Monday, December 12, 2011

Is Rashad Evans or Dan Henderson The One to Beat Jon Jones?

source: Mike Chiappetta |

With his second-round TKO win at UFC 140 on Saturday night, Jon Jones might well be off to the greatest career start in MMA history.

Through 16 pro fights, he has only lost once, in a fight he thoroughly dominated before making a mistake by throwing illegal downward elbows and getting disqualified. Since then he has been nearly flawless in the cage. He has defeated three former UFC champions in a nine-month span. He has finished each of his last seven wins in what has historically been MMA's most competitive division.

But there are still challenges waiting ahead of him. The two biggest threats? No. 1 contender Rashad Evans, who will risk his position to face Phil Davis in January, and sledgehammer-fisted Dan Henderson, who is fresh off his instant classic win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.

After fighting four times in 2011, Jones has a well-deserved vacation coming to him. In the post-fight press conference, he said he would like to take 4-5 months off. But when he comes back, he'll likely have one of those two lined up to face him.

From a business perspective, the Evans-Jones fight makes more sense as a gate attraction. The two have a built-in rivalry based on their time together as teammates at the Greg Jackson camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico and eventual split after Jones acknowledged that he would fight Evans if the UFC requested it. Since then, there's been plenty of trash talk between them, and as Jones' star grows, the possibility of a serious grudge match could sell big. After all, Evans rivalry with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson did over 1 million pay-per-view buys, so why not one with Jones?

From a style matchup, it is intriguing. Jones has yet to face an opponent who offers seamless transitions from striking to wrestling, yet that's exactly what Evans brings to the table. While the Lyoto Machida matchup puzzle is mostly based on timing, feints and distance, Evans is a legitimate threat with power striking, takedowns and work against the cage, offering a triple threat to contemplate.

But some of the same old, same old would apply. Namely, Evans would be at a massive disadvantage in reach and height, giving up 9.5 inches in the former and 5 inches in the latter, so his challenge like many would be to find a way to get into striking range without taking damage on the way in. That might be a bit tricky for Evans, who often likes to sit back and let his opponent come to him. That particular approach is never going to be the best one against Jones, who is long enough to hit you as you're simply trying to gauge distance.

Machida, for instance, had his best moments when he was aggressive and flurried while coming forward. When he sat back and countered, Jones fired off kicks to keep him on the defensive. The fight-ending sequence in fact began when Machida patiently waited with his back near the fence, waiting for Jones to fire. When he did, Machida's counter left hand was quite literally beaten to the punch by Jones' own left by virtue of his reach. The strike dropped Machida and led to the fight-ending guillotine choke.

Because Evans and Jones trained together for a time, they each have an insight into the other. But I would argue that it benefits Jones. Let's face it, Evans was much further along in his career at the time and a more fully formed fighter, while Jones was still in the neophyte stages of the game. Which one do you think is more different now? If your answer is Jones, Evans' memories from their time together are mostly useless.

The interesting thing about Evans is that he doesn't do any one thing exceptionally. He's very good at several things, and melds them all together well in a way that makes him hard to prepare for, and harder to beat. That's what he'd bring to the table against Jones.