Evans used his wrestling roots to take down and punish Rampage Jackson at the culmination of their season coaching opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa, LLC via Getty Images)
Headlining the UFC's proper debut on broadcast television is a fight between Rashad Evans and Phil Davis which holds major ramifications for the light heavyweight title picture. If Evans is victorious and healthy he will have the next shot at Jon Jones, finally granting some closure to the saga of Evans vs. Jones. Should Davis end the broadcast with his hand raised, or if Evans wins but suffers an injury which would prevent an early summer fight, the title shot will instead be granted to Dan Henderson.
A former UFC Light Heavyweight champion, Evans became only the second non-veterans season TUF competitor to win a UFC title, having taken the belt off of the first TUF-champ turned UFC champion, Forrest Griffin. Like many of the big names to emerge from the show, Evans draws strong reactions from the fans, often of the negative variety with Evans serving as a guy people will always tune in to watch, usually in the hopes he will be defeated.
While Evans is well-removed from his short reign as UFC light heavyweight champion, having won the belt more than three years ago and never defending successfully, he has had only three fights since losing the belt to Lyoto Machida. Through a combination of his own injuries and attempting to wait out injuries of the champion, Evans fought just twice in 2010 and once in 2011. After decisions over Thiago Silva and Rampage Jackson he was expected to earn a title shot with Shogun Rua, who was injured. Evans waited for the champ, only to find himself injured when the fight was finally booked. Semi-teammate Jon Jones stepped up instead to smash Rua, starting a he-said-he-said soap opera that has persisted ever since. The two were set to settle things late in 2011, however a Jones injury saw a bout with Davis booked instead. When Davis was then injured, Tito Ortiz stepped in, and Evans made short work of the former champ.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Rashad first came to prominence in the UFC as the heavyweight winner of The Ultimate Fighter 2 as a relatively one-dimensional wrestler who could take down and control opponents but wasn't wowing spectators. Evans worked hard on his striking however, eventually earning highlight reel knock outs of Sean Salmon, Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin, however after being made to do the stanky leg by Machida, as Rampage Jackson put it, Evans has reverted back to utilizing his primary wrestling strength more in recent bouts.
Rashad should be the superior striker in this match-up, and while he isn't as decorated a collegiate wrestler as Davis, in the world of MMA he has shown a greater ability to use his striking to set-up the take downs. Look for Evans to try to keep the fight standing where he has the edge and work toward a TKO victory in the second round, finally setting up his grudge match with Jon Jones. As with Sonnen in the event's co-main event, while Evans seems like a relatively safe bet, at -265 the odds don't leave much room for profit.
Phil Davis analysis after the jump.
From the first time Phil Davis stepped into the cage in the UFC, the comparisons were already made to now-UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. While Davis has not shown the same ability to pick up all aspects of the game at an alarming pace, and as a result has not completely dismantled legends of the sport like Jones has, Davis remains one of the most promising young fighters in the game.
Davis exploded out of the gate in the UFC, dominating Brian Stann and Rodney Wallace in decisions and locking on a fight-ending anaconda choke against fellow young prospect Alexader Gustafsson. In his fourth UFC bout, Davis grabbed a one handed shoulder crank against Tim Boetsch which, through some kind of travesty that can't really be comprehended, was dubbed both the "Mr. Wonderful" and the far superior "Wonder Bar," only to have the former name be the one to catch on. Davis got his jump to the big stage in a bout against Little Nog, and while he struggled early, managed to get his takedowns going as the fight wore on to earn the unanimous decision.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Davis was an All-American wrestler all four years he attended Penn State, and has an accordingly wrestling-oriented game inside of the cage. In addition to his sound fundamentals, one of Davis primary strengths is, in fact, his strength. One needs only to look at Davis on the scales as he flexes and shows off a V that is nothing shy of alien in appearance to know that he is a man with a great deal of potential to lift somebody off the ground and dump them back down. Davis appeared to be struggling to work his wrestling into a more well-rounded game against Nog, however his ability to adapt and not get frustrated was a promising sign. On the feet, Davis' striking game is still rudimentary compared to high level strikers, however, and he will likely be in trouble if he fails to drag Evans to the ground.
Davis is going off as a close enough dog to not merit a +2 bonus for a successful pick, which makes him less appealing as a play. While it is possible Davis could outwrestle Evans for three rounds, it's likely that the more well-rounded skill set of his opponent will be too much for the prospect. If you are convinced Davis is your guy, pick him to win by unanimous decision. At +250 in the fantasy books, Vegas sees value in those odds with money books sitting in and around the +170 area. With odds like that, Davis is worthwhile both as a straight bet or in a parlay, however avoid doing both as it is a heavy investment to make in a fighter who is making a big step up in competition.