For 3 years, Tito Ortiz ruled over the UFC Light Heavyweight division. With his physical strength, his size advantage, and his wrestling skills, Ortiz dominated opponents, out-muscling them into submission. Then he ran into Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell, and that dominance came to an end. Two years later, it was Liddell's turn to dominate, ruling over the division for two years with (quite literally) an iron fist. But like Tito before him, that all came crashing down.
There are a number of reasons why men like Tito and Chuck who reach the top fall so far, so fast. Both had years of physical toil on their bodies and numerous injuries, both big and small, to slow them down. But there's another factor at play here too.
They failed to evolve.
When both of these champions stepped into the cage, you knew exactly how they would approach the fight. They were highly skilled in their areas of expertise, and fought to keep the fights in these areas. But as time went on, opponents figured both men out. They knew how to avoid the Tito takedown, the Chuck KO. And once those weapons were taken away, the champions were, essentially, unarmed - exposed on the battlefield. And they were defeated, again and again. They failed to evolve, and that failure led to their demise.
Rashad Evans on the other hand...
Evans has embraced the idea of evolution as a fighter. In his six years in the UFC, we've seen great steps in his game. After starting as a wrestler with a focus on control, Evans began to add more powerful strikes to his game. Starting with Thiago Silva, he began to blend the two smoothly, using strikes to set up takedowns. Against Rampage, he evolved again, taking the Lyoto Machida style of moving in and out of punches and mixing it into his stand-up.
At UFC 133, we saw all of this come together to create the best Rashad Evans ever. He has evolved, and he has succeeded for it. But even with that evolution, a question must be asked:
Can Rashad beat Jon Jones?
Yes, Jones has to get by Rampage first, but Jones vs. Evans is the fight everyone wants to see, and it's the fight Rashad will need to win to truly put himself back on top of the mountain. But can he do it? To defeat Jones, he'll need to overcome some serious obstacles.
- The stand up. Rashad may have the faster hands (though not significantly), but he'll have a serious reach disadvantage. He's also shown less diversity in his strikes, as Jones is able to attack with a huge arsenal of punches, kicks, knees, and elbows.
- The wrestling. Jones is very strong, having thrown men larger than Evans around the cage with ease. Rashad will need to both figure out how to get Jones down, and how to avoid the takedown himself.
- Fighting off his back. Rashad has shown good submission defense, but we have not seen a lot of him on his back. He'll have to be prepared for Jones to put him in this position, and he'll need an answer for it.
- The pace. Evans has shown conditioning issues in the past, and he's never gone past the 3rd round. Jones is a very physical fighter, who will likely push him hard. Can Evans keep up into the 4th and 5th if he needs to?