Eurosport - Sun, 30 May 09:36:00 2010
The hype surrounding UFC 114 was so over the top that UFC president Dana White sent President Barack Obama a message on Twitter asking who he thought would win the grudge match between Rashad Evans and Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson.
Obama missed a good card with a series of action-packed fights, but unfortunately for White, he didn't miss much by not catching the main event.
The fight was a letdown after literally months of over-the-top trash talking from both men. It was a tactical, technical affair that would have been a perfectly acceptable match had it been stuck in the middle of a card somewhere.
After all the trash these men talked, through a season of 'The Ultimate Fighter', three episodes of a preview show, during a circus-like conference call, throughout innumerable media appearances and on Twitter, Evans's unanimous decision before a sell-out crowd of 15,081 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday was clearly a letdown.
Listening to the booing from an angry crowd that was there to watch someone get concussed, it was almost like being at one of Anderson Silva's recent middleweight title fights.
Evans earned a light heavyweight championship shot against Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua with the win. Judge Sal D'Amato scored it 29-28, while judges Glenn Trowbridge and Marcos Rosales each had it 30-27 for Evans.
A Rua-Evans match will undoubtedly be more respectful during the build-up, and also make for a more action-packed fight in the cage.
For all the trash both Jackson and Evans spoke, the match was bereft of drama, with few major punches landed and fewer changes of momentum.
Evans fought a brilliant strategic fight, using his quickness to circle, move in and out and neutralise Jackson's crushing one-punch knockout power. He took Jackson down several times and, except for a brief sequence in the third round, was never in trouble.
Evans landed a powerful overhand right in the opening seconds of the bout that sent Jackson staggering back against the cage. But they grappled for position against the fence for what seemed like an interminable length of time before referee Herb Dean, much to the crowd's delight, broke it up and sent them to the middle of the ring.
Jackson caught Evans with a combination along the fence about halfway through the final round that knocked Evans down. Jackson quickly pounced and, for a few seconds, it seemed there would be plenty of drama.
Evans, though, managed to regain his senses, scramble back to his feet and win the remainder of the round. He hurt Jackson with a punch that knocked the star of the upcoming movie, 'The A-Team', down and then landed several hard blows on the ground.
For the most part, however, this was a bout in which the fight didn't live up to the trash talk. It was not a bad fight, but it failed badly to live up to the billing as one of the most significant matches in UFC history.
Worse, though the fighters shook hands when the bout ended and professed respect for each other, the bitter feelings didn't end with the final bell.
"Rashad can still kiss my ass," Jackson said. "He fought a good fight, but he can still kiss my ass. He said a whole lot of stuff and I ain't going to forget it. We're both warriors and I'm not a sore loser. I'm a fighter and I've been a fighter all my life. But with the stuff he said, he can kiss my black ass."
The nearly 15-month layoff clearly had an impact on Jackson, who wasn't able to force Evans to stand and fight him. Evans dictated when, where and how the fight was fought, and Jackson looked a step slow.
Jackson attributed that to making the movie and the pressure he felt as a result. He said that FOX threatened to sue him when it learned he accepted the fight against Evans.
He said he prepared for Evans to move and wrestle him, but he said his timing wasn't what he wanted it to be.
"I feel tonight wasn't the real me," Jackson said. "I hesitated too much and I just don't feel I was at my best. I'm not going to sit here and make excuses. Rashad is a good fighter. He proved that. That's why I respect him. He proved that. He had a good strategy and he was real quick. I was surprised he took me down, but I still feel I'm on another level."
No one, particularly Jackson, could have been surprised by Evans' strategy. He simply couldn't afford to stand and trade punches with the powerful Jackson.
Evans's game plan was all about defusing Jackson's power. At one point in his career, Jackson's wrestling was a major factor for him and he won fights by wrestling. But he is now at a stage where he's almost a one-dimensional puncher.
Evans recognised that and took that aspect of the game away from him for the most part.
"One thing I wanted to do was I wanted to keep him guessing," said Evans, who came out of the fight with no injuries and said he'd be able to fight Rua whenever the UFC wanted.
"Rampage is probably the best in the game when it comes to timing people pulling back and catching them with the uppercut. I wanted to keep him guessing and not know what I was going to do. I had picked up on a couple of things he was doing in anticipation of my shot and I wanted to exploit that."
The crowd booed frequently, though it booed throughout much of the night of what was a very solid card.
White correctly noted that the build-up of the main event left the crowd wanting blood.
"People were booing at stupid stuff tonight," White said. "Guys aren't going to run out there and throw haymakers. There is strategy and these guys have game plans. They're not going to run in like a train wreck at each other.
"The crowd was really fired up tonight. The referee would say, 'okay, let's go,' and the guys wouldn't even get to each other and they were booing."
No one was asking Jackson and Evans to replicate Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar I or stand in front of each other like Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots, but after a season's worth of taunts on 'The Ultimate Fighter', and months more in the pre-fight build-up, they had a right to expect a little more than they got on Saturday.
When they didn't get it, they booed. And while they were out of line on many occasions, they weren't in the main event, even if Evans didn't see it that way.
"One thing that you understand really quickly as a fighter that the fans don't understand is that we don't have eight- or 10-ounce gloves on," Evans said. "We have four-ounce gloves on and underneath that is a cast. I wasn't taking no shots for no amount of boos."