Is Evans overmatched? Or just overlooked?

April, 20, 2012
4/20/12
6:14
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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By now, most everything that could be said about Saturday night’s UFC 145 main event has been said ad nauseam.

We’ve had more than a year to stew on the rivalry between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans, our collective patience tested through a couple of false starts and what have come to feel like interminable delays. We’ve already heard all there is to hear about their shattered friendship, the internal turmoil at Greg Jackson’s gym and the fallout from Evans’ eventual departure. We’ve listened to all their best prepared material, their juiciest off-the-cuff retorts. We’ve watched them snipe at each other in person, in print, on video, on Twitter and via text message.

Scientists are currently scrambling to invent new and interesting ways for these two to call each other names.

As for the rest of us, we’ve asked the legends to break it down for us. We’ve asked the pros. We’ve asked the man on the street. The burden placed on this feud was only compounded by a recent unprecedented lull in UFC programming, and now that it’s finally fight week, public sentiment could probably best be described as “Oh, just get on with it already.”

It’s been an amazing buildup -- mind-blowing, honestly -- once you consider that very, very few people actually believe the outcome is in doubt.

Lost in all the shouting about who stabbed who in the back, the soothsaying about Jones’ unlimited potential and the reassuring platitudes about how there’s nothing at all weird that the 24-year-old light heavyweight champion is being sponsored by the UFC for this bout remains the one largely unasked question that is perhaps most essential to the Jones-Evans saga, to the future 205-pound division and to the company’s current Jones-centric marketing efforts:

So, uh, what if Rashad Evans wins?
[+] EnlargeRashad Evans
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comRashad Evans, right, might have the deck stacked against him, but it's Jon Jones who is under pressure to perform.

As of this writing, Evans is more than a 3-1 underdog to the effectively undefeated champ. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that while he might prove to be Jones’ stiffest test at light heavyweight, you’d have to be crazy to actually pick him to win. Conventional wisdom says Evans will ultimately be too undersized and too, you know, not Jon Jones-ish enough to pull off the upset.

That Evans feels overlooked and underestimated in this bout is a given (he’d had to have spent the last year willfully ignoring everyone and everything to feel differently), and the stakes loom even larger for him than simply being shortchanged by fans and media types. Not only is he facing the guy unilaterally considered to be the future face of the sport, his former-teammate-turned-nemesis, but Evans’ own camp released a video this week in which he admits he thinks even the UFC doesn’t want him to win.

"To me, it honestly feels like they don't want me to have the belt,” Evans said. “That could just be my paranoid mind thinking, and it probably is. They're probably just indifferent to the whole thing, but in my mind I feel like they're like, 'Oh man, we don't want this dude to be champion. We don't want him to be champion.'”

Evans backed off that statement a bit in its aftermath, saying it was just an effort to psyche himself up for the biggest fight of his life. Let’s be honest, though: If it turned out that secretly, deep down Evans really did believe the UFC would rather have Jones as its 205-pound titlist, we’d understand, right? After all, it’s Jones standing next to Dana White in that Bud Light ad, not Evans. It’s Jones who has his own signature line of UFC apparel, who smiles confidently at us from the front page of the UFC’s official store this week.

Evans has historically had a rocky relationship with UFC brass, and though his evolution as a fighter has been downright remarkable, nobody is saying he’s the future. Nobody's jumping the gun with rampant speculation about how he’ll fare as a heavyweight once he cleans out the 205-pound division.

If the rest of us have had more than a year to watch his rivalry with Jones grow stale, Evans has had a year to wallow in it. After all the talk and talk shows, after the backstabbing and the beer commercials, he doesn’t have to carry the weight of our expectations, nor does he get to enjoy our fawning reviews of his every move. He doesn’t have a $150 tracksuit with his name on it. He’s not “getting real close” to a deal with “a major shoe company.”

All Evans has is a chance to prove us wrong.

When you’re not lucky enough to be the popular pick as the future Greatest of All Time, maybe that’s all you can hope for.

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