Fight fans love the heavyweights.
Never has this been more evident than in the past week, as the MMA blogosphere has been innundated with the stories of Alistair Overeem and his testosterone ratios, Brock Lesnar's place in UFC history as he return's to pro wrestling and the "Mark Hunt Army Of Doom". You didn't know about the Army of Doom?
While I won't deny that these stories (that together intertwine into a singular narrative surrounding the UFC heavyweight title) are fascinating for various reasons, none of them catch and hold my attention the way the upcoming battle for the UFC light heavyweight title that is taking place in less than two weeks, on April 21st, in Atlanta. The fight will, of course, be contested between defending champion Jon Jones and challenger (and former champion) Rashad Evans.
The two have been embroiled in a rivalry that cuts deeper than most of the standard UFC fare for the better part of a year, making this fight a much anticipated grudge match that UFC fans love.
And in my opinion there is a good chance that this fight is the first superfight mixed martial arts has seen in years and is perhaps the biggest MMA superfight ever.
And yet, I get the feeling that this fight is going to come and go without garnering the attention that it deserves. In an effort to avoid that from happening, I thought I'd break down why I think this fight is so great and see if I can't rally any support for my views.
First I'd like to share my list of the five biggest superfights that have taken place in mixed martial arts since it hit the mainstream in 1993. If we can come to agreement that these fights are the standard that all superfights can be compared to, then I think you'll agree that Jones/Evans is bigger than any of these were.
- Fedor Emelianenko (13-1) vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (19-1-1) Pride 25, 2003. When the two men met for the first time, they had a combined record of 32-2-1, which is exactly the same combined record that Rashad and Jones will enter the night with. The only problem? Fedor hadn't done much to this point in his career. When they met again the following year, they had both accomplished much more, but as it was a re-match it just wasn't quite the same.
- Fedor Emelianenko (23-1-1) vs Mirko Filipovic (16-2-2) Pride Final Conflict 2005. Another superfight involving Fedor, this time against one of the most feared strikers in MMA history, Mirko Cro Cop. The two men brought a combined mark of 39-3-3 into the bout and both had defeated some of the best the division had to offer. This is probably the standard for MMA superfights, as both men were in the prime of their careers and the fight was supposed to have happened in 2003 but was delayed by Pride politics.
- Quinton Jackson (27-6) vs Dan Henderson (22-5) UFC 75, 2007. This was the first of two Pride & UFC unification bouts that Henderson would participate in after coming to the organization from Pride with the middleweight (205) and welterweight (185) championships in his back pocket. While both men had significant victories in the division, they also had significant losses as well, (49-11 combined) which took a little bit away from the meeting.
- Chuck Liddell (20-5) vs Wanderlei Silva (31-7-1) UFC 79, 2007. This fight would have been at the top of the list had it taken place a few years earlier, but it didn't come to fruition until both men had lost a step. At a combined 51-12-1, they had both lost two straight going into the bout and neither man had much success after. It was a great fight but it just didn't have the "it" factor that a fight between two men at the top of the game has. It wasn't even the main event of the evening, which instead went to Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes.
- Georges St. Pierre (17-2) vs B.J. Penn (13-4-1) UFC 91, 2009. Arguably the most recent superfight the UFC has put on, a rematch between Penn and St. Pierre was highly anticipated but was largely disappointing. St. Pierre was bigger and stronger and used it to his advantage on his way to a dominant four round TKO. The two men carried a combined record of 30-6-1 into the match.
All of those fights had one or more special qualitys about them that just aren't present for most big name fights. These are:
- An undefeated contestant. (Fedor did have a loss on his record going into his two fights on the list, but the loss was very much an asterisk, as he was cut by an illegal elbow in a tournament fight with Tsuyoshi Kohsaka early in his career. A winner was needed due to the tournament format, and Kohsaka moved on.) As such, he was widely considered to be undefeated prior to both fights.
- Significant divisional relevance. The only fight that wasn't for a championship was the fight between Liddell and Silva. Had it been for the UFC title, it would undeniably have been a bigger fight than it was. Still, the fight was important because of the long stretch of time that both Silva and Liddell dominated the 205 pound division.
- Long term dominance. This ties into the second quality, as a fight can't really be considered significant to the division if the two men contesting it haven't ruled the roost for some time. Other than the first Fedor/Big Nog fight, when Fedor was largely untested, each of the contestants had dominated their respective divisions for quite some time going into the matches.
So how does Jones and Evans stack up?
Undefeated opponent? Check. Jones has a loss in the same way that Fedor had a loss. He beat Matt Hamill down, only to be disqualified due to illegal elbow strikes. Hamill would have been able to continue had he not hurt his shoulder earlier in the fight, thus many people consider this not an official loss.
Significant divisional relevance? Check. The fight is for a championship at a time when there is a distinct lack of contenders. Why? Because Jones and Evans have beaten them all down. Dan Henderson looms in the background but aside from him, it's pretty likely that the winner of this fight rules the roost for a long time to come.
Long term dominance? Check. Between the two of them, Jones and Evans have dispatched a ridiculous list of top fighters. In no particular order, they have defeated Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Lyoto Machida, Phil Davis, Quinton Jackson, Shogun Rua, Ryan Bader, Forrest Griffin, Thiago Silva and Brandon Vera. That includes all the 205 pound champions since 2005. In fact, the only 205 pound UFC champs that Evans and Jones haven't beaten are Randy Couture and Vitor Belfort, both of whom left the division before either of our hero's came onto the scene.
Now let's look at some of the issues that took away from these superfights of the past.
Two fighters in their prime. Fedor, Big Nog and Cro Cop were all in their prime when they met up. St. Pierre and Penn were also at the very best they would ever be. Jackson and Henderson were perhaps on the back end of their primes, while Liddell and Silva were undoubtedly on the way down.
Both Jones and Evans are in their prime. Evans is a little on the older side, but he's fought so rarely in the past couple of years that he truly is a young 32. Jones is a little on the younger side, but he is coming off a year described by many as the greatest calender year in MMA history, so if he isn't in his prime now, lord help us when he does actually reach it.
Lack of Accomplishment at the time of the fight. Looking back at the first fight between Fedor and Big Nog, we now know just how significant it was. At the time though, Fedor was an underdog to Nogueira, which suggests that his greatness hadn't been truly realized. Of course,after Fedor beat Nog down from within the Brazilian's guard, he would be looked at much differently.
Both Jones and Evans already have signature victories. For Evans, it's his knockout of Chuck Liddell. For Jones, it's difficult to separate his destructions of Shogun, Rampage and Lyoto and put one above the other two, but taken as a whole, it is definitely a statement that he is the division's present.
When you take all these elements into consideration, you are left with a pretty compelling argument that Evans/Jones could be, on paper, the greatest MMA fight of all time.
Will it play out that way? I think there is a good chance that it will. Neither man has what you would call one-punch power, although Evans does have a couple of big time knockouts. They both excel at getting the fight where they want it and dominating their opponent from there, which suggests that we might be in for a back and forth 25 minute war.
Think about the way Jones has looked up to this point. He has barely lost a round and has never been dominated for any extended period of time.
Imagine if Evans was able to get a takedown in the first round and do some damage to Jones. The electricity in the building, in bars and in the living rooms of fight fans around the world between rounds would be off the charts. And if Jones was able to come back and get Evans to the mat in the second round? I can barely contain my excitement when I think of the prospects.
Forget UFC 145, let's do a week long camp out in front of the NSAC hearing building.
Who's with me?