Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans: Breaking it Down
I'm starting to write this column on the 8th of April, and the fight is scheduled for April 21st, so if anything happens between now and then that postpones the fight AGAIN, I'd like to go ahead and accept the blame. It's my fault.
The chances of this happening are slim, though. This fight is happening at a perfect time: Jones has all but cleaned out the top of the light heavyweight division, and Rashad has continued to improve his overall game. I thought it'd be fun to break this down into categories. Then again, I also thought it'd be fun to see Avatar in the theater. Gross misstep aside, you'll just have to trust me.
Wrestling & ground game
Rashad has always called wrestling his base, but he's become much more aggressive on the floor, especially in his last fight. I think it's trash can juice that some people painted his last win as "same ol' Rashad, 5 round dry humping for a decision, Bones is going to kill him". Really? That was absolute ground dominance over a guy that's very good on the ground. When the hell has Rashad freaking Evans ever gone for the mounted crucifix? Not only that, but when has he actually achieved that position and tried like hell to finish from there? Never. He used to get a takedown, wonder if he left the iron on, think about his tax return, and lay there. His opponent would usually get up, and he'd do it again. No more. Rashad, at the very least, gave Jones more things to think about with his last performance.
Then again, Jon Jones throws guys around with an ease I can't remember seeing out of anyone, has a front headlock series that usually ends with people counting sheep, and has elbows so nasty that they broke Brandon Vera's face and made Shogun Rua tap. Shogun Rua didn't even tap after he dislocated his elbow against Coleman. Bones is a beast.
Hang on, quick tangent. For all the vitriol directed towards Rashad, do people realize that this is still a guy that has lost only ONCE? Granted, his "strategy" in the Machida fight was pretty reprehensible (as far as I could tell, it was "bounce around on the outside until I jump right into a left cross and am summarily destroyed"), but, moment of weakness aside, his striking strategy and execution has always been pretty sound.
He's always been a guy that utilizes his quickness and power, dancing around and leaping in with punches when the time is right. In his last fight, he showed more of a flat footed boxing style. Against Jones, I think we'll see a little bit of both. Rashad has to give Jon different looks, but he's not much of a kicker (epic KO of Sean Salmon aside, of course), so he'll have to give him different looks by way of his footwork and punching combinations. Rashad clearly has more one shot power than Jonny Bones.
Unfortunately for Spartan fans, that's where Evans' advantages on the feet end. Bones' striking still has the potential to get him in trouble, as his last fight proved. Lyoto did his "move around and pounce" routine, and it seemed to freeze Bones for spurts in that fight. Still, Bones has everything you'd ever want in his proverbial standup toolbox: youth, athleticism, reach for days, and the willingness to throw almost anything. Spinning back elbows, increasingly impressive knees and punches, and the rarely-talked-about front stomp to the knee. Every time he does that, I think "ooo ... that's gotta hurt." But nobody ever acknowledges it because it's the least spectacular strike he throws. Allow me to be the first. Anyway, Rashad has to be a mobile target or he's just going to get smoked. Don't rule this out, though. This is a more interesting fight on the feet than people think.
The problem with me writing this column is that it's really just a thinly veiled defense of everything Rashad Evans. Honestly, I wasn't aware of this when I started typing, but I realize it now. And now that I know my intentions, screw it ... I, for the life of me, do not understand detractors of Rashad Evans. Now, as we all know, MMA fans can (and often do) hate any fighter for just about any reason, even things as abstract as "I just think he has a punchable face" and "I don't like the way he carries himself." If this is the reason you despise Rashad Evans (or Jon Jones, for that matter), then I really have nothing to say to you, because you're the kind of person that isn't interested in thinking about mixed martial arts objectively. However, if you're one of those people I've heard (and there have been many) that are painting this matchup as "I hope they knock each other out, these are two spoiled, cocky black athletes that really get under my skin", can I just say ... do you not realize how different these two guys are as people??
Have you ever seen a Rashad Evans interview? He's one of the most thoughtful, down-to-earth, and downright NORMAL guys fighting in the UFC today. I'm issuing a challenge to anyone who reads this: find me a Rashad Evans clip where he refers to himself in the third person, or says something overly grandiose or religiously insane or just plain irrational. Find me that clip, and I'll walk to wherever you are and buy you a Yoo Hoo.
Jon Jones' piety and grandiosity has been well documented at this point. He thinks he's God's gift to fighting. Now, I don't know the ins-and-outs of the Jones-Evans-Jackson soap opera, but when Rashad calls Jones "fake" because he's "seen him in life", I think he means something very specific.
Allow me to speculate. What if, when he says he's "seen him in life", he's calling out his hyposcrisy in calling himself a "Christian" and a "child of God" despite the fact that he's clearly a nightclub dweller who seems to believe his own hype with a fervor we haven't seen since the heyday of a young Mike Tyson?
Here's my take: Jon Jones doesn't believe what he says he believes. I don't buy his act. He's afraid of being honest, because he thinks that doing so would make him appear weak. It's exactly the kind of thing that happens to someone when they experience so much success at such a young age, and they do so without any missteps. In a way, it's understandable. But that doesn't make the piety any less laughable.
Jon Jones is going to beat Rashad Evans on April 21st. He's going to kick and throw punches from range, and when Rashad comes inside, Jones is going to clinch up with him and do terrible things to him against the cage. It might even end with Rashad going to sleep. But I'll say 3 things:
1. This will be a more competitive fight than people think.
2. Psychologically, I am firmly entrenched on the side of Rashad Evans.
3. Nobody needs this loss more than Jon Jones. Only then can he potentially become a human being.
Edge: Jones (but every day that goes by, I like Evans a little more)