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UFC on FOX 2 Main Event Breakdown: Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis

Rashad Evans has been the light-heavyweight division's No. 1 contender in waiting for 18 months, a lengthy purgatory that will only end if he beats Phil Davis at Saturday night's UFC on FOX 2 show, and emerges uninjured.

On paper, it is a fight he should win. He has twice as many fights as Davis, and has competed against higher-caliber opponents over the last few years. The odds reflect that, with Evans a 2-to-1 favorite by the estimates of most.

But there are also factors that suggest the outcome isn't quite that clear cut. For one, Evans (16-1-1) has only fought once in the last 18 months, against the struggling Tito Ortiz. For another, Davis (9-0) has had 10 months in between fights. Because of the fact that Davis is newer to the sport, he has more to learn, and might have benefited more from the time off between fights.

The biggest improvements Davis can hope to show in this matchup are his overall striking game and wrestling transitions. To date, Davis' best standup weapon has been his kicks, something he has proven to be reliant on. Against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, for example, he threw 18 kicks and 18 punches while standing. A true 1:1 kick/punch ratio is very unusual at the highest levels of MMA.



That ratio alone isn't troublesome, but the issue comes in the fact that against Nogueira, he landed only two of his 18 arm strikes, just 11 percent. He will have to do more in the pocket to keep Evans honest, because if Evans can completely discount his punches, the fight becomes easier for him. To that end, Davis has been working with fellow light-heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson as well as bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz. After 10 months, it's hard to imagine we won't see any real improvements.

In recent days, Evans has made headlines for saying that Davis isn't a very good wrestler, a statement that doesn't jibe with Davis' pedigree as a former NCAA national champion.

"Your technique is trash," Evans said during a Thursday press conference. "You won a college championship off junk. You could not win on an international level because you have trash technique."

The statement was no doubt a piece of gamesmanship on Evans' part, but the fact is that given Davis' wrestling history, he has underperformed a bit in the takedown department, successfully landing just 50 percent of his tries according to FightMetric. His problems stem from often shooting from too far away with no setup. To date, Nogueira has been his most decorated opponent. Nogueira has no background in wrestling, but Davis was just four of 11 against him. Again, though, this is the type of area that could benefit from some intensive training, and Davis might look significantly better this time around.

On the other hand, in his limited time fighting, Davis has shown some of the best defensive work in MMA. According to FightMetric, he's only been hit .38 times per minute -- by far the lowest number in UFC history. He's also never been taken down, so has a perfect 100 percent takedown defense record.

Both of those numbers will be tested by Evans, who has the most complete game of any opponent Davis has yet to face. Evans won't be lost if just one thing doesn't work. He has good hands, throws kicks, moves well into takedowns and has effective ground and pound.

Evans has said that he has gone back to his wrestling roots, and that showed against Ortiz as most of the fight was spent on the ground. But given the fact that the area is Davis' strength, it's worth wondering if Evans will truly engage him there or simply wants to plant the seed in Davis' mind so he'll have something else to think about.

Evans is a very good MMA wrestler, but it's unlikely he'll put Davis on his back for any stretch of time. That leaves a fight where Evans is likely going to be on the defensive, hoping to avoid Davis' takedowns throughout. Remember, this is a five-round fight, so it could become a grind. Davis may or may not have success in taking the fight to the ground, but he's also quite likely to work Evans against the fence and hope to wear him down with dirty boxing and sheer physicality.

In some ways, that kind of plan could work to Evans' advantage. He's always fought well as a counter-striker, and he's never had any real issues with stamina. Davis has looked strong in fights that have gone the distance, but he's prepared to go five full rounds for the first time in his career, while Evans has had to do it three times now.

Their wrestling games should largely cancel each other out, so unless Davis has made a big leap forward in his striking, this should still be Evans' fight to lose. Evans is more experienced, has shown more power and has big-fight experience. Davis is still a blue-chip prospect, but there's no way to know whether his time off helped him by allowing him time to refine his skills, or it hurt him by adding ring rust. A Davis upset wouldn't be a huge surprise, as he's capable of grinding out a win with his physicality and will, but most other routes to victory seem to favor Evans, and so his perpetual role as top contender should continue by a close decision.