Whenever a feud between two celebrities takes place, it’s rare that the public gets to see a satisfying conclusion. But when former teammates and friends Jon Jones and Rashad Evans step into the Octagon tonight, MMA fans should finally get to see the most personal grudge match in UFC history reach its climax. Despite being good friends and loyal teammates, a collision course between these two men was inevitable.
Evans has been in the media spotlight for the majority of his career. By winning the second season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” expectations were already sky high. But along with dealing with the pressure of being a new star in the UFC, Evans also had to battle the negative stigma of being cocky and arrogant. His coach on the reality show, Matt Hughes, labeled Evans as a “showboat,” which gave detractors plenty of ammo to constantly criticize him.
Add a conservative fighting style and it’s has been an uphill battle for Evans to gain respect. But with each victory came the eventual realization that Evans could become a championship-level fighter. Victories over Michael Bisping and Chuck Liddell catapulted his name into title contention. Despite heading into his title fight against Forrest Griffin undefeated, nearly no one gave the Michigan State standout any chance at victory. An Evans takedown and ground and pound of Griffin made him a champion and a elite-level fighter. But soon after accomplishing his defining moment, Evans lost the championship to a devastating knockout against Lyoto Machida.
Meanwhile, Evans’ training camp, Jackson’s MMA, was grooming another Light Heavyweight, Jon Jones. Evans had reservations about a potential contender competing in the same weight class but soon took a liking to him. While Jones embarked on his UFC journey, Evans encountered some roadblocks such as injuries, lackluster performances and the ugly divorce from this team that would lead to the rise of Bones Jones era.
Jon “Bones” Jones’ debut into the UFC was given little fanfare. Having under two weeks to prepare, Jones battered veteran Andre Gusmão with a variety of takedowns and striking en route to an upset victory. The impressive performance resulted in marginal attention but earned him a bout against Stephan Bonnar. When Jones surprised Bonnar with German suplexes and spinning back elbows, the hype machine officially began.
Other than the disqualification lost to Matt Hamill for illegal elbows, Bones destroyed every opponent he faced and earned himself a fight against Ryan Bader. Jones took advantage of the opportunity by defeating Bader via guillotine choke. The victory also delivered an unexpected surprise after it was announced Evans suffered a knee injury in training and Jones would take his place as the No. 1 contender.
As Jones gained the title shot, the media spotlight descended upon him. During a Feb. 2011 interview, he was asked if he would ever fight Evans. Jones said the fight would only take place if UFC President Dana White forced the fight to happen. Bones' comments angered Evans and started the rift between them. When Greg Jackson refused to take sides, Evans felt betrayed and soon moved his training camp from New Mexico to Florida. Meanwhile the MMA world pushed the “Bones” hype machine into overdrive. Some questioned whether or not Jones could live up to his full potential against champion “Shogun” Rua, but many odds makers had the challenger as the favorite. It took only a Jones knee to the gut to start the offensive assault and easily defeat Rua for the title. Once Jones became champion, he also became a target to his former friend.
After the Rua fight, Jones defeated former champions Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida, while Evans recovered from injuries to dominate Tito Ortiz and Phil Davis. While the trash talk between Jones and Evans lacks the expletives of a typical grudge match, its still one of the most personal fights in the history of UFC. When both men are paired together, Evans' demeanor displays anger and disgust against his former friend. Jones tries to stay composed but happily shows off his confidence in his ability become the greatest fighter in the world.
When both men step into the cage, Jones and Evans get to secretly fulfill the dream to see which man is truly the better fighter.