silva and toss it out the window. In Silva's last fight against Jardine, he did not come out as the aggressor at the opening bell as has been his custom in the past. Instead, he took his time, showed patience and capitalized on an opening.
Should he follow this trend on Saturday, it will present a new look that may give Evans some pause. Evans is typically a slow starter who likes to counter early, and Silva may not give him much to counter against.
When Silva does move forward, he is usually fairly quick and accurate with his strikes. Even in his fight against Machida -- who is usually very difficult to hit -- Silva landed 16 of his 30 strikes, according to CompuStrike. When he does land, he has power, as his 11 knockout victims can attest. In hopes of adding to his already strong skills, in recent months he's spent time training his hands with American Top Team's resident boxing coach, former Olympic boxing gold medalist Howard Davis.
Evans may well respond by giving Silva a different look of his own. He's evolved his standup game so much over time that we tend to forget he came into the UFC as someone heavily reliant on wrestling. Coming off a knockout, it's possible that he changes his approach much the same way his friend and occasional training partner Georges St. Pierre did after being KO'd by Matt Serra.
St. Pierre smartly recognized that he was optimizing his chances of victory by capitalizing on his prodigious wrestling skills, and swiftly moved to incorporate more of it into his fighting style. Evans can easily do this by mixing in more takedowns to keep Silva off-balance and taking his opponent's best weapons -- his standup strikes -- out of the equation for long stretches.
In his last three combined fights, Evans has virtually abandoned his wrestling past, attempting only one takedown -- which proved successful -- against Forrest Griffin. Against Machida and Chuck Liddell, he didn't try a single one. That's one takedown attempt in his last 28:34 of cage action. It's very possible that changes on Saturday.
If they stay standing, I give Silva an edge in power, and Evans the advantage in speed. I suspect that Evans will try to mix in a takedown or two but eventually get caught up in the standup exchanges.
One thing to note before I make my pick is there have been rumors that Silva injured his ankle and nearly had to pull out of this fight. Silva denied the claim on a recent UFC conference call but if we see him limping or moving around the cage uncomfortably, his odds of winning decrease substantially. Evans is just too good to fight against with a bad wheel. But if he is healthy, I like Silva. Evans enters this fight a 2-1 favorite, but he has not historically been a particularly elusive target, and given Silva's power coupled with his accuracy, I foresee an upset.