UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans Preview!
Good friends, better enemies.
So reads the promotional tagline for the UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans pay-per-view event that airs Saturday night. The storyline of the main event is as easy to follow as it gets and should lead to one of the more financially successful events of the year for the UFC.
Jones and Evans are former training partners and friends whose personal and professional relationships were fractured after Jones won the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship in March of 2011. Then-champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua's originally scheduled opponent was Evans. When Evans had to drop out of the fight due to injury, Jones stepped into his place, with Evans' full backing, and won the championship.
Evans had said that if Jones won the championship, he would move to another weight class to avoid the possibility of being asked to fight his friend. But when Jones said in an interview that he would face Evans if Dana White asked him to, Evans took offense. He eventually left the vaunted Greg Jackson's gym and started to assemble his own training camp.
The Jones/Evans fight was penciled in for last summer, but Jones pulled out due to a hand injury, which at the time it was thought would require surgery. Evans, who had been on the shelf for close to a year at that point, chose to take a fight in the interim. It was a risky proposition for Evans. The money fight was with Jones, and a loss in the meantime would take Evans out of title contention.
Still, Evans agreed to a fight with top prospect Phil Davis. In the meantime, Jones announced that he would not need surgery after all and would look to take a fight in the late summer or early fall. Evans called shenanigans and essentially accused Jones of ducking him, and the two reportedly were involved in a pull apart at a Las Vegas night club last May.
Davis would eventually have to pull out of the proposed Evans fight and Evans would go on to defeat Tito Ortiz in a thrown-together main event in Philadelphia last August, while Jones defended his title against "Rampage" Jackson in September.
From there, the realities of the current UFC climate threatened the grudge match between the two. Jones was called upon to main event the UFC 140 card in Toronto last December, while Evans was needed to headline the UFC on Fox show in January in Chicago. Had either man lost, the potential money fight would not have taken place, at least not anytime soon.
Both men won their fights, each in their signature style. Jones survived Lyoto Machida in Toronto by using his reach advantage, unorthodox stances and athleticism to score a submission victory. Evans fought a smart, if not exciting fight and outpointed Phil Davis in Chicago.
In the build to this fight, both men have claimed that they have a strategic advantage over the other due to their time spent as training partners. Each man has only one career loss. Evans, 17-1-1, was knocked out by Machida in May 2009, while Jones, 15-1, suffered his only loss on a controversial disqualification in a fight he was dominating against Matt Hamill in December 2009.
Both men have impressive amateur wrestling pedigrees, having won National Junior College Athletic Association championships. Both are good strikers. Evans has some highlight reel knockouts on his résumé, while eight of Jones' 15 victories have come by way of KO or TKO. If there is an edge in the striking game, one would likely have to give it to Jones because of the elbow strikes that he seems to utilize better than almost anyone in the sport.
The story of the fight, however, is likely to be the 9.5 inch reach advantage and five inch height advantage that Jones has over Evans. At 6' 4", Jones is one of the bigger light heavyweight fighters in the division, and an eventual move to heavyweight seems inevitable. Evans began his UFC career as a heavyweight, but has fought at light heavyweight for the last six years and talked about moving down to middleweight when he first dismissed the idea of one day fighting Jones.
Jones has fought five times since May 2010 while Evans has fought just twice. Jones, 24 is nearly eight years younger and still evolving as a fighter while it would seem that we have seen virtually all that Evans, 32, has to offer by this point.
When you consider all of those things, it is easy to understand why Jones is favored (-450 Jones, +325 Evans), even if those odds seem long for a fight featuring two elite fighters.
How the show will do on pay-per-view will be an interesting story. Despite a rather lackluster press conference on Wednesday that showcased little in the way of revenue generating-banter between the two fighters, it remains an easy sell for the promotion. Two guys with a history, who now don't like each other, are going to fight.
Evans is a member of the elite group of fighters who have drawn 1 million pay-per-view buys. His grudge match against "Rampage" Jackson in May 2010 remains the most successful UFC pay-per-view not headlined by a title match.
The landscape is somewhat different now, not quite two years later. The "UFC Primetime" hype specials, which are often key in converting fans into paying customers, has aired most notably on Friday nights following episodes of The Ultimate Fighter, which is suffering from some of the lowest ratings in the history of the franchise this season.
Jones has proven to be a reliable, if not top level drawing card, as his last few fights have all done in the neighborhood of 450,000 buys. Those numbers are better than the baseline UFC shows are averaging these days, but they are a far cry from the numbers that Brock Lesnar drew in his prime and that Georges St-Pierre does for his fights.
This show will do as good as the main event will allow it to, as nothing on the undercard is a money-drawing fight. Of course that is the case with a lot of shows, although often a semi-main event will feature two stars with some name value. With all due respect to top prospect Rory MacDonald and his opponent Che Mills, who will be fighting second from the top on this show, this is not the case here.
In addition to the grudge match, the show may benefit from being the first major UFC card presented in roughly six weeks. We have discussed overexposure ad nauseam on this blog. Six weeks between pay-per-views is unheard of in today's UFC world, so perhaps absence has made the heart grow fonder for some fans.
If pressed, I would predict somewhere in the 725,000 buys range for this show.
Preliminary fights begin airing at 7 PM EDT on Facebook, moving to FX at 8PM, with the main card airing on pay-per-view at the traditional start time of 10 PM.
As usual, a full report on the show including detailed reports and analysis of all of the matches will be up here on the site shortly after the conclusion of the broadcast.
For more UFC notes and other commentary, follow me on Twitter @EthanRenner