BEST EVANS TO DATE?
The UFC 108 main event between Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva didn’t have the expected fireworks because Evans completely neutralized a very tough, highly skilled Silva for two and a half rounds. Those first two rounds were about as one sided as a fight can be without submission attempts, knockdowns or serious ground and pound. Evans completely controlled the pace. He dictated where the fight unfolded. And he turned an ultra-aggressive Muay Thai fighter into someone who was very hesitant to throw strikes for fear of getting taken down.
It was no secret entering UFC 108 that Evans needed to go back to his wrestling roots if he wanted to truly maximize his ability inside the Octagon. Over the past few years, Evans had largely become one dimensional, standing in front of foes and waiting to unload dynamic counter punches without any interest in either leading the action or relying on his wrestling roots. Evans’ love affair with his hands resulted in a spectacular knockout win over Chuck Liddell and a title-winning stoppage against Forrest Griffin. Those two wins still remain as the highlights of his career.
Yet, Saturday night was likely the most effective Rashad Evans that the world has ever seen, and I’m of the opinion that he should continue fighting with that same style.
Fans who disagree should re-watch the final round. When Evans moved away from blending takedowns and striking while forcing the action, he opened a window for Silva to do his thing, and that almost resulted in a knockout for the Brazilian striker. When he pushed the pace and maintained the threat of a takedown, he completely dominated Silva, even though he did not exact tremendous damage.
As Evans becomes more and more comfortable with taking the lead in fights, he will become more and more effective with that style. The knockouts that he scored as a counter fighter will come as the aggressor. It will just take a bit of time.
Kudos to coaches Greg Jackson and Trevor Wittman for convincing their charge to completely change up his game for one of the toughest opponents of his career. Kudos to Evans for sticking to the plan, even when Silva repeatedly attempted to goad him into a firefight. Watch post-fight interview
BRING ON RAMPAGE
According to both Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and UFC czar Dana White, the former champion’s hiatus from competition is about to come to a close. White stated in the post-fight presser that Rampage will likely face Evans in their long-awaited bout sometime this spring. I’m sure that Rampage enjoyed filming a movie, but he is a fighter first and foremost. A bout with Evans is just what the doctor ordered to sort out the rightful next in line for the winner of the rematch between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
We will break down the matchup in detail once it is officially signed, sealed and delivered. But for those who cannot wait that long, I like Rampage to win by knockout if Evans reverts back to his prior style of relying solely on his fists to win the fight. The former PRIDE star has more power and better technique on the feet. Evans can neutralize those advantages by bringing takedowns into the mix and by forcing Rampage to fight moving backwards. Of course, that is easier said than done. Former Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson didn’t have much luck trying to put Rampage on his back. Will Evans have better luck? We’ll have to wait and see.
With just over two minutes remaining in the fight, Silva had a golden opportunity to pull off an improbable come-from-behind knockout victory by landing a left hook, right hand combination on Evans’ chin. The blows momentarily jarred Evans’ equilibrium, and like a predator smelling blood, Silva was all over him in search of the knockout.
Evans survived the initial onslaught, but he was still on the verge of falling prey to a knockout. With 1:18 remaining, Silva uncorked a violent left hook that barely missed its mark. That was the last strike that Silva would throw for a full 30 seconds, as he inexplicably opted to rest during that period, giving Evans more than enough time to recover, survive the round and secure the victory.
There is no doubt that Silva was exhausted prior to rocking Evans late in the round. And he obviously used up what little gas that remained in his tank during the initial surge. No matter, a fighter of Silva’s caliber has to find a way to push past normal human limits and continue fighting in the face of exhaustion. Had he been able to do that, I firmly believe that he wins the fight by knockout.
Many are questioning Silva’s conditioning level as a result of his late fight fatigue. That is an unfair criticism. The first two rounds were grueling for the Brazilian because Evans forced him to expend tremendous energy defending takedowns and working to scramble back to his feet following takedowns. He had never before had to expend that amount of energy in a UFC fight, so it was a completely new experience for the 27-year-old Brazilian.
Silva suffered his second career loss at UFC 108, but I suspect that he will learn more from that loss than his previous loss to Machida. Regardless of how many rounds a fighter spars, miles he runs, or time he spends riding the aerodyne, it is impossible to predict how he will feel late in the third round of a major fight until he is actually in that position.
Now that Silva has experienced fighting 15 grueling minutes, he knows what is required to be successful in that situation. I expect him to rebound from this loss with better cardio and, more importantly, a better sense of how to pace himself during a fight so that he doesn’t use up all of his gas before the final bell. Watch post-fight interview
DALEY VS. ALVES--COULD WE BE SO LUCKY?
During Saturday’s post-fight presser, White stated that Daley would likely need to beat one of the division’s top two contenders, Josh Koscheck or Jon Fitch, in order to secure a shot at 170-lb ruler Georges St-Pierre.
A bout between Daley and Kos would be a fun affair. Kos may have the best wrestling pedigree in the UFC, but he has proven that he will stand and bang with anyone. That includes a monster like Daley. Whether that is the wisest game plan is certainly open for debate, though few would deny that a bout between those two would certainly produce more than its fair share of fireworks.
Daley versus Fitch would likely feature more ground work than Kos-Daley. Fitch displays very good standup in the gym, but he has yet to really bring that solid standup game into the Octagon. Instead, the former Purdue wrestler prefers to rely on his takedowns, ground control and black-belt jiu-jitsu skills. A bout between this pair would almost certainly answer more than a few open questions about Daley’s ground game.
Either of those bouts would be fun, interesting matchups. My preference, however, would be for Daley to lock horns with fellow standup destroyer and top-rated welterweight Thiago Alves.
Following Daley’s win over Martin Kampmann, I stated in my post-mortem that Daley-Alves would be an early favorite for my good friend Thomas Gerbasi’s Highly Unofficial Fight of the Year Award. Either great minds think alike or Daley read that opinion-editorial because when asked his preference in fighting either Kos or Fitch, Daley mentioned Alves as the guy he really wanted to fight. His reason for naming the American Top Team star as his preferred opponent spoke volumes of his confidence and competitive spirit. I cannot think of another welterweight who would volunteer to slug it out with Alves. Then again, Daley isn’t just another welterweight. Watch post-fight interview
Fabricio Werdum. Stefan Struve. Mirko Cro Cop. Gilbert Yvel. Each of those men stepped into the Octagon with the goal of handing Junior Dos Santos his first UFC loss. None of them succeeded. In fact, none of them lasted the distance.
Few heavyweights are riding a better start to their UFC career. His four-fight Octagon winning streak is one better than universally regarded title contender Shane Carwin and it is only one shy of rising superstar Cain Velasquez.
With all of the attention focused on Carwin (who was supposed to challenge Lesnar in 2009 for the heavyweight title before illness sidelined the champion) and Velasquez (the guy many are anointing as the division’s heir apparent), Dos Santos is quietly creating a body of work that cannot be ignored much longer.
What is next for the Brazilian banger? Whatever it is, expect him to further his case for a shot at the belt, as he looks to be getting better with each passing bout. Watch post-fight interview