UFC 145: Evans vs. Jones

Published on April 18 at 1:50 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

Bitterness and vitriol will be in abundance for Saturday night’s main event when The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Philips Arena in Atlanta for the first time since UFC 88. The light heavyweight belt will be on the line when Jon ‘Bones’ Jones defends his title against former champion, former friend and former training partner, ‘Suga’ Rashad Evans.

As of Wednesday afternoon, most betting shops had Jones (15-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) installed as a minus-500 favorite with Evans available for a lucrative plus-400 payout (risk $100 to win $400).

Are there any reasons to think Jones won’t continue to cruise past the best in the light heavyweight division? He’s destroyed every opponent he’s faced and is getting better every time he steps in the Octagon (Jones’s lone ‘loss’ came due to disqualification for an illegal elbow).

Nevertheless, some give Evans (17-1-1 MMA, 12-1-1 UFC) a decent chance to be the first fighter to have an answer for Jones’s incredible skills. Evans, at age 32, is undoubtedly in the prime of his career and this will be his defining moment in the Octagon.

Count Jason Floyd (Twitter handle: @jason_floyd) among those giving Evans a good chance. Floyd, who hosts ‘In the Cage’ for 620 WDAE The Sports Animal in Tampa, had this take on Evans-Jones: “The key for Evans will be if he can get on the inside of Jones, since Jones has a 84.5 inch reach, which is the longest in UFC history. Jones has never been taken down in his UFC career and I think that will change in this fight. I think its a toss-up fight, but I like Jones because of Greg Jackson being in his corner. Jackson knows everything about Evans, which is a huge advantage for Jones.”

Evans was The Man at Greg Jackson’s camp before the trainer decided to bring in the young Jones, who was still raw at the time but had a blindingly bright future. Depending on whom you ask, Evans tutored the up-and-coming Jones and they became close friends, or they were never too tight and were just cordial training partners.

Whatever the case, they’re bitter enemies now. And Evans’s hatred extends past Jones and to Jackson as well. This week Evans told the media that “Greg Jackson is about what’s good for Greg Jackson.”

Jackson initially wasn’t going to work Jones’s corner because of his familiarity with Evans, but that plan changed as the rivalry grew over the last few months. In fact, Jones implied this week that “it isn’t even fair” that he has Jackson and his superior skills in going up against the former Michigan St. wrestler.

This is the third time Evans has been slated for a five-round title fight. Neither previous bout went to the championship rounds. Evans claimed the belt with a third-round KO of Forrest Griffin at UFC 92 and he lost it by second-round KO to Lyoto ‘The Dragon’ Machida at UFC 98.

Evans enjoyed one of the finest moments of his career at UFC 88 in Atlanta, as he won KO of the Night and KO of the Year honors with his second-round finish of Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell. A tremendous left hook caught Liddell flush and put him to sleep. I was cageside that night and Liddell didn’t wake up for at least 2-3 minutes.

This is Jones’s third title defense. He took the belt from Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua with a brutal third-round KO at UFC 128. Next, Jones choked out Rampage Jackson in the fourth round at UFC 135 before submitting Machida in the second round at UFC 140.

Prediction: Until I see him lose, I’m not picking against Jones. He’s just too long, too poised, too strong and too vicious with the array of punches, kicks and elbows contained in his repertoire. Now I have no doubt that Evans will have his moments in the fight and he’ll present the best challenge of Jones’s career. But Jones will get his hand raised once again to retain the belt I don’t see him relinquishing anytime soon. If you can find a prop for Jones to win inside the distance at a minus-150 price or cheaper, then I recommend that play but I’m not sure it’ll be available. Otherwise, it’s a pass for me.

In the co-main event, welterweight phenom Rory MacDonald (12-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC) will square off against Che Mills, who earned KO of the Night honors with his first-round finish of Chris Cope in his Octagon debut at UFC 138.

MacDonald is a minus-500 ‘chalk,’ while Mills is a plus-400 underdog.

MacDonald is a 22-year-old with superstar written all over him. In his last outing, he laid waste to Mike Pyle with a first-round knockout. Before that, MacDonald tossed Nate Diaz around for 15 minutes and convinced him to drop down a weight class. (Since then, we should note, Diaz himself has been sensational in the 155-pound loop.)

The only blemish on MacDonald’s resume is a loss to current interim welterweight champion Carlos ‘The Natural Born Killer’ Condit, who rallied from a huge deficit to finish MacDonald with seven seconds remaining in the third and final round.

Mills (14-4-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) hasn’t tasted defeat in nearly two years, winning five consecutive fights. In 2008, he won the Cage Rage British welterweight title. Mills will be fighting in the United States for the first time in his career.

Prediction: I can’t recommend a minus-500 favorite for betting purposes, but I think MacDonald wins by first-round KO. MacDonald is legit and will be fighting for the belt by early 2014.

In the heavyweight division, Brendan ‘The Hybrid’ Schaub (8-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) will be in bounce-back mode when he tangles with ‘Big’ Ben Rothwell. Most books have Schaub favored at a minus-260 price, while Rothwell is plus-200 on the comeback (risk $100 to win $200).

Schaub went into hostile territory to face Antonio Rodrigo ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira in Rio this past August. Schaub appeared to have the Brazilian legend rocked before Nogueira answered with several bombs that ended the night for Schaub at the 3:09 mark of the opening stanza.

The former NFL player had won four in a row prior to the devastating defeat against the former PRIDE and UFC heavyweight champ. Schaub’s only other loss came to Roy Nelson in the finals of Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter. Since that first-round loss to ‘Big Country,’ Schaub had beaten the likes of Gabriel Gonzaga and Mirko Cro Cop.

Rothwell (31-8 MMA, 1-2 UFC) is most likely facing a pink slip if he can’t pull the upset. Since joining the promotion, the 30-year-old veteran has a unanimous-decision win over Gilbert Yvel sandwiched between a pair of losses to Mark Hunt (unanimous dec.) and Cain Velasquez (second-round KO).

Prediction: I think Schaub gets the win but Rothwell has an outstanding chin. Schaub might have to go the distance or he’ll get the KO late in the second round or at some point in the third. However, -260 is still a tad expensive for me to recommend Schaub for a wager. Translation: I’ll pass.

Mark ‘The Machine’ Hominick (20-10 MMA, 3-2 UFC) will attempt to get back on track when he faces Eddie Yagin in a featherweight bout. Hominick, a minus-700 favorite at most spots, has lost his last two times out.

The Canadian showed incredible courage in his unanimous-decision loss to Jose Aldo for the 145-pound crown at UFC 129. Hominick developed a nasty hematoma on his forehead after taking a big elbow from Aldo in the fourth round.

It appeared as if the fight would surely be stopped but thanks to the doctor and referee ‘Big’ John McCarthy, the bout continued. And thank goodness for that!

Somehow Hominick fought on and after scoring a takedown early in the fifth round, he proceeded to inflict big damage on Aldo in ground-and-pound fashion. Although the champion couldn’t escape the mount, he was able to finish the round and retain his belt.

Going into his next fight, Hominick had to cope with the sudden and tragic death of his long-time trainer Shawn Tomkins, who passed in his sleep at the age of 37 from a sudden heart attack.

As Hominick’s fight against Chan-Sung Jung started, both fighters met in the center of the Octagon with a high five. Then Hominick went out of character and threw a wild left that missed. Jung’s counter-punch floored Hominick and a few more shots for good measure were all that were needed.

In stunning fashion, Jung had won by TKO just seven seconds into the fight, hooking up his backers with a monster return in the plus-500 range (risk $100 to win $500).

Prediction: I think Hominick will bounce back and win but from a wagering standpoint, this is definitely a spot where you either play the underdog or pass. I’ll go with the latter.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–Two other fights are on the pay-per-view card: Miguel Torres (-120) vs. Michael McDonald (-110) in the bantamweight division and Mark Bocek (-400) vs. John Alessio (+325) in a lightweight showdown. According to Sportsbook.com Senior Oddsmaker Mike Perry, 80% of the action has been placed on Torres. The offshore book opened McDonald as a minus-125 favorite. Floyd likes McDonald to win this fight.

–Four additional fights will be aired on FX and a pair of preliminary bouts can be viewed on the UFC’s Facebook page.

–When asked about MacDonald’s future if he gets past Mills, Floyd said, “I would think a win by MacDonald gets him the winner of Josh Koscheck/Johny Hendricks, which takes place on May 5th at UFC on FOX 3.”

–Liddell is surprised that Evans is considered such a decided underdog. The former 205-pound kingpin told MMAWeekly, “I think that’s ridiculous. 5 to 1, and 6 to 1, I mean, Jon’s been great, he’s doing great, and he’s going to keep getting better, but this is a fight styles wise that’s a tougher fight for him than the ones he’s had.

“He likes to control the distance, control where the fight was, whether it was standing or on the ground, and I think he’ll have a harder time doing that with Rashad.”

–Bookmaker.com is currently listing Gray Maynard as an expensive -305 favorite vs. Clay Guida (+235) for the main event of UFC on FX4 that’s scheduled for June 22.

–Other UFC futures include:

Cain Velasquez (-400) vs. Frank Mir (+300)
Antonio Silva (-225) vs. Roy Nelson (+175)
Stefan Struve (-120) vs. Mark Hunt (-110)
Jake Ellenberger (-175) vs. Martin Kampmann (+145) per Sportsbook.com
Dominick Cruz (-225) vs. Urijah Faber (+175)
Forrest Griffin (-295) vs. Tito Ortiz (+225) per Bookmaker
Ben Henderson (-115) vs. Frank Edgar (-115)

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