MMA: Rashad Evans

UFC 168 by the numbers

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
6:31
AM ET
By Andrew R. Davis and Joseph Kilduff
ESPN Stats & Information
In perhaps the most anticipated rematch in UFC history, Chris Weidman makes the first defense of his UFC middleweight title against the man who ruled the division for 6 years, 8 months and 22 days, Anderson Silva. In the co-main event, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey has a rematch with her rival and fellow "Ultimate Fighter 18" coach Miesha Tate.

Here are the numbers you need to know for the fights:

7: Silva had been undefeated for more than seven years before losing to Weidman. Silva had not lost since January 2006, when he was disqualified for an illegal kick against Yushin Okami. "The Spider" has never lost consecutive fights in his 38-fight career.

37: Weidman landed 37 percent of his significant strikes in the UFC 162 fight, which was slightly below his average of 42 percent. Weidman was the busier of the two fighters, throwing 55 total strikes to Silva’s 32.

7: Silva has won seven knockout-of-the-night awards in his UFC career (most all time). Weidman has won knockout-of-the-night honors in each of his past two fights, including knocking out Silva for the first time in the Brazilian’s career.



3: Weidman attempted three takedowns against Silva, succeeding on one occasion. "The All-American" has landed at least one takedown in all six of his UFC fights. With that takedown 30 seconds into the fight, Weidman attempted two submissions and held Silva on his back for 2 minutes, 10 seconds.

4: Fighters from the state of New York who have held UFC gold (Jon Jones of Rochester, Rashad Evans of Niagara Falls, Matt Serra of East Meadow and Weidman of Baldwin). Weidman and Serra are the only UFC champions to come from a Long Island-based gym (Serra-Longo Fight Team).

7: Number of arm bar submission victories Rousey has recorded in her career, all in the first round. Rousey is the only fighter in the UFC to have won every one their fights with the same finish. Rousey has five arm bar submission victories under the Strikeforce/UFC banner, the most of any fighter in the promotions.

5: Number of UFC champions to coach "The Ultimate Fighter" and then defend their title against the opposing coach. The challengers are 3-2 in those fights, but the champions have retained in the previous two.

1: Rousey and Tate have both fought one common opponent, Sarah Kaufman. Tate lost to Kaufman by unanimous decision in 2009 under the Strikeforce banner and Rousey defeated Kaufman by first-round arm bar in 2012 to defend the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title.

78: Twelve of Tate’s 17 fights, including her previous four, have ended by way of KO/TKO or submission. All seven of Rousey’s fights have ended in a submission. 78 percent of fights involving Tate or Rousey, including their previous fight, have ended by KO/TKO or submission. Tate is 6-1 in fights ending in a submission (with her only loss to Rousey) and 3-2 in fights ending in a KO/TKO.

1: Tate gained one takedown in the first fight with Rousey. Although Rousey was able to take down Tate three times before getting the submission, Tate is the only fighter who has been able to take down Rousey. After her takedown, Tate was able to take Rousey’s back and hold the dominant position for just under a minute.

Statistical support from FightMetric

Spong blessed with great athleticism

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
5:45
PM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
Archive
Tyrone SpongDave Mandel/Sherdog.comTyrone Spong has excelled in kickboxing and his goal is to do the same in MMA.

BURBANK, Calif. -- Tyrone Spong stands with a presence. He fights with one, too.

A legit 6-foot-2, Spong's height is aided by good posture. The well-proportioned 27-year-old Surinamese-Dutchman has made good use of his frame, and is reputed to be among kickboxing’s best athletes and technically superior combatants.

Spong is well aware of how he's viewed, and is comfortable saying so.

This is why he was driven to YouTube to search for videos of Bo Jackson after media comparisons caught his attention. He hadn't heard of Jackson, though it didn't take more than a few clips for Spong to understand why the iconic hybrid is universally lauded among the dominant athletes of his generation.

"It's not to sound cocky, never, because I'm a real humble guy," the light heavyweight said this week during a media lunch promoting a World Series of Fighting card Aug. 10 in Ontario, Calif. "But some guys are blessed with that ability. And I'm blessed even more."

The "King of the Ring" has lived kickboxing since he was 13 and randomly stumbled into master trainer Lucien Carbin's gym in Amsterdam. Carbin is old-school. Water breaks during an hour and a half of hard training didn’t happen. The gym was kept stifling, like a wet sauna. Condensation poured off mirrors and walls. If there wasn't enough steam in the atmosphere, Carbin would dial up the temperature and intensity.

Looking back on it, Spong says this style of training is "not right."

"But," he said, "for me as a young kid at 13 years old, starting like that in a gym, it gave me a mentality like I don't care what situation I'm in, I'm always going to work hard."

Spong split from Carbin a few years ago and now lives in Boca Raton, Fla., where he teamed up with the Blackzilians. Yet the mental fortitude forged at Carbin's remains deeply ingrained in who he is and how he conducts business.

Since he's gifted with the ability to copycat technique, Spong said his progression in MMA and boxing has come quickly.

"Sometimes," he said, "it goes automatically and I surprise myself. I pick it up so good I can probably teach it to somebody, too. That's not the hard part. You have to be able to apply it in that moment, under the pressure, and that's the hardest part."

Spong's focus this week is MMA.

For the second time as a pro, he'll enter a cage this Saturday against Californian Angel DeAnda in the main event of World Series of Fighting 4 (NBC Sports Network, 10:30 p.m. ET). Ali Abdel-Aziz, the upstart promotion's matchmaker (among other things), made Spong the headliner because it reflects his potential and the kickboxing convert is "the biggest draw on the card."

[+] EnlargeAngel DeAnda vs. Anthony Ruiz
Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.comAngel DeAnda's experience in MMA could be an advantage against newbie Tyrone Spong.
"Right now this is a step up for me already," Spong said. "[DeAnda] is 11-2; that's not a bad record. For me, I'm 1-0 in MMA. Let's not forget I'm a kickboxer, but I don't want to be labeled just a kickboxer. I'm building my legacy. I want to be an all-around combat sports athlete. I want to be the Bo Jackson of martial arts."

Splitting time between boxing and MMA, Spong has not abandoned kickboxing, though it's less of a priority, he said, because it's as natural as breathing -- all he needs to do is show up in shape. His next contest on Oct. 12, promoted by Glory, is a rematch against Nathan Corbett in Chicago.

"I've been doing it for so many years," he said. "At the same time you need something new to bring a spark. I found that in MMA and boxing."

Spong's commitment included, not inconsequentially, transplanting a life in Holland, where he and two sisters were raised by his mother in a tiny apartment, for Florida. With the chiseled fighter came his three children, six dogs and 15 finches (known for their aggressive tendencies, singing ability and difficulty to breed). Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Thiago Silva, Alistair Overeem and others have helped Spong on the MMA side. For boxing, trainer Pedro Diaz took the reins.

Spong should be used to Diaz's M.O. because it's similar to Carbin's -- ritualistic 5 a.m. training sessions replaced hotter-than-hell gyms. Known for his work with Miguel Cotto, Diaz is a perfectionist. Spong is fine with this, and his first attempt at pro boxing could come later this year.

Spong envisions opportunity and enrichment in his chosen trifecta of combat sports.

"For all the sports it comes down to the athlete," he said. "Who are you? How marketable are you? How good are you? So it depends. In all of the sports you can make good money. You see even in all these sports the guys really making the money are the best guys."

World Series of Fighting signed Spong to a nonexclusive deal that allows him the freedom to pursue other things. Abdel-Aziz said because of the light heavyweight’s fighting prowess, WSOF "didn't have the right to ask Spong [72-6-1 in kickboxing] to focus only on MMA." Perhaps it wasn't the best business decision, the promoter conceded, but it's how WSOF intends to operate. But, more to the point, Spong will have space to develop his MMA game, which mostly means getting his grappling right.

"Sometimes I ask myself what do the fans want? They want me to fight Jon Jones tomorrow? Is that fair? If Jon 'Bones' was 1-0 in kickboxing, would he fight me?" Spong pondered. "I guess not. I'm the champion. So give me some time. I'm working on it."

Roy Nelson's big gamble backfires

June, 16, 2013
6/16/13
2:46
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- If it turns out Saturday does mark the end of what’s been an awkward relationship between Roy Nelson and the UFC, it’s actually pretty fitting.

If there is one thing about Roy “Big Country” Nelson we’ve come to learn in the last 43 months, it’s that he is always unapologetically himself. He’s not going to change. Not for you, not for me and certainly not for anybody in the UFC.

Nelson took a risk this weekend in Winnipeg. Rather than sign an extension with the promotion earlier this year, he finished his original contract -- the one he signed in 2009 after winning the 10th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.

It was a bold move, but a perfectly defensible one. Even, for some, an inspiring one. Nelson has long been unhappy with the finances of that TUF contract -- and one can understand why.

His early fight purses were reported at $15,000. That’s what Nelson’s payout was when he stood with Junior dos Santos for 15 minutes at UFC 117. It was the same when he fought Frank Mir in UFC 130 co-main event. When he headlined the TUF 16 Finale in December, he made $24,000 to show and $24,000 to win.
[+] EnlargeNelson v Miocic
Ric Fogel for ESPNRoy Nelson found himself on the receiving end of Stipe Miocic's strikes for nearly every second of every round.

Of course, Nelson has made more money during his UFC career than what’s represented in these reported payouts. But the point is -- he was consistently one of the lowest-paid UFC fighters among those appearing on pay-per-view main cards.

Apparently, an effort to change that was made prior to this final fight in Winnipeg, but UFC president Dana White says Nelson turned it down.

“He called [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva and said, ‘Listen, I’m fighting tough guys here and I’m winning, you know?’” White said. “And Joe said, ‘You’re absolutely right. We’ll get rid of the TUF contract and give you new contract.’ We offered him a deal for more money and Roy said, ‘That’s not enough.’”

That is White’s side of the story, at least. And certainly, there might have been small print involved in that scenario we’re not hearing about. But at least according to White, a better-paying deal was offered, which Nelson refused.

It appears Nelson believed the best way to maximize his profit was run his UFC win streak to four, capped by a knockout of Stipe Miocic at UFC 161. He would be a free agent with leverage. He would have negotiating power with the UFC.

The problem is he lost -- in record-breaking fashion. He ran after Miocic with overhand rights. He was gassed before the end of the first round. He became such an easy target, Miocic hit him 137 times according to Fightmetric -- the most strikes any UFC fighter has absorbed in a bout without being knocked out.

It’s not that Nelson lost the fight. Everybody loses. The frustrating aspect comes when you consider how he lost. It was so “Roy.” The defiance he has regarding his weight and appearance has endeared him to fans, but the facts are the facts.

Nelson holds a 5-0 UFC record in fights that end in the first round. He’s 1-4 when they go beyond that.

His ability to take a punch, his heart, his belief in his right hand -- Roy Nelson puts on amazing fights. But there’s no reason why any heavyweight should ever absorb 137 strikes in one fight.

The question is not, “How is that possible?” The question is, “Why did he get hit so much?”

Nelson is an easy guy to cheer for. He lives by his own principles. He has a young son at home, who he wants to provide financially for. He leaves everything in the cage every time he fights -- that alone is enough to make total strangers love the guy.

He rolled the dice in a “high stakes poker game,” in White’s words, and there was no problem with that. If Nelson was going to do it, though -- at some point, he needed to make sure he could be there, physically, fighting Miocic after just one round. And he didn’t do that.

Hendo hoping to seize the moment

June, 13, 2013
6/13/13
7:30
PM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Dan Henderson's past two fights in the Octagon couldn't have been any more different.

If Saturday's UFC 161 main event effort against Rashad Evans in Winnipeg manages to find the happy middle between Henderson's classic with Mauricio Rua and subsequent snoozer against Lyoto Machida, the 42-year-old American believes a victory should net him another championship opportunity.

However, "if I go out there and squeeze out a boring win," he said, "I wouldn't give me a title shot."

That's not necessarily something he controls. Henderson mostly blames Machida for one of the worst bouts of his illustrious career.

"Nothing notable happened in the whole thing," he said. "You can barely even call it a fight.

"I really should have and could have maybe been a bit more aggressive. But it's pretty hard to do when someone's running."

Coming off a split decision that was as frustrating for Henderson to participate in as it was for the rest of us to watch, the two-division Pride king isn’t sure what to expect from Evans, who looked bad in his two most recent fights -- a destabilizing effort versus his rival Jon Jones followed by a terrible performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in February.
[+] EnlargeLyoto Machida and Dan Henderson
Ed Mulholland for ESPNDan Henderson, right, found it difficult to engage against the elusive Lyoto Machida.

"He just wasn't very aggressive at all," Henderson said of the Nogueira contest. "Even when you're being cautious you can do a lot more than that. It didn't show what he normally does or what he's capable of. Everybody has an off fight or is flat occasionally, and that seemed like his. It's not anything that I'm going to judge that that's the Rashad I'm going to fight. I don't think that at all. I'm sure he's going to come out a little more aggressive with more of a purpose.

"Either way, he doesn't run and move nearly as bad as Machida does. I don't think it'll be even close as bad as the last fight."

Henderson described Evans in all the expected ways. Well-rounded. Quick. Powerful with a solid wrestling base. "So you gotta be aware of all of it," Henderson said. "Have to be careful of everything. At the same thing I feel I have a bit more power and good take-down defense.

"Better in the clinch. There are some situations that I'm going to try and put him in that I think are good for me."

He claimed not to have a clue what was happening between Evans' ears, and explained that it doesn't matter. Because no matter how poorly Evans performed in his last outing, it would be foolish to expect anything less than the best from the former Michigan State University wrestler.

"I think Rashad definitely has some skills I need to really be careful with," Henderson said.

During a pre-event conference call, Evans expressed hope of moving beyond the recent disappointments. A good clash with Henderson would help.

I really should have and could have maybe been a bit more aggressive. But it's pretty hard to do when someone's running.

-- Dan Henderson, on the frustration he faced in a February 2013 bout against Lyoto Machida

"You almost have to have a short[-term] memory on that kind of thing," Evans said. "Because if you dwell on it too long then it can definitely hinder you again. I know how to perform. I know how to go out there and fight to the best of my abilities. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it. Second-guessing myself is not going to get me any closer to fighting to the best of my capabilities. So I learned from that performance."

Henderson sounds willing to give him a chance to prove it. And while the Olympic wrestler admitted Evans' strengths might cause him to "be really patient, for sure, and not be overly aggressive," Henderson suggested the three-round fight could come down to making the most of a particular moment.

Rebounding after a troubled training camp leading up to the Machida contest, Henderson said his preparation for Evans was on point. He feels far more mobile than he did in February, and expects that to pay off in Canada. If so, Henderson is eyeing UFC champion Jon Jones, who is expected to defend his title against Alexander Gustafsson later this year.

Because a knee injury cost Henderson the chance to fight Jones at UFC 151, he said the pair has unfinished business. The way Henderson sees it, "I never got to take the test I studied for.

"I just feel like someone like Jon Jones is a challenge. I trust in myself and what I'm capable of doing."

Henderson has fought all manner of opponents since entering MMA in 1997, and he repeatedly proved what he’s capable of doing. As he boarded a plane for Canada earlier this week, Henderson tweeted how excited he felt to step into a cage again, in part because of just how badly he wants to wash away the stain of the Machida bout.

"It's typically not in my nature to be close to boring," he said, "but it happened recently."

As Evans noted, mixed martial artists are often pinned down by the result of their most recent outing.

For both men, then, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Canadian comparisons; storylines, more

June, 13, 2013
6/13/13
7:51
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive


Against better judgment, let’s talk about UFC 149 one last time.

The pay-per-view event took place on July 21, 2012, at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta. An interim bantamweight title bout between Renan Barao and Urijah Faber served as the main event.

It was, by most accounts, a terrible night. UFC president Dana White admitted he was “embarrassed” by the main card. It really was one awkward fight after another.

Cheick Kongo and Shawn Jordan embraced in a tired hug for 15 minutes. Brian Ebersole resorted to a series of strange karate slaps to James Head’s leg in a dull split-decision loss. Hector Lombard stood in place and ate jabs. By the time the main event started, the Calgary crowd had fallen in love with a “refund” chant.
[+] EnlargeTim Boetsch and Hector Lombard
Ric Fogel for ESPN.comThe UFC's last foray into Canada wasn't exactly one for the time capsule.

To this day, White remains apologetic to the entire Canadian city for that event.

Well, meet the ill-fated UFC 149's brother, UFC 161. The similarities between these two events are eerie.

UFC 161 was originally headlined by an interim bantamweight title bout between Barao and Eddie Wineland, which fell through due to a Barao injury. Similarly, UFC 149 lost its main event, a featherweight title fight, when Jose Aldo was injured.

Mauricio Rua was supposed to fight at UFC 149 and 161. In both cases, he was removed when his opponent suffered an injury. Thiago Silva withdrew from the contest last year. This time it was an injury to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

Speaking of Nogueira injuries, Lil Nog may have just been following the example of his twin brother. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was originally scheduled to fight Cheick Kongo at UFC 149, but he withdrew due to injury.

In both cases, a “name” fight was added by the UFC to give the card more value. At UFC 149, it was Lombard and Tim Boetsch serving as the co-main event. This weekend, it’s Roy Nelson and Stipe Miocic serving as ... the co-main event.

Kind of weird, right? Hopefully, the similarities stop come fight night.

FIVE STORYLINES

Glover Teixeira Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images)If successful Saturday, expect Glover Teixeira to campaign for a bout against Alexander Gustafsson.
Roy Nelson’s gamble. Nelson has long considered himself an underpaid fighter. It’s not hard to see why. During his UFC career, Nelson has typically been one of the lowest-paid athletes on PPV main cards. For instance, his purse against Frank Mir in the co-main event at UFC 130 was a paltry $15,000. To that point, Nelson reportedly turned down an extension offer by the UFC and will finish out his current contact at UFC 161. A loss would certainly affect his leverage in future contract negotiations.

Glover Teixeira’s Twitter account. It’s nice and simple -- @gloverteixeira. You might want to keep an eye on it when the main event goes off. Teixeira has read the writing on the wall and it says “Alexander Gustafsson.” Feeling one win away from a title shot, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Teixeira comment publicly on the winner of Hendo, Evans.

Alexis Davis’ party. You see this from time to time -- Brazilian fights in Brazil or an Aussie fights in Australia. They don’t just look good. They ignite the crowd and win in such a way that you don’t forget about it when the next UFC card comes around. Alexis Davis is a dark horse in the women’s division. She’s well-respected, but few fans really know her yet. That could change here. She’s fighting on home soil and has a type of charm that once cameras find her, they might stick on her.

The evolution of Stipe Miocic. Miocic has the athleticism and the intelligence to turn into a legitimate heavyweight -- the question is when will it happen? He has good instincts and he comes with a game plan, but sometimes in martial arts you have to go off script. Can he surprise a guy like Roy Nelson? Miocic has the fundamentals. Has he added that element of unpredictability?

Seriously, don’t be UFC 149. UFC 160 was three weeks ago. UFC 162 isn’t for another three weeks. If UFC 161 does end up being the second coming of UFC 149 we can’t hide from it. The smell will linger.

FIVE QUESTIONS

JimmoRic Fogel for ESPN.comIn his last Canadian outing, Ryan Jimmo's celebration dance lasted longer than his bout.
Q: Is Rashad Evans still Rashad Evans?

He and his team would say yes. Certain critics would say he hasn’t been the same dating way back to the knockout loss to Lyoto Machida in 2009. That might be a stretch, he did dominate Phil Davis with three cracked ribs as recently as last year, but no doubt about it, this fight will answer questions about Evans after he didn’t look like himself in February.

Q: Is Dan Henderson still Dan Henderson?

It was hard to tell in his last fight. Machida stayed on the outside and refused to really engage with him. Henderson’s too smart to just sprint after him, so we were kind of left with a points fight that Henderson came out on the short end of. One right hand is all it takes for Henderson to get right back into title talk -- an opportunity many still feel he deserves. Can he still land it against the elite 205ers?

Q: How good is Tyron Woodley?

He’s always been an eye-catching prospect. In the same way a loss to Jon Fitch might have gotten Erick Silva to turn a corner, maybe a loss to Nate Marquardt did the same for Woodley. He destroyed a tough veteran guy in Jay Hieron his first time out. If he looks half as good in his second UFC fight against a talent like Jake Shields, we might need to get this guy on the fast track.

Q: Can lightning strike twice?

The one saving grace of UFC 149 was Mr. Ryan Jimmo’s seven-second knockout over Anthony Perosh, followed by a strikingly good robot dance. Perosh was knocked out instantly, so much so that Internet users started Photoshopping his knockout face onto pop-culture images. What will Jimmo do in his Canadian encore?

Q: Is Sam Stout good or just entertaining?

It’s OK if it’s the latter, but it seems he has potential for more. He’s always good for a show. Six times he’s taken home bonus money, but he’s never set great expectations in terms of racking up wins with an overall 8-7 UFC record. That might be changing, as Stout has won four of his past six.

WHO’S ON THE HOT SEAT?

Jake Shields. The UFC’s acquisition of then-Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields was a big deal in 2010 -- but it’s failed to deliver much. Through five UFC appearances, Shields is 2-2 with a no-contest and a drug suspension last August. He can’t seem to figure out what weight class he wants to compete in, and his fighting style is such that even when he’s winning, he’s getting booed. He has little room for error here.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE



Because even though it’s not the most stacked card in the world, it’s still Evans and it’s still Hendo ... because you don’t know Alexis Davis and you should ... because Roy Nelson is rolling the dice on behalf of disgruntled employees everywhere ... because there are sure to be live shots of Winnipeg, Manitoba -- which is quite lovely this time of year ... because Game 5 isn’t until Sunday ... because if it does turn into UFC 149 revisited, Dana White’s head will turn a bright red that should be visible regardless of what camera angle is being used ... because the H-bomb will be there.

Blackzilians discuss the 'demise' of Evans

June, 12, 2013
6/12/13
6:55
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
Archive
Jon JonesEd Mulholland for ESPN.comMany dismissed Rashad Evans, left, after a one-sided loss to UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones.

The concern about Rashad Evans is understandable.

From an outside perspective, Evans has never recovered from that five-round loss to Jon Jones in April 2012. He was absent from the cage for 10 months after that, and then looked like a shell of his former self in a decision loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

Evans looked hesitant in that fight -- unsure of himself. Come to think of it, he even looked a little sad.

It might lead us all into thinking that competitively speaking, with the words “UFC champ” already on his résumé and money in the bank, we’ve seen the best of Evans. He gave it a good try against Jones at UFC 145, but that was the beginning of the end.

If the former light heavyweight champion is going through the motions now, or even if he’s just trying to relight a competitive flame on a burned-down wick, it’s going to show against Dan Henderson at UFC 161 this weekend.

Talk to those around Evans (17-3-1) though, and conversation doesn’t revolve around rekindling his love for the sport or rebuilding his confidence.

The Blackzilians actually can’t wait for Henderson on Saturday, the start of a title run and, you had better believe it, Jones again.

Glenn Robinson, Evans’ manager: It’s crazy to watch. People ask, 'Rashad, are you all right, are you sure you’re OK?' Like he’s got a sickness or something. He just lost a fight and people are treating him like a kid who lost football tryouts or something. Listening to these people talk, I thought they were going to take him for ice cream.

Tyrone Spong, teammate: For me, he’s the same guy he’s always been. He’s very hungry. I know what it is to be criticized, but sometimes I’m like, come on. Don’t talk stupid. Give the guy a break here. It’s two losses -- and it’s not like he got his a-- whupped [in the Nogueira fight]. He had less of a night. That’s the whole story.

Robinson: There was a point over the last couple of years where he’d been through a rough time. It’s one thing for you to know you’re getting divorced (Evans finalized his divorce in 2012), it’s another thing when it becomes official. He was with his ex-wife from the time he was really just a kid. That was all going on leading up to his last fight. Every one of us has bad times in life and that was Rashad’s bad time. That doesn’t mean he’s changed as a fighter or a person. He had a fight that didn’t go his way. That doesn’t mean he’s done.

Spong: People don’t know the real Rashad. They see him as a character -- the UFC fighter. What comes first is that we are all human beings with the same emotions as every other person. Not every camp is the same. We all go through different things emotionally and physically. Every camp is different, so every fight is different.

Kenny Monday, Blackzilians wrestling coach: From the first day I joined the camp (Monday joined the team in April), he’s been great. My message right away was, 'How do you want your career to be defined?' I asked about the possibility of being a champion and getting back to the top and he said, 'I want to be defined as one of the best in the sport.' He didn’t have to say anything else. I said, 'Let’s get to work.'

Robinson: I’ll tell you exactly what happened in the Jones fight. That training camp was a circus. I mean, I love Coach [Mike] Van Arsdale, but he ran that camp like he would have if he was fighting, not Rashad (Van Arsdale parted ways with the Blackzilians in mid-2012). Rashad had, at one point, five different striking coaches.

Spong: That Jones fight -- even during that camp a lot of stuff happened. It didn’t go as planned. He still went out there and fought his a-- off. He has no problem talking about it. If he looks back at it, things didn’t go as planned in the camp and he couldn’t do everything he wanted, but other than you can’t regret anything. He still went out there and gave Jon Jones a hell of a fight.

Robinson: It’s just not true [his confidence suffered after the Jones fight]. Rashad’s confidence never wavers. He had a lot on his mind after that, but he never lost confidence on who he was. When you have a bad day as an MMA fighter, you’re washed up and this and that but let me tell you -- Rashad completely destroyed the tackling dummy in the gym for this fight. His confidence level is just fine and he’ll show that.

Monday: I’ve been around the sport a long time and I can see it when a fighter is done. I can see it in their eyes -- see the passion is not quite there. They train, but they don’t have that edge. I still see that hunger of wanting to win in practice. When guys stop trying to win in practice, that’s when you see them looking for the exit door. Rashad still gets pissed off in practice.

Robinson: The most important thing for Rashad was he needed to enjoy fighting again, and he does. He’s in great shape. He and Tyrone were in my house watching Thiago [Silva] fight and they are flexing their arms to see who has bigger biceps. Rashad’s body is ripped. His legs are huge -- you can see the muscle in them. That came from hard work and you can’t put that hard work into something unless you enjoy it. That’s the biggest change in the last year.

Roberto Flamingo, Blackzilians striking coach: We expected a better fight against Nogueira. It didn’t go as it had to go. That night, Alistair was fighting right before so I walked him to the Octagon and wasn’t there to warm up Rashad. The preparation half an hour before the fight wasn’t where it needed to be. He has to prepare good before he goes to the Octagon. He couldn’t find his range.

Spong: It all felt good going into that fight. He was strong in everything. He just missed his rhythm and he couldn’t get into the fight. He was off the whole time. It was frustrating for me as it was for him.

Monday: After the Jones fight, he was doing more commentary and after the emotional drain from that fight I think he may have thought about wrapping it up. I don’t know, I wasn’t here. After that second loss though, I think he said, 'Nah, this is not how I want to go out.' We’ve talked about leaving a legacy of greatness. He knows in order to set that up, he needs this fight.

Spong: It’s your opinion if you don’t think he can beat Jon Jones, but I think it’s stupid. Look at Jon’s fights in the 205-pound division. When he defends his belt, he’s finished everyone easy but Rashad. Rashad is the only one to give him a fight. I know for sure if he had a proper camp he is the one to beat Jon Jones.

Robinson: The bottom line is who of all these great champions, some of them are in the title hunt right now, can say they went five rounds with Jon Jones? I asked him if he wants that fight again and Rashad told me, 'I’d love to get the belt again, but right now I just want to fight.' He’s not going to pressure himself into the belt. If he does the right job, the belt will come.

Monday: We talked about Jon Jones one time, about his mindset going into the fight and if he wanted him again. Absolutely [he wants him again]. If you don’t want that fight, you know, then I think you are done. The guy is the best out there. Who wouldn’t want that fight? I want to fight him.

Robinson: He trained harder for this fight than the [second] Tito [Ortiz] fight. Way harder. Rashad excels under pressure. In the Tito fight he had to prove to the world he deserved the title shot. He went into the Phil Davis fight with three cracked ribs. He really put 100 percent into this camp. Betting against Rashad because of what happened in the past is a foolish move. Rashad will be dangerous on Monday. Today, people are concerned -- on Monday, Rashad will be dangerous.

Notes: White on Mitrione suspension, more

April, 26, 2013
4/26/13
6:02
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive

NEW YORK -- The decision to lift heavyweight Matt Mitrione’s suspension in less than three weeks has raised many eyebrows, so promotion president Dana White didn’t hesitate to answer questions Thursday about the matter during UFC 159 media day at Madison Square Garden.

“They [fighters] can be suspended for as long as we want them to be,” White said. “He was suspended for three weeks, but what does that really mean?

“In other sports a suspension means you lose games. He’s not fighting right now anyway. We didn’t suspend him for three fights, two fights. He was fined and put on suspension.

“Suspension meant we were going to look into this thing; we were going to talk to him.”

White then made it clear he agrees with Mitrione that transgender female mixed martial artist Fallon Fox should not be allowed to fight women. White doesn’t, however, embrace the harsh wording Mitrione used to make his point.

And White won’t force Mitrione to apologize.

“You can’t make somebody apologize,” White said. “If I have to make him do it, it’s not real. He’s not really apologizing.

“If that’s his opinion on the situation: He doesn’t like that somebody who used to be a man and became a woman can fight other women. I don’t disagree with him on that. I don’t disagree."

Jones comfortable being himself these days


The past year has been quite memorable for light heavyweight champion Jon Jones: He was labeled "fake" by former friend and sparring partner Rashad Evans before their title bout, had his faith in Christ questioned and got a DWI conviction.

Jones revisited those experiences and concluded that trying to be what others expect of him is a losing battle. So Jones has decided to just be himself.

“I was pretending a lot to be the perfect person, to be super articulate when I’m talking,” Jones said. “I tried to be clean-cut and clean-shaven, be the perfect guy to be sponsored by Nike. And be the perfect, perfect poster boy for UFC.

“Now that I’ve had that whole situation happen to me I’m totally free. I can say what I want; I can be who I want. I’m still trying to be a good person and a good role model. But I’m doing it a little more authentically now.

“And it feels good. It feels good to just be me.”

Bisping learns with age, mistakes

Michael Bisping has a bad habit of coming up short in title eliminators. But it's Bisping's most recent setback, when a title shot was not on the line, that forced him to take a serious look at his approach to being a professional fighter.

Bisping still has images of fighting for the middleweight title and knows that he can no longer allow his weight to become an issue.

“You have to learn from your mistakes,” Bisping said. “You have to be honest with yourself. And there were things I was doing wrong between fights. I was putting on too much weight.

“I’m 34 now, the weight is harder to lose. I’m a professional sportsman, I got away with it in the past, but you’ve got to treat your body with the respect it deserves, especially in this sport.”

Nelson poised for a crack at the title?

Roy Nelson is a top-10 ranked heavyweight, but his name doesn’t come up in title conversations. He believes the timing is right to change that with a win Saturday night over Cheick Kongo.

“It really comes down to the fans,” Nelson said. “And it’s about the timing. After UFC 160, which is only a month [following UFC 159], I could definitely get a title shot.

“They’re talking about Hunt fighting for a title after he knocked out Struve, and I knocked out Struve a little bit easier.”
Rashad Evans has added a new angle to his forthcoming fight with Dan Henderson by revealing he was drop to middleweight if he loses.
More »

Evans can't afford another loss

March, 27, 2013
3/27/13
3:41
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive
video
Once in a while it is necessary to set the record straight.

That moment has arrived as it relates to a comment made by former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans about his upcoming bout against Dan Henderson. The two are scheduled to meet June 15 at UFC 161 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

In the fight business, you're only as good as your next fight. If you lose two or three then you're done.

-- Rashad Evans
Despite dropping his past two outings -- he looked sluggish en route to a unanimous-decision setback Feb. 2 Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156 -- Evans is expecting a victory against Henderson.

But in the past few days, some MMA blogs have questioned the level of Evans’ confidence based on a remark he made to ESPN.com nearly two weeks ago.

“This is the type of fight that keeps you up at night, because you want to do well,” Evans said, referring to his bout against Henderson. “My back is against the wall. And that is when I perform at my best.

“In the fight business, you’re only as good as your next fight. If you lose two or three then you’re done.

“My manager Bill Robinson always says, ‘You’re either one fight away from getting a title shot and becoming champion or you’re two losses away from being cut from UFC.’ ”

Robinson makes a good point and Evans understands the business aspect of mixed martial arts. But Evans is a high-level professional athlete who expects to defeat every man he competes against in the cage.

When he talks about losing two or three fights "then you’re done," Evans is referring to being a serious title contender.

Evans still believes he can compete for and win the UFC light heavyweight title. But he is very aware that with two losses in a row heading into this next fight, another defeat will significantly hinder his chances of fighting for the belt again.

As for fearing that a loss to Henderson will result in being released by UFC: Evans laughed at the suggestion when contacted by ESPN.com on Wednesday.

“No. Not at all,” Evans responded. “That some media would come to that conclusion is funny to me. I’m going to win [on June 15.]”

Fighting Henderson has never been a concern for Evans. The only issue he’s had to battle the past two years is his recent divorce and not seeing his children as often as he would like.

The emotions of the situation took a toll on Evans. But he is having arguably his best camp in recent memory.

Evans is in a good place training-wise right now -- mentally, emotionally and physically.

That wasn’t the case in his previous three training camps. Evans is eager to step in the cage against Henderson and prove that he remains a force to be reckoned with at 205 pounds.
Rashad Evans admits he will walk into his UFC 161 fight with Dan Henderson fearing the ax if he loses their light heavyweight battle. More »

Evans eager to overcome recent skid

March, 11, 2013
3/11/13
6:22
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive
Rashad Evans & Rogerio NogueiraRic Fogel/ESPNRashad Evans, left, never managed to gain any momentum against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

When Rashad Evans last stepped inside the Octagon to fight -- on Feb. 2 at UFC 156 -- he was a shadow of himself.

There was very little head or foot movement, making him an easy target for Antonio Rogerio Nogueira’s stiff right jab. But the sluggish standup wasn’t the only hint that Evans was present in name only -- he found it difficult to get Lil Nog off his feet.

Evans registered one takedown during the 15-minute battle. Every one of his takedown attempts was telegraphed. A solid wrestler like Evans doesn’t normally broadcast when he’s about to go for a double-leg.

His performance against Nogueira was so poor that some wondered aloud whether Evans’ best days as a fighter were in the past. Based off that outing against Nogueira, the simple response is yes.

But the reality is much more complex. Evans remains as physically explosive as ever. On that level, he can still compete with the best. He’ll be the naturally faster, more athletic fighter in the cage at UFC 161 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on June 15 when he meets hard-hitting Dan Henderson. But will he be mentally and emotionally as strong as his opponent that night?

“I’m happy about this fight [against Henderson],” Evans told ESPN.com. “Having the chance to fight somebody like Dan is a big deal, especially after not having the performance I would have liked [against Nogueira].

“It’s good to get in there with somebody like Dan and answer a lot of critics and to show everybody that I am still one of the best guys in the weight class. I couldn’t find my rhythm against Nogueira; I couldn’t find my timing. It was just one of those things. It was like I was in a mental fog.”

Evans has dropped each of his past two fights. It’s the first time as a professional fighter that he’s experienced a losing skid.

Despite his recent setbacks -- to Nogueira and a highly emotional affair with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at UFC 145 in April 2012 -- Evans isn’t one to make excuses. And he is not about to start, despite less-than-impressive showings in his past three outings -- tons of criticism was heaped on him after his win over Phil Davis in January 2012.

Evans was experiencing marriage problems before his fight against Davis. The Chicago resident and father of three spent most of 2011 in Boca Raton, Fla., training with his "Blackzilians" teammates.

It also was the year Evans severed ties with his longtime trainer, Greg Jackson, who instructs Jones. Evans was able to handle the split with Jackson; dealing with a crumbling marriage and seeing less of his children proved much more difficult. It’s a matter he still hasn’t fully come to grips with, and his performance in the cage has suffered. Evans’ divorce was finalized after his loss to Jones.

“Having a failed marriage and not being able to see your kids on a daily basis, that’s what hurts me every single day,” Evans said. “I feel like I failed in my marriage and I failed my kids by not being in their lives on a daily basis.

“It’s because they live in Chicago and in order for me to train I live in South Florida for the most part. I have a place in Chicago, but I’m rarely ever there because I’m always trying to train. It bothers me and I can’t say that it doesn’t.”

Evans has yet to come to grips with not seeing his children regularly. He knows firsthand what it’s like not having a father in the home. Being a former light heavyweight champion and top-level mixed martial artist doesn’t come close to the joy Evans gets from being a good father.

I feel like I failed in my marriage and I failed my kids by not being in their lives on a daily basis.

-- Rashad Evans

Evans enjoyed being a mixed martial artist when his children were around him often. During the past year, that enjoyment has dissipated.

“I must admit I did get to a point where I wasn’t having fun and went through the motions,” Evans said. “And that’s where I am right now.

“When I started fighting I enjoyed everything part of it: I enjoyed training so much, I enjoyed learning. But lately it had gotten to the point where it was something that I had to do, it’d become somewhat monotonous.”

Evans realizes that he won’t be able to compete at the highest level of MMA if he can’t find enjoyment in the sport. He struggles with this each day. But a two-fight skid has helped him conclude that a third loss must be avoided. It has become the source of his motivation as he prepares to face Henderson.

Evans would love to spend more time with his children, but it’s a situation he can’t reverse at this time. What he can control is providing for them financially.

A loss to Henderson, however, could seriously threaten his earning power. That realization might just be enough to shake Evans from his emotional doldrums.

“This is the type of fight that keeps you up at night, because you want to do well,” Evans said. “My back is against the wall. And this is when I perform at my best.

“In the fight business, you’re only as good as your next fight. If you lose two or three then you’re done.

“My manager Bill Robinson always says, ‘You’re either one fight away from getting a title shot and becoming champion or you’re two losses away from being cut from UFC.’”

Winnipeg's gain; Jones-Silva most coveted

March, 6, 2013
3/06/13
5:56
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
Archive
Mauricio Rua, Antonio Rodrigo NogueiraSherdog.comA bout between Mauricio Rua, left, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira could steal the show in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg, hello.

For the first time, UFC announced Tuesday, it will roll into the Canadian province of Manitoba, bringing all the makings of a quality card. On Wednesday ESPN.com reported that interim UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao will fight tough Eddie Wineland in the main event. With Dan Henderson meeting Rashad Evans and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua rematching a spectacular Pride contest against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Zuffa will have no problem filling the MTS Centre on June 15. Also, Tyron Woodley is slated to fight Jake Shields at welterweight, which should draw some intrigue considering Woodley's impressive UFC debut.

Winnipeg is the fifth Canadian city to welcome the UFC, and it should probably tip its cap to westerly neighbor Vancouver. Or, more precisely, the Vancouver City Council. Last year around this time, UFC president Dana White said the Octagon wouldn't head back to Vancouver until 2014 at the earliest. In addition to the fact that the council let a two-year trial period for MMA expire, the reality of promoting the sport in Vancouver, even though UFC made money for its two events there, was ridiculous because of indemnification and insurance costs. The powers that be didn't want UFC in town, which they made clear.

Fair to say, as UFC's head for Canada Tom Wright did, Vancouver seemed to think UFC supporters might act a lot like Canucks fans.

Whoops.

Well, Winnipeg's gain.

Barao's summer booking against Wineland signals that bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is nowhere near being ready to return to the cage. Cruz's trainer, Eric Del Fierro, confirmed as much. In the champ's place, Barao has been an admirable temp. Wineland's speed and power could present challenges for the defensive-minded Brazilian. It's a solid fight.

Even with a title bout on the card, Henderson-Evans may carry the most intrigue. Both men are coming off less than impressive losses. Evans was convincingly worse, and he has a lot to answer for. Is the man mentally broken after Jon Jones? There are people who know him that think he is. Based on Evans' performance -- lack thereof, really -- against Nogueira, something has to give. Henderson is definitely the wrong guy to be timid against, though the 42-year-old wrestler might finally be old. Henderson wasn't sharp or active against Lyoto Machida, but that could have been a symptom of the Brazilian's quickness and countering ability. Henderson matches up well with Evans and I'd peg him the early favorite.

Building up Rua's second fight with Nogueira should be as easy as cutting highlights of the first contest. It was that good. Shogun was at the top of his game in 2005, a year in which he went 5-0 and defeated Quinton Jackson, Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona. Of that group, only Nogueira managed to go the distance. This was just a war of attrition, an incredible contest.

Expectations will be high.

Injury bug bites Bellator



It’s official: Bellator has caught the injury bug.

Last week it was Daniel Straus’ hand. This week, Douglas Lima’s. Bellator moved Lima’s welterweight tournament final bout against Ben Saunders off a March 21 event in Maine (the card features lightweights Marcin Held and Dave Jansen after that bout was postponed because of injury after originally being slated for this Thursday) and should have it lined up for sometime this summer. Since Ben Askren already has a waiting contender in unbeaten 22-year-old Andrey Koreshkov, the news about Lima isn’t such a big deal.

It just goes to show, however, that Bellator’s good luck streak with injuries and tournaments was bound to hit a rough patch. So it has.

As for Thursday at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., Bellator offers semifinal bouts at 185 and 145.

The featherweights are where it’s at.

Marlon Sandro takes on Magomedrasul Khasbulaev (everyone just calls him “Frodo”). And on the other side of the bracket, Alexandre Bezerra fights Mike Richman, which should be the best contest on the card.

Middleweights fighting Thursday don’t do much for me. Veteran Doug Marshall meets 9-0 Russian Sultan Aliev. And Brett Cooper should go to war with Dan Cramer.

Still, compared to Bellator 92’s off-TV undercard, the middleweights are world class. Spike.com streams Bellator prelims, and let’s just say up front this set isn’t worth your time. Most of the fighters are local and not very good. Or, worse yet, long washed up if they were decent to begin with. But if guys such as Cleber Luciano and Shad Smith sell tickets, hey, alright.

Fight you most want to see

Jon Jones & Anderson SilvaRic Fogel for ESPN.comA clash between fellow UFC champions Jon Jones, left, and Anderson Silva is a fight fan's dream bout.


SportsNation is asking fans to rank the best fight MMA can make right now .

After a day’s worth of voting, Jon Jones against Anderson Silva is ahead by a wide margin. No surprise, really. Silva versus Georges St-Pierre is second. And Cain Velasquez taking on Jones currently ranks third.

Topping my group was Silva-GSP. I guess I’m just tired of all the talk. It’s been four years since this was first discussed and if GSP beats Nick Diaz on March 16 and if Silva handles Chris Weidman in July, it really needs to happen.

Silva-Jones, second as I ranked 'em, requires no embellishment. It’s a surefire spectacle. But as tremendous as it would be for the fighters, fans and UFC, Jones has work remaining at 205 before he needs to concern himself with Silva.

No. 3 on my list: St-Pierre against Johny Hendricks. I love this at 170. If Hendricks and the UFC champion take care of business in Montreal in less than two weeks, I think fans will be clamoring for this contest. They should, but SportsNation suggests it’s the sixth most appealing fight behind Jones-Daniel Cormier, Benson Henderson-Jose Aldo and the three previously mentioned.

Curious was the lack of interest in Dominick Cruz against Renan Barao at 135. Maybe Cruz has been on the shelf too long? I don’t know. I like that fight a lot. Barao has been top notch, and possesses everything he needs to beat Cruz. Least interesting to me, for a variety of reasons, is GSP and Rory MacDonald.

Zuffa, make ‘em happen.

UFC 156 featured plenty sleight of hand

February, 4, 2013
2/04/13
12:42
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive

LAS VEGAS -- Ricardo Lamas was in Las Vegas for UFC 156 Saturday night. He was the first upset. By the time the smoke cleared and everything we presumed to be the case no longer was, he tweeted out a simple statement.

“What am I, a mirage?”

Lamas was on hand presumably to challenge the winner of the featherweight title bout between Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo. But was Lamas really ever there? Aldo earned the decision, yet before Dana White could hit the microphone at the postfight news conference, the UFC president had received a tantalizing text from Anthony Pettis saying he wants to come down to 145 pounds and challenge Aldo next.
[+] EnlargeRicardo Lamas and Erik Koch
Ross Dettman for ESPNIn the matter of a week, Ricardo Lamas went from "in line for a title shot" to "back in line."

Boom. The UFC owes Pettis a title shot. Bells went off in White’s head. We know this because he shared the text with the media. What a sick fight that would be. ... We all thought it. Benson Henderson is busy with Gilbert Melendez; so, Pettis versus Aldo solves conundrums. Pettis and Aldo turns the neat trick of having last week’s UFC on Fox 6 winner, Lamas -- who triumphed over former contender Erik Koch -- vanish before our eyes.

And you know what? This was the most normal thing that happened Saturday night.

All the other scenarios, dangling carrots and conditional promises didn’t go according to plan. In fact, the underdogs and Strikeforce refugees made things downright chaotic.

Let's start with Alistair Overeem. He just got too comfortable in there with Antonio Silva, just too incautious. A couple of times, "The Reem" exposed his chin and dropped his hands altogether. At the end of the second round he gave Silva a smile and a casual nod. He did everything but blow him a kiss. Minutes later he was converted into a Monday morning GIF, getting chopped down early in the third round by Silva’s unmistakable cinderblock hands.

And now matchmaker Joe Silva has to prove that he’s good in a scramble.

Just like the middleweight division a couple of weeks ago, when it was Michael Bisping’s title shot to lose against Vitor Belfort, the scenario was simple: Once Overeem takes care of Silva, he gets to fight Cain Velasquez for the title.

Then, like Bisping, he loses (spectacularly), and the question becomes: Who’s next for Velasquez? "Bigfoot" Silva again? He lost to Velasquez nine months ago while floating in a warm pool of his own blood. That isn’t a rematch that people will be (or should be) pining for. But neither does it make complete sense to roll out Velasquez/Junior dos Santos III. Too soon. Daniel Cormier won’t fight his AKA teammate Velasquez. Fabricio Werdum is tied up with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Josh Barnett isn’t here or there yet.

Who does that leave? Roy Nelson?
[+] EnlargeAntonio Silva, Cain Velasquez
Rod Mar for ESPNIt's hard to imagine fight fans are pining to see a rematch between champion Cain Velasquez and Antonio Silva.

Then there is the ongoing Anderson Silva sweepstakes, in which Rashad Evans figured he was in the bag. Should he take care of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, he would be considered for a title shot at 185 pounds against Silva. We wondered all week: Can he make the weight to fight Silva? Turns out we should have been wondering if he could make it past Lil Nog.

Nogueira did his Nogueira magic and kept Evans at bay with jabs and straight lefts. He thwarted, he stuck, he toiled. Meanwhile, Evans kept roaring his engine in the garage, yet never came peeling out of it. He was setting up for something that never happened. He was tentative, and he lost. White wondered out loud whether Evans had “lost that hunger.”

So, no Evans-Silva. Which means we’re looking at contender Chris Weidman against Silva by way of attrition. Weidman was the original mirage, but it looks like he’s finally materialized as the guy to next face Anderson Silva.

Then again, it’s hazardous to take too much for granted. Bobby Green choked out Jacob Volkmann. Yves Edwards lost to Isaac Vallie-Flagg. Demian Maia “out-Fitched” Jon Fitch. This is a volatile, ever-changing, rarely predictable game.

And if UFC 156 taught us anything, it was that Lamas wasn’t the only mirage on Saturday night -- turns out everything we expected to be on Sunday was a mirage, too.

UFC 156 proves nothing is a given in MMA

February, 3, 2013
2/03/13
12:32
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive

LAS VEGAS -- It's never a fighter’s intent to give his opponent extra motivation, unless of course you’re heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem and you just don’t respect the other guy.

Lack of respect is almost certain to serve as extra motivation for any fighter, and Overeem’s opponent Saturday at UFC 156 -- Antonio Silva -- was no exception. But Silva and fellow Brazilian Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who faced former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, didn’t need antagonism from their foes to give them an extra adrenaline pump. The promotion had done that for them.

Before their main-card bouts at Mandalay Bay Events Center, Overeem and Evans were being offered UFC title shots if they managed to win their respective fights. No such promises were made to Silva and Nogueira.

Whether intended or not, they were on the show as fodder for Overeem and Evans. According to the UFC’s master plan, the Brazilians were on hand to take their beatings like men, get paid, go home and wait by the phone to learn of their next fight -- and who knows when that would have been? Silva and Nogueira weren’t the stars at UFC 156; that distinction was reserved for the guys standing across the cage from them.

The nerve of UFC: making title-shot plans without first consulting with "Bigfoot" and Lil Nog.

But Silva and Nogueira are proud men. They are also company guys, so neither made any verbal stink before fight night. Each would have his say inside the Octagon, however, and UFC officials weren’t going to like the messages being delivered.

It took Silva some time to express himself against Overeem. He was behind after two rounds, in a bout that lacked much excitement up until that point. But in the third, Silva made his feelings known. He delivered a vicious overhand right to Overeem’s head, followed by several more hard punches.

The trash-talking, overconfident Overeem slumped to the canvas, virtually unconscious. And while in that feeble position, Silva stood over him, screaming at him to get up.

“Many people did not believe in [me],” Silva said after tossing a monkey wrench into the UFC’s heavyweight title plans. “But I believed in me.

Alistair did not respect me. But I worked hard on my striking for this fight. I showed the world a lot about me. And I specifically showed Overeem how to respect another fighter.

-- Antonio Silva, on defeating a disrespectful Alistair Overeem

“Alistair did not respect me. But I worked hard on my striking for this fight. I showed the world a lot about me. And I specifically showed Overeem how to respect another fighter.”

He also showed -- better yet taught -- UFC officials a thing or two about going public with potential title-fight plans before all the ducks are in a row.

In fairness, Silva’s knockout of Overeem was highly unforeseeable. But a Plan B should have been in place and made known to the public, at least to save face.

Now UFC decision-makers find themselves in the awkward position of scrambling to find a suitable opponent for Cain Velasquez.

Silva’s upset win exposes a topic that has been swept under the rug in recent months -- UFC’s heavyweight division still has a dearth of title-worthy contenders, despite the addition of Strikeforce fighters. That shallow well has UFC scrambling to find a suitable replacement for Overeem.

White hinted at Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier as the most deserving opponent for current champion Velasquez, but he’ll have a difficult time making that fight a reality. Cormier has stated repeatedly that he will not fight his American Kickboxing Academy teammate and close friend.

So determined is Cormier never to step in the cage opposite Velasquez -- and vice versa -- that he’s already begun the process of cutting weight for an eventual showdown with light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones. In other words, good luck UFC getting Velasquez and Cormier on a billboard facing one another.
[+] EnlargeRashad Evans
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesRashad Evans, left, couldn't get out of first gear against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

The news wasn’t all bad Saturday night for UFC. While Evans was looking at a possible middleweight showdown with that division’s titleholder, Anderson Silva, top contender Chris Weidman is a solid option.

No timetable can be set for that fight until more is known on the progress of Weidman’s recovery from shoulder surgery. Silva-Evans, however, was gaining traction and would have generated a lot of fan interest.

Giving Evans hope of a 185-pound title shot seemed like a nice gesture initially. But no one took time to consider Nogueira’s feelings. He was the forgotten man at UFC 156. There were no high-profile stories written about him, nor was anyone suggesting that he receive title-shot consideration with an upset of Evans.

Nogueira is a quiet, sensitive man, who used the prefight slight as motivation. And it worked to his benefit as he utilized a stiff right jab, a hard straight left and picture-perfect takedown defense to register a unanimous-decision win.

“[Offering Evans a title shot] motivated me a lot because before he could fight Anderson Silva, he had a big fight against me,” Nogueira said. “I worked a lot on my wrestling skills and my boxing. I know I was very ready for this.”

Silva and Nogueira might have felt a bit slighted by UFC, but each used it to their advantage Saturday night.

Intended or not, making prefight title-shot plans public can work against UFC’s interest. But on second thought, it can also work in the promotion’s favor -- an entertaining heavyweight fight developed due to Silva’s added desire to silence Overeem.

And Nogueira used his extra incentive to become relevant again. He certainly won’t be the forgotten man the next time he’s slated to appear on a UFC card.

UFC 156 by the numbers

February, 3, 2013
2/03/13
2:25
AM ET
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
Archive
9: Takedowns defended by Jose Aldo. Frankie Edgar got off to a slow start on the feet, and did not attempt a takedown in Round 1. In Rounds 2-5, Edgar attempted 11 takedowns but only succeeded on two. Although Edgar was the first Aldo opponent to score multiple takedowns on Aldo, opponents are now 5-for-66 in takedowns against the featherweight champion in his UFC/WEC career (92 percent takedown defense).

6: Fight-of-the-night bonuses for Edgar, tying him with Chris Lytle for most in UFC history.

34: Leg kicks thrown by both Aldo and Edgar. Aldo outlanded Edgar 7-4 with leg kicks over the first two rounds, including one that sent the former lightweight champion stumbling. But Aldo changed his approach the remainder of the fight, landing just one leg kick while the challenger landed 21 of 24 in the final 15 minutes of action.

1: Takedowns for Rashad Evans. Previously, “Suga” was 9-0-1 in fights in which he took his opponent down at least once. Nogueira had been taken down 12 times in five UFC appearances, but stopped four takedowns against the former Michigan State wrestler.

4: Former champions Antonio Silva has beaten in his MMA career. “Bigfoot” also has victories over former Pride champion Fedor Emelianenko as well as former UFC champions Andrei Arlovski and Ricco Rodriguez.

36: Significant strike advantage for Alistair Overeem through two rounds. In Round 1, Overeem outlanded Silva 22-3 in significant strikes. Round 2 was no different as Overeem had a 27-4 advantage. But in the third, “Bigfoot” hit Overeem with 14 of 20 significant strikes (70 percent), putting the “Demolition Man” down for good.

11: Overeem’s unbeaten streak coming into the fight with Silva. His previous loss was to Sergei Kharitonov in September 2007 (also by KO/TKO). Seven of Overeem’s 12 career losses have come by way of KO or TKO.

12: Career UFC wins for Demian Maia, the second most in the UFC since 2007 behind middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Maia is now on a three-fight win streak since moving to the welterweight division.

7: Takedowns allowed by Jon Fitch, the most he’s allowed in a three-round fight. Fitch also allowed seven to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 87, but that fight was a five-round title fight.

57: Significant strikes landed by Joseph Benavidez, the most in his WEC/UFC career. The Alpha Male product mixed up his attack, hitting McCall with 33 strikes to the head, and 12 each to the body and legs.

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