The tension was palpable as Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Rashad Evans walked to the octagon for what had become one of the most hyped and eagerly anticipated fights in UFC history.
Evans looked anxious as he waited for the fight to start, but when it did he landed the first major blow of the contest, a hard and fast right hand that appeared to have troubled Jackson. Then his real game-plan kicked in, an almost Randy Couture style strategy of clinching up with Rampage, pressing him up against the cage, and working for an opportunity to take him down to the mat.
Rampage has strong takedown defense though and was not going down easily, and so the referee opted to separate them. Rampage appeared to have recovered from the earlier blow, but quickly found himself on the floor as Evans powered through a takedown attempt. It’s a major moment for Evans but he was unable to capitalize fully and Rampage worked back up to his feet, and ends the round with his first significant combination.
The first round was clearly Evans and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, so he returned to the clinch game in the second, stifling Rampage’s offensive threat and controlling the action, though not causing any significant damage himself. The fans voice their disapproval, but it’s an effective strategy and Evans had another round in the bank.
The third round starts in a similar fashion, but finally Rampage connects with a meaningful blow that drops his rival and he quickly moves to capitalize by raining down a series of blows. Referee Herb Dean looks close to stopping the fight, but Evans is regaining his senses and attempts to improve his position. He’s in survival mode, and indeed he does just that, grabbing a hold of Rampage until they are stood back up.
When he gets to his feet it’s clear that Evans is still not fully recovered, but in a scenario somewhat similar to his last fight with Thiago Silva, Rampage does not press forward and instead gives him time to recover. Evans begins to find his legs again and finds the strength to go for a takedown, and it’s successful. From their he starts to dish out some payback, landing some ground and pound, though nothing as telling as he himself had received earlier in the round.
Again Rampage finds a way back to his feet, but Evans keeps out of danger until the end of the round.
Rampage knows he’s not done enough to win and seems angry with himself for missing the opportunity to finish Evans when he had him rocked. Evans looks tired but relieved as he’s awarded a unanimous decision victory.
It’s a major result for Evans who talked a whole lot of trash in the lead-up to one of the biggest grudge matches in UFC history, and managed to back it up in the cage when it mattered. His reward for his heard work is a title shot against current light-heavyweight champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua.
As for Rampage, he called for a rematch in the aftermath of the fight, but in the mean-time this will be another tough loss to stomach.