With three big fights on the card, UFC on Fox: Evans vs. Davis was promising to be a different experience to the first Fox effort, which saw Junior Dos Santos (14-1) knockout Cain Velasquez (9-1) in only 1:04 in the first round back in November 2011.
What we did get was fights that went the distance, and fighters who were firm favourites to be tested by their competitors with surprising performances.
For Rashad Evans (17-1-1) a shot at the light-heavyweight title has been dangled in front of him for far too long but a decision win over fellow wrestler Phil Davis (9-1) has guaranteed the former-TUF season 2 competitor a date with the light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones in Atlanta at UFC 145 (April 21).
Evans has the experience to take it to Jones, with wins over division powerhouses such as Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-9) and Chuck Liddell (21-8), as well as the skills – he is an NCAA Division 1 wrestler, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt and Gaidojutsu black belt.
While Davis entered the fight as some described as being “untested” and “lacking experience”, a look to his 5-0 UFC record includes wins over Antônio “Lil Nog” Rogério Nogueira (20-5) and Brian Stann (11-4) – both highly regarded fighters within the division.
Many had written off Davis and through the 25 minutes (allocated to the main event in non-title fights since November 2010) he remained standing and defended any wrestling and submission attempt that Evans through at him.
There were holes in his game plan, such as overuse of head kick attempts, but the chance to headline a big named card on network television with a fighter as skilled as Rashad Evans will be favourable on Davis and we can expect him to maintain his position within the top tier of light-heavyweight fighters in the promotion, potentially facing the likes of Lyoto Machida (17-3) in his next bout.
The fight that was considered to be the main event played out closer than what any person thought was possible and English fighter Michael Bisping (22-4) took it to the “American Gangster” Chael Sonnen (27-11-1) in a 3 round battle, leaving it in the hands of the judges who ruled in favour of the American.
While the pre-fight banter all had everyone wound up, there was no animosity between either fighter. This was not a grudge match, it was simply a fight to determine who would be the number one title contender against middleweight champion Anderson Silva (31-4).
As the rounds counted down both fighters became gassed, and somewhat unconvincing in their quest to become the next champion. With Sonnen taking control of the fight from the beginning, Bisping came back for a decisive second round – resulting in the fight being won in the third.
The exhaustion made it as frustrating for the fighters and for the crowd as punches became open hands and submissions were half attempted.
The big surprise of the night was the ability of Bisping who was able to hold his own against a fighter as experienced and skilled as Sonnen and this performance has cemented his position in the top fighters of the division.
For Sonnen, he has now booked a ticket to face Anderson Silva in Brazil sometime at the end of the US Summer (August – September).
While talk has centered on whether this fight will take place (apparently Silva has turned down a Sonnen fight four times already), we can be certain that for the moment it has a green light to go ahead. Bisping will become the contender to beat and should receive his own title shot before the year is out.
Other notable performances include middleweight fighter Chris Weidman (8-0), who took a fight against Demian Maia (15-4) on eleven days notice and lost a huge 32 pounds (14.5 kgs) in this time; Charles Oliveria (15-2 (1 NC)), who submitted Eric Wisely (19-7) by a painful calf slicer at 1:43 of round 1; Lavar Johnson (16-5) who, in his UFC debut, knocked out Joey Beltran (13-7) at 4:24 of round 1 earning himself knockout of the night honours; and Cub Swanson (16-5), coming off his debut loss back in November 2011 looking incredibly focused and with an improved game plan to take out George Roop (12-9-1) via TKO at 2:22 of round 2.