(From MMAFighting; Interview by Ariel Helwani)
The MMA world has a tendency to make idols out of hype. It happened with Arlovski, Machida, Lesnar and many others, all great fighters, but none of them able to live up their own legend. It could be argued that Jon Jones justified his hype and more last night. But thus far, he has beaten only two opponent in the top 10: Ryan Bader and Shogun Rua, granted the latter is considered one of this generation's premier light heavyweights and Jones absolutely dismantled. But Jon Jones is still 23 years-old. It's much too early to immortalize him and to crown him as the new unbeatable conquerer of the UFC and it's much too early to push him into a fight against pound-for-pound great Anderson Silva. He hasn't earned it yet.
Here Jones is, a spectacular fighter, the likes of which we've never seen before, but he's still a fighter yet to defend his belt. Therefore, he's not fully a champion. Not quite yet. Who's to say Quinton Jackson can't hit him, Thiago Silva can't touch him, or Lyoto Machida can't solve him, and later down the line, who can say Phil Davis won't stop him. What about a healthy, motivated Shogun, coming off a fight instead of a serious surgical procedure? However, who can say that right now, Rashad Evans, his greatest challenge yet, can't beat him?
Consider that both Rashad and Jones are training partners. Not only does Rashad know most of Jones's tendencies in training, but in taking this fight, perhaps he knows something the public doesn't. Perhaps somewhere behind Jackson's locked doors, Rashad's been taking it Jones. Consider why Rashad would take a fight knowing he never had a chance to win. He must have confidence in his ability to beat Jones and the ways in which to do it.
Rashad is also the only ready challenger at light heavyweight with the ability to put Jones on his back, something we've never seen, but something entirely possible. How will Jones fight off his back? Rashad may be one of the few who know. He, in training, must've taken Jones down innumerable times. Evans mixes his strikes with his takedowns more effectively than Jones and his lower base will help him attack the tall legs of Jones more efficiently. His shot is faster than Bader's, as is his cardio. For all the well deserved praise on Jones's ground and pound, Rashad too, is capable of causing significant damage from top control, ask Forrest Griffin or even Rampage in the third round of their fight.
Also consider the mental factor. If you watch the above video, it's clear Rashad is fired up. He's hurt and he feels betrayed that his camp abandoned him during his injury to promote the young lion, the second coming, when all this time, it was he who remained loyal to Jackson's, who began his career there and who, through thick and thin, remained. What will Jones's mental state be like fighting his once-friend, training partner and elder? An emotionally invested Rashad Evans is something we've never truly seen. Even in the Rampage fight, watching the Primetime shows and pre-fight interviews, Rampage clearly, was the more emotionally invested. Rashad wants that belt, and in the process, he wants to humble Jones and remind his camp of the fighter he is, and the fighter they lost. Does Jones have the same motivation? Does he want to hurt Rashad and beat him down as Rashad does to him?
Also, take into consideration that this will be one of the only fights for Jones in which Greg Jackson will not be in his corner. For such a young fighter, how will he react without his crutch, one of the most important figures in his fighting career. Rashad shares the same consequence, but he's the older fighter, he's made it clear that he's cut ties with Jackson's. He knows doesn't need him anymore. He wants to prove himself without him.
So while the UFC is calling for Anderson vs. Jones, it's important to note that a more than worthy challenger is waiting in the wings. Let's not discount the abilities of Jon Jones. He's a once-in-a-generation type fighter who has shown fans things we've never seen before and may never see again after him. But match-ups make fights and Rashad is more than an adequate match-up for Jones. So while we don't discount the greatness of Jones, let's also not discount Rashad Evans as his greatest challenge yet.