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Once Haunted by Each Other, Rashad and Rampage Move on ... For Now

LAS VEGAS -- It was a fight that haunted them for 14 months. During their waking hours, they would see images of each other, hear questions about each other. When Rampage Jackson retired to make movies, the specter never went away for Rashad Evans, because even when he dreamed, Rampage would find him there, too.

The spotlight that resulted from the never-ending buildup magnified things to a fever pitch, resulting in a big-pressure UFC 114 fight that had both men on edge. But it was Evans who controlled and harnessed his emotion en route to a three-round decision before a sellout crowd of 15,081 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

While the match fell short of the barn-burner expectations some set, it served its purpose for Evans, who used the platform to defeat a top-level fighter and catapult himself to a chance to reclaim the light-heavyweight championship he once held. But does it mean the end of this big-money rivalry?

"I'm happy I don't have to answer any more questions about Rampage," Evans said with a big smile on his face.

Not so fast, though. Sure, the long-standing grudge between the two is settled, but it might be only temporarily. Yes, you did see the two share a brief moment of respect after the fight, but even that didn't last long. While Jackson complimented Evans on his victory, he said he didn't forgive him for some of the things said on the road to battle.

"He can kiss my a--," Jackson said. "He fought a good fight. I'm not a sore loser. I'm a fighter. But I'm not going to forget the stuff he said."

As everyone in the room laughed (including Evans), Evans interjected, "I feel the same way. He can kiss my a--, too."

Far from a personal battle in the cage though, both men were quite measured in their approach once the opening bell rung. Evans reiterated that he had no set gameplan in place for the fight except to continually mix things up and keep Jackson guessing. He quickly earned Jackson's respect in the first when an overhand right found its mark, knocking Jackson backward and sending him stumbling towards the cage.

Soon after, he went to plan B, trying to wear Jackson down with clinchwork against the fence, and finally, he showed his explosion with a takedown. After the first five minutes, Evans was thoroughly dominating.

"It was no secret he'd try to wrestle me a lot," Jackson son. "I wrestled a lot and trained a lot, but he was faster than I anticipated. And more aggressive than I anticipated, too. He had a great gameplan, and it worked well."

Jackson said that he'd heard many tales of what ring rust could do to a fighter, but he tried to shut that possibility off in his mind. But from the opening bell it was clear Evans was much quicker with his footwork and sharper with his strikes.

To Jackson's credit though, after dropping the first two rounds, he rallied in the third, rocking Evans with an uppercut. The punch put Evans down and Jackson tried to finish with ground strikes, but Evans managed to weather the storm and finished the round strong on his way to victory.

At the closing bell, a triumphant Evans raised his arms in victory while Jackson walked to his corner with his head down and shaking it in disbelief.

Asked when he would like to fight current champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Evans said it was too early to think about, though he noted that he came out of the fight, injury-free.

"I just want to enjoy tonight," he said. "I'm just worried about tonight. I want to live in this moment."

Jackson's future is a little cloudier. He said is he leaving immediately to go on a promotional tour for the upcoming A-Team movie, in which he is a star. But he also noted that he would like to get back to fighting as soon as possible to get the bitter taste out of his mouth and ward off the possibility of having to fight through ring-rust again.

UFC President Dana White said one possibility for Jackson is a matchup against another ex-champ, Lyoto Machida.

"I have a few offers on the table but they've been there for a while," Jackson said. "I was just trying to put all my focus in this fight. I don't know, I got to make some tough decisions. If you're going to fight guys of the caliber of the UFC ... people would tell me I needed a warm-up fight before Rashad, but there are no warm-up fights in the UFC. I just got to think about what I want to do."

Just when we were ready to put Rashad-Rampage into the history books though...

Jackson: "This fight is going to haunt me for a long time."

Evans: "He haunted me in my sleep."

So is one fight truly enough?

Since fighting is ultimately entertainment, and both Rampage and Rashad have acted, I guess just one more question remains: When's the sequel?

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