May 28, 2010

UFC 114: Grudge Match of the Year

In what many are calling the grudge match of the year, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson will face "Suga" Rashad Evans in the octagon at UFC 114 Saturday night. The two starred as coaches in the Ultimate Fighter last year, which was supposed to end at UFC 107, but the bout was scratched after Rampage decided to take a movie role.

It's been a long layoff for Rampage, but his desire to put Evans to sleep has lit a fire under him. Evans on the other hand has had two bouts since wining the light heavyweight championship from Forrest Griffin at UFC 92 in 2008. The two have been trading verbal jabs for almost a year, with Evans recently calling Jackson an "Uncle Tom". Jackson has repeatedly poked fun at Evans' knockout loss by doing the "stanky leg" after being punched by Lyoto Machida. Although many believe the bad blood between the two began on the Ultimate Fighter, it actually dates back to Jackson's UFC 96 win over Keith Jardine (Evans' teammate).

Since Evans' brutal knockout loss to Lyoto Machida last year, he's taken the GSP (UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre) approach and fights extremely cautious. He'll look to utilize his wrestling and speed against Jackson en route to a decision victory. Evans' new style is actually a return to his original roots in wrestling. I don't believe Evans wants to stand and trade with Rampage for too long, considering his questionable chin. He was able to effectively outpoint Thiago Silva in his most recent bout at UFC 108. He was dominating the fight with his wrestling while taking little damage in the process, but the moment he decided to trade strikes with Silva he was caught with a punch and became visibly staggered. Evans was able to maintain his wits but barely survived for the win. Evans definitely has the tools necessary to defeat Rampage this Saturday, but will he?

On the other hand Rampage's game plan is quite simple - - stuff every take down attempt of Evans and put him to sleep with either the left hook or the massive right hand. Jackson has too much power for Evans to successfully bang with him. Look for Rampage to stalk Evans around the cage and effectively trump his take down attempts throughout the fight. The only real concern for Rampage is the amount of time he's spent away from the cage. His last fight was in March of last year, so there will be some ring rust on his end. People often talk about his conditioning and how he doesn't like to train, but that's never really been an issue considering his accomplishments as a fighter. A motivated Rampage is a dangerous one and it seems that Evans has pushed all the right buttons to motivate him. There's no doubt, Rampage is looking for a knockout and all it takes is one shot to put Evans to sleep.

Even with all the animosity between the two Rampage won't fight recklessly. There are major title implications hanging over this bout, as the winner gets a title shot against current light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Despite the ring rust from Rampage, I cannot pick against him as I've gone back and forth on how this fight will play out, but my prediction is Rampage will perform his infamous howl at the end after viciously removing Evans from consciousness.

The Verdict: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson by knockout in the 2nd round.

- Julian Arnold, resident Sports Analyst for Six Twenty Seven

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