The UFC offers up its second showing on US and Australian network television (live on ONE) on Sunday with two critical divisional match-ups getting top billing.
Former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans will meet surging newcomer Phil Davis in the official main event.
MMA’s most polarising figure, Chael Sonnen, will take on Michael Bisping in the co-main event and the likely headline stealer.
Another middleweight bout between Demian Maia and the undefeated Chris Weidman will round out the show’s main card.
It’s been a long wait for another shot at the 205 lbs. championship for Evans, who has had the label of “No.1 Contender” since his decision win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in May of 2010.
In that time as “No.1 Contender” he has seen title shots go to now-estranged-training partner, Jon Jones, Rampage and Lyoto Machida who got his shot with just one win in his past three outings.
The reasons behind this have been equal parts injury and poor decision making and now he finds himself matched up against Davis, an undefeated and powerful wrestler.
Davis earned an opportunity to meet Evans on the back of his unanimous decision win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira last March. Injuries have kept him out of action since then but ring rust aside, he still has the game to trouble Evans come Sunday.
For all his quickness and power, Evans is still fairly undersized for his division. As such his defensive wrestling can often succumb to heavier wrestlers.
Even in his bout against Tito Ortiz, Evans found himself grounded, albeit briefly, by an Ortiz takedown attempt and Ortiz has been a spent force in the wrestling department for some time.
If Davis is willing to exchange on the feet enough in order to get in close on Evans’ hips or legs then he has a real chance of grinding out a decision. But therein lies the problem for Davis as his striking is, to put it kindly, developing.
He has decent kicks, but his hands are lacking and against a seasoned and top shelf light heavyweight like Evans that spells disaster.
Davis will be game and might even get a takedown early but he will find himself unable to deal with Evans’ speed and power and will be dropped and stopped in the second. Meaning of course, Evans will earn a shot at Jones’ title in a few months… if he doesn’t come out too banged up.
While it was bad luck for Mark Munoz to pull out injured from this card, I think a vast majority of MMA fans were quite happy to see it as it meant that two of the sports’ most outspoken and despised fighters in Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping got to meet.
Unfortunately there has not been the war of words one would expect from such a match-up. Sonnen has instead preferred to praise Bisping’s ability to rack up victories despite lesser opposition while at the same time letting it be heard that when he does beat Bisping, Anderson Silva still won’t fight him.
UFC president Dana White has disputed this, going as far to guarantee the rematch if Sonnen is victorious.
It’s very interesting that despite the fact that Bisping/Sonnen is an incredibly compelling match-up it all still feels like another chapter in the Sonnen/Silva saga.
Sonnen and Silva will forever be linked, if only by Sonnen’s mouth, and any fights they take away from each other feel more like distractions.
Bisping will of course want to derail those well-made plans but unless he’s figured out how to stuff the takedowns of a wrestler the calibre of Sonnen then he won’t be able to. He doesn’t have the bottom game to submit Sonnen and he definitely doesn’t have the power to knock him out.
MMA often surprises and there’s always the chance Bisping could shock everyone on Sunday but I believe the majority of fans have accepted the fate of that match-up and are probably more interested in what Sonnen has to say about Silva after the bout.