Some of the greatest names in the sport’s pantheon have held and fought for the UFC’s 205lbs title since its inception in 1997, including Hall of Famers Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell and iconic fighters including Vitor Belfort, Tito Ortiz and “Rampage” Jackson. Now, this Saturday night in Atlanta, the 205lbs division championship is again on the line in perhaps the most toxic grudge match in years, as Jones defends against former champion and former close friend “Suga” Rashad Evans.
“The light heavyweight division has always been a special weight class in the UFC,” said UFC President Dana White, “and the Jon Jones vs Rashad Evans match could be the biggest fight at 205lbs in years. The last time we had a 205lbs title fight with this much emotion and excitement around it was the second Chuck Liddell vs Tito Ortiz fight in December of 2006.
“Jon Jones is a freak of nature in mixed martial arts. Here’s a guy who got into the UFC after only a couple of years of training, came right out and started beating top guys using spinning elbows and all these other crazy moves, and he then wins the UFC title at only 23 years old. Jones is already on his way to being one of the best fighters to ever hold the UFC light heavyweight belt, which is phenomenal if you look at the killers who’ve held this belt.
“But anyone who counts Rashad Evans out of this fight is out of their mind. Look at what he has done: he won the Ultimate Fighter as a heavyweight, then not only beat – but stopped – champions like Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin, and also beat top contenders like Michael Bisping, ‘Rampage’ Jackson, and Phil Davis.
“He’s been in the UFC since 2005. It is 2012 now, and in that time he’s lost once. Rashad Evans is the most underrated fighter in the entire sport. No-one can deny he is one of the best fighters, pound-for-pound in the world.
“I’m pumped for Jones v Evans. This is going to be historic fight for the division on April 21.”
White isn’t the only one who is excited for the UFC 145 main event. Here, every former holder of the UFC 205lbs title weigh-in on the significance of the UFC 145 main event:
“Shogun” Rua, champion from May 8, 2010 to Mar 19, 2011
“They are two very smart, strategic athletes. Both of them fight thinking of their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and think about how to fight the best possible fight to win. But I think Jon Jones has an advantage, since he is very hard to reach. He is not only long (limbed) but also fast and he can react very quickly, I know this. So, I think it’s going to be Jones’ match. However, let’s not forget Rashad is also very strategic. I believe Rashad will have a good gameplan and I am very interested to see what he will try to do in this fight.”
Lyoto Machida, champion from May 23, 2009 to May 8, 2010
“Jones vs Evans is a big fight for the fans and a big fight for the division. It is a very interesting fight; Jones is very unorthodox and is strong in all aspects of the game, but Rashad is a great wrestler and has the hand speed to catch Jones.”
Forrest Griffin, champion from Jul 5, 2008 to May 23, 2009
“This is a great fight. I’m glad I’m not fighting Jon Jones anytime soon, but I think Rashad has the right style to give him problems. There are so many emotions between these guys going into the fight, and I know the Atlanta fans will be getting their money’s worth. Jones looks very nasty, but I’m not going to underestimate Rashad. I kinda did that before once…”
“Rampage” Jackson, champion from May 26, 2007 to Jul 5, 2008
“Rashad has to go for it right from the start, for real. Rashad can’t play on the outside, you can’t fight no Jon Jones on the outside, believe me. Rashad is fast and can surprise you. He surprised me by faking a takedown and hitting me with a right hand which kinda stunned me. I think he can do that to Jon Jones, but he has to do it right away because the more time you give Jones, the harder it is to set him up for a punch. I think Jon Jones will win, but I think Rashad has a chance.”
Chuck Liddell, champion from Apr 16, 2005 to May 26, 2007
“Everyone is different but, I think, for most fighters getting into the Octagon with someone they don’t like is a great motivation in training. Every time you are tired or holding a little back, you think about losing to this guy you can’t stand and it helps you give 100%. That’s how I was with Tito, I couldn’t stand the idea of losing to him and so I trained harder.
“I’d love to know who really got the best of it when these guys trained together. You get a feeling for someone when you spar with them. That’s why I was so confident against Tito; I’d beat him up standing, wrestling and at BJJ when we trained together years before out fights and I knew I was in his head because of that. Listening to Rashad, it seems from watching the Primetime show that he feels he’s in Jon’s head a little. He sounds very confident and I think that’s based on experiences in the gym. I’m glad he is confident, because that’s something you have to have against Jones. If you don’t go after Jon you are in for a bad night.”
Vitor Belfort, champion from Jan 31, 2004 to Aug 21, 2004
“I think this fight will be great for the sport because Jones and Evans used to train together. That changes things, now they are going to fight against each other. We are in the new era of sport with these athletes like Jon Jones and the techniques they can do. Both guys have a chance to be the winner, and it could come down to who is better on that one night. I am looking forward to seeing this huge fight.”
Randy Couture, two-time champion from Jun 6, 2003 to Jan 31, 2004 and Aug 21, 2004 to Apr 16, 2005
“I think it is going to be very interesting, Rashad has the speed and skills to win. Rashad has to avoid his propensity for standing up and just striking, which he has done in the past. He can’t just strike with Jones; if he does he will lose because Jon has more tools in the toolbox. Rashad has to take Jones down, not just once or twice but every single time he has any opportunity. If Jones is worried about getting taken down, that’s when Rashad can put his hands on him and do some damage. But he has to keep Jon guessing if it is a takedown or a strike that’s coming.
“I think Jones is super-talented and he is clearly getting better in each fight. He could turn into a very special type of champion. He poses some very unique problems in the Octagon – and so far no one has solved too many of them. I think this is a huge fight for the division. “Bones” Jones is very hot right now and with the personalities and the back story, it all hypes this up into a very interesting fight.”
Tito Ortiz, champion from Apr 14, 2000 to Sep 26, 2003
“Jones is looking very good. But Rashad is fast, man, and once he hurts you he’s on you. I’d like to see Rashad use his wrestling and takedowns and really mix it up. I think it will be a great fight.”
Frank Shamrock, inaugural champion from Dec. 21 1997 to Nov. 24, 1999
“This fight has a tremendous story behind it, with it having grown out of a friendship that went sour back when these two were teammates. The drama that’s fueling this is incredible. Fans can expect a fight that, stylistically, will be extremely challenging for Jones to overcome, and he’ll have fits with Rashad’s wrestling if he’s able to put Jon on his back. But ultimately, I see Jones being able to inflict more damage and walk away with the belt still in hand. This will be a fight that will not end as easily and devastatingly as Jones’s others have, but rather one of those moments in his career where he’ll have to pull himself up and battle until the final bell. In the end, this fight will help Jon become a better fighter and a better champion, and will endear himself to fans for years to come.”
UFC 145: Jones vs. Evans takes place this Saturday, April 21st from the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. Don’t forget to check back here at FightLine.com this Saturday for our live, round-by-round coverage of the event.