For Rashad Evans it was a sweet victory. He relied on his wrestling roots to win (and survive) a physical battle over hated rival Quinton Jackson to earn a shot at Mauricio Rua and a chance to regain the light-heavyweight championship. For Rampage it was nothing to be embarrassed about. He rocked Evans in the third round and came oh-so-close to earning a TKO win, not horrible considering the main event of UFC 114 was his first fight in 14 months.
Therein lies the rub. A layoff of 14 months is what Jackson believes cost him a fight he wanted very much. He entered the bout motivated and in great shape, but the toll from a neck injury, filming “The A-Team” (and subsequent re-shoots) and a quarrel with Dana White proved too heavy a burden.
"I'm really ashamed of myself that I fell victim to ring rust," Jackson said at the UFC 114 post-fight press conference. "Emotions had nothing to do with it.”
An article I wrote and running in the current edition of <em>MMA Worldwide</em> magazine addressed the issue of ring rust. Since the story was published, the number of fighters that competed following a layoff of at least nine months increased to 50 with Shane Carwin remaining the last and one of only four to overcome an extended absence outside the Octagon (one year, 20 days) when he knocked out Frank Mir at UFC 111. Jackson lost the light-heavyweight belt to Forrest Griffin after a 10-month layoff. Dan Henderson (nine months) and Patrick Cote (18 months) were new additions with their losses to Jake Shields and Alan Belcher, respectively.
“I focused really hard and I trained really hard on this fight, but me having this damn movie and everything -- I kind of almost regret doing the damn movie now,” Jackson said. “There was so much pressure. (20th Century) Fox kind of threatened to sue me if I lost and everything because they didn’t know I was fighting.”
As for Evans, he told the press that his wrestling ability will be the foundation for future bouts, including his shot at Shogun in a fight that could take place by the end of the year. Evans was a junior college champion at Niagara Community College in 2000 before transferring to Michigan State where he went 48-34 in three years. Fans expecting something similar to Leonard Garcia-Chan Sung Jung from Evans and Jackson left disappointed. Too bad, says Evans. Striking worked in knockout wins over Chuck Liddell and Griffin before it cost “Suga” the light-heavyweight title to Lyoto Machida. Evans’ intention to play to his strengths may be boring MMA to some but in the end it’s winning MMA.
"I felt like I needed to bring [wrestling] back after the Machida fight," Evans said. "One thing that happens sometimes when you find success in one area – and I found success standing up – I kind of forgot about the area where I was strongest.
"Me doing wrestling now is just going to be something I do from here on out. Because no matter how far (I get) in my stand-up, I've always got to remember that my bread and butter is my wrestling, and everything else stems from that."
As for Jackson, White hinted at Machida being a potential next opponent, which would be an intriguing fight and a great sell of two top-tier light-heavyweights attempting to bounce back from defeats. Down the road, Jackson and Evans may tangle again. The two actually exchanged respectful words after the fight, but if you think the hatchet is buried, think again.
"I'm still not going to forget the stuff [Evans] said – he can still kiss my black ass," Jackson said.
"I feel the same way, man," Evans replied. "He can kiss my ass, too."
Don't sleep on Michael Bisping in the middleweight division. Bisping (19-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC) scored unanimous decision win over Dan Miller and is eyeing a rematch with Wanderlei Silva and an eventual title shot. "In terms of where I am, the only losses I've got on my record are to three former champions, legends of the sport," Bisping said of Silva, Henderson and Evans. "I still hold my head pretty high as to where I am in the middleweight division.” He'll have to wait until 2011 with Victor Belfort scheduled to face the winner of Anderson Silva-Chael Sonnen ... Breakout fighter: British youngster John Hathaway (13-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) dominated veteran Diego Sanchez (21-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) en route to a decision win. UFC commentator Joe Rogan made a great point of how the fight game has evolved since Sanchez won the debut season of The Ultimate Fighter and how “Nightmare” hasn’t caught up. Citing Kenny Florian’s climb from his loss to B.J. Penn to a No. 1 contenders’ bout with Gray Maynard in August, White prefers Sanchez to drop back down to lightweight. Sanchez will have lots of time to consider it. He is suspended indefinitely pending doctor's clearance due to an eye injury ... The judges screwed yet another fighter, this time Jason Brilz of a victory over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. White reiterated his “never leave it in the hands of the judges” mantra, but that’s still no excuse for three supposed experts to continue to make some ridiculous decisions ... Mike Russow’s shocking one-punch knockout of Todd Duffee gave me flashbacks of George Foreman putting Michael Moorer to sleep ... Stock up: Melvin Guillard, whose first-round TKO of Waylon Lowe was more proof he’s approaching his peak under Greg Jackson’s tutelage. Stock down: Luiz Cane. Once considered a prospect at 205, Cane suffered his second consecutive KO loss, this to Cyrille Diabate at 2:13 of Round 1. His next UFC bout (if there is one) could be with his place in the company on the line.