Michael DiSanto, UFC - The first minute of the fight between Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson changed everything, in my opinion. Evans landed a big overhand right that staggered Rampage. Actually, it sent him stumbling several steps backward. And from that point forward, Evans fought with a sense of confidence that had been sorely lacking since his knockout loss to Lyoto Machida one year ago.
RASHAD EXECUTES PERFECTLY – ALMOST
The first minute of the fight between Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson changed everything, in my opinion. Evans landed a big overhand right that staggered Rampage. Actually, it sent him stumbling several steps backward. And from that point forward, Evans fought with a sense of confidence that had been sorely lacking since his knockout loss to Lyoto Machida one year ago. Rampage, by contrast, seemed surprised by the punch and, as a result, was a bit hesitant for the next two rounds, which enabled Evans to build a comfortable lead on the judges’ cards and ultimately win a workmanlike unanimous decision.
The first minute or so of the final round, however, raised a significant question about the former Michigan State wrestler. When Rampage clipped him on the chin with a brutal right uppercut, Evans admittedly went numb and thoughts of panic almost certainly entered his mind. After all, he had been badly rocked in his last two fights. The first led to a knockout loss. The second almost ended with the same result. Luckily for Evans, his attacker (Thiago Silva) was completely gassed out when he landed the punch, so he was not able to effectively follow up. But for that fortunate fact, Evans probably would have suffered back-to-back knockout losses.
Everyone wondered whether Evans would be able to survive when Rampage immediately pounced on his fallen foe and unleashed a series of savage ground-and-pound right hands. Had the effects of the first knockout loss of Evans’ career permanently affected his ability to take a punch, which can be as much mental as physical at times? I wondered. I know Rampage wondered. I’m sure Mike Van Arsdale and Trevor Wittman wondered. And Evans certainly wondered.
Rampage gave Evans every opportunity to quit during those intense few seconds. He dropped him like a bad habit and began manhandling him on the ground with punches. Evans could have covered up. He could have tapped out. He could have just accepted his fate.
Instead, he chose to fight on, and after those initial stressful seconds, actually reversed the position and regained control of the fight. That is why Rashad Evans held the world title at one point and why he is has a very real opportunity to hold it again. There is no quit in that guy.
Later this year, Evans will face his fourth consecutive vicious striker. For the first time since the loss to Machida, my sense is that he will enter the cage with no doubts as to his chin or his ability to survive the fire. Whether he will be able to overthrow Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s reign remains to be seen, and that is a subject that we will delve into in depth on another day.
RAMPAGE LEARNS A LESSON OR TWO ABOUT THE FIGHT GAME
Rampage is probably pretty annoyed with himself right now. Saturday’s effort dropped his UFC record to a still impressive 5-2, though it was the first time he must look himself in the mirror and accept the fact that he was cleanly defeated.
It was obvious from the start of the fight that Rampage’s timing was a bit off. He saw openings and didn’t appear to be able to naturally pull the trigger. I think that his mind was getting in the way of what he does naturally—letting his hands go with surgical accuracy and extremely bad intentions. And, of course, he was completely spent well before the fight had reached its conclusion.
The world watched precisely the same Rampage who showed up in Las Vegas on July 5, 2008, to defend his world title against Forrest Griffin. Five rounds later, Rampage left the Octagon as a former champion.
What three facts connect those two fateful nights?
Heading into the Griffin fight, Rampage was in the midst of a 300-day layoff from active competition, which was longest layoff of his illustrious career up to that point in time. Heading into the Evans fight, Rampage set a new personal best (or worst, depending on perspective) for inactivity—448 days.
Rampage tipped the scales above 250 lbs when he started camp to prepare for Griffin. Ditto for his fight with Evans.
It’s no coincidence that Rampage lost both fights by unanimous judges’ decision after fighting with less than Rampage-like speed, timing and conditioning. Ring rust is a very real phenomenon. Practice cannot replicate the speed, intensity and emotional swings of a real fight. Muscle memory erodes, leaving guys unable to timely react to what their eyes see.
Those problems are compounded when an athlete lets his weight balloon because large portions of his training camp ends up focusing, whether intentionally or naturally, on getting rid of the extra pounds, rather than effectively training to sharpen his skills and timing. Everything happens at a slower pace. The intensity is not the same. Nothing is the same, either mentally or physically, compared to a camp where a guy shows up in good shape with the proper bodyweight.
Rampage admitted to the world following his loss to Griffin that the extended break from competition and the significant in between fights weight gain was detrimental to his performance. He vowed not to make those same mistakes in the future. He obviously forgot that vow over the last 16 months.
Rampage has a choice to make. If he wants to fulfill his potential and dominate the UFC 205-lb division like Chuck Liddell did a few years back, then playing significant roles in major motion pictures needs to be put on the backburner for now. I think the loss proved that to him, and as a result, Rampage will rebound with a renewed dedication to the sport. Competing regularly is the key to performing up to his tremendous abilities. Rampage knows that, so I expect to see him back in action before the end of the year.
RUSSOW PROVES THAT ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
One punch knockouts are nothing new in the UFC. Come from behind victories are fairly routine. And upsets are very close to being the norm.
Nonetheless, in 13 years of watching mixed martial arts, I’ve never seen anything like Mike Russow’s impossible feat of snatching victory from the absolutely certain jaws of defeat.
For the first 12 minutes and 20 seconds of their fight, Todd Duffee picked apart Russow like a veteran fighter trying to teach a cocky rookie a lesson during sparring. The well muscled Indiana native pounded away at will with two- and three-piece combinations to the point where he was clearly tiring from using his opponent’s face as a punching bag toward the end of the first round. But he pounded away, landing massive bombs with both fists. And the Chicago police officer kept coming forward, refusing to bend from the punishment.
The fact that Russow was still conscious entering the third round was nothing short of amazing. In his previous bout, Duffee set a new UFC record for the fastest knockout in the history of the promotion, so the power in his bazooka-like punches was beyond reproach. He hit Russow with the same fists. He sat down and committed to the shots the same way that he did in his previous bout. Little did he know that Russow’s head was made of lonsdaleite.
The short right hand that Russow landed was far from a haymaker. It was a perfectly timed, short, crisp counter that landed precisely where aimed. The second right hand was merely icing on the cake. Duffee was thoroughly cooked from the initial one.
Something tells me that the knockout had as much to do with Duffee’s state of exhaustion as it did the incoming fire. Who cares? That doesn’t take away from the fact that it was the most amazing come-from-behind victory that I have ever witnessed.
SANCHEZ STILL FEELING AFFECTS OF TIME AT LIGHTWEIGHT
Is it just me or did Diego Sanchez who stepped into the Octagon on Saturday night seem noticeably smaller than the guy who faced Luigi Fioravanti in a welterweight contest two years ago? I’m not sure that six months is enough time to add back the bulk that Sanchez shed to make a run in the lightweight division.
Remember that many of the guys who compete at 170 lbs walk around between 190 lbs and 200 lbs between fights. Some even weigh that much come fight night. In other words, top welterweights typically cut a significant amount of weight in the days and hours leading up to the weigh-ins to be able to compete in the 170 lb division.
Sanchez did not appear to be particularly drawn during the weigh-ins. Instead, he looked like he had a very comfortable time making the weight. I’m not sure that is a good thing for a guy whose fighting style is predicated on being a bully. Sanchez earns his living by taking down opponents and then dishing out some of the most destructive ground and pound in the game, across all divisions.
He didn’t appear to be a bully on Saturday night. Part of that could be the stellar game plan and execution of rising star John Hathaway. Part of it could be due to the fact that Sanchez has not yet bulked back up to being a full-blown welterweight.
I’m not sure if added weight would have made any difference against Hathaway, who landed shots with laser-like precision and continually changed angles to prevent Sanchez from effectively changing levels and shooting for a takedown. Nonetheless, I would be very surprised if Sanchez doesn’t add more bulk before his next fight. Otherwise, it is difficult to imagine him matching the physical aspect of the game with monsters like Thiago Alves, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and, of course, Georges St-Pierre.
THE INTERESTING QUANDARY FOR JOHN HATHAWAY
Hathaway is one exciting welterweight prospect. Anyone who handles Sanchez like he did will make the rest of the division stand up and take notice. Keep in mind that Saturday’s loss was only the fourth of Sanchez’s career. The previous three came at the hands of the best of the best—pound-for-pound great BJ Penn, number one welterweight contender Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch, a guy who has the second longest winning streak in UFC history. And Fitch only beat him by the narrowest of margins, convincing only two of the three judges that he deserved the nod.
There is no denying, therefore, that Hathaway’s win over Sanchez puts him in rarefied company. The question, however, is whether he should be rushed into a bout against one of the division’s monsters or if his management should pull back the reigns a little and develop the 22-year-old star in the making a little more methodically.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on perspective, Hathaway is cutting his teeth in the sport’s biggest and most competitive mixed martial arts promotion. There are no tune-up fights in the UFC. Losses are witnessed by millions and read about by millions more. So there is nowhere to hide.
I’m not sure what I would do if I managed the rising prospect. Maybe UFC matchmaker extraordinaire Joe Silva will look to test him against another top veteran like Mike Swick, Dan Hardy or maybe even the loser of the expected rematch between Fitch and Alves. Whatever the case, my guess is that this kid will become a mainstay on the main cards for the foreseeable future.