By Thomas Gerbasi
LAS VEGAS, May 29 – At times, the long-awaited UFC 114 grudge match between former light heavyweight champions “Suga” Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson looked like the calm after the storm of trash talk and bad blood. But an action-packed third round and a solidly executed gameplan from Evans will remain in the minds of fight fans for a while as he pounded out a three round unanimous decision win over his rival Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Scores were 30-27 twice and 29-28 for Evans, who called the victory “a huge relief.”
“He’s tough,” said Jackson, who was coming off a layoff of over a year since his last bout at UFC 96 in March of 2009. “He’s faster than I anticipated. He was the man today.”
Jackson, whose rivalry with Evans began after that UFC 96 fight and escalated when the two were coaches on the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, raced across the Octagon at the bell to get in Evans’ face, but it was Evans who got the first shot in, a lightning fast right hand that rocked Jackson and sent him sprawling into the cage. Evans locked his foe up there, but Jackson was able to remain upright and avoid the takedown, even scoring briefly with a knee before referee Herb Dean broke the stalemate with 2:50 left. With 2:15 remaining, Evans shot off a quick combination and followed up with a takedown. After taking some ground strikes, Jackson made it back to his feet but Evans wouldn’t release his grip on his opponent against the fence. Dean again broke the stalemate, this time with 28 seconds left, and it was Jackson ending the round strong by stuffing a takedown and scoring with a quick flurry before the bell.
The crowd began chanting “Rampage” as the second round opened, but after a brief skirmish, their man was again pinned to the fence. Evans pressed for a takedown, but when it didn’t come, he released his grip and moved back, trying to draw Jackson into a standup mistake. Jackson, tentative about letting his hands go with the threat of a takedown looming, got bulled back into the fence, with Dean breaking them up with 2:17 left. Evans and Jackson exchanged the role of aggressor, but it was Evans who was the more effective of the two as he mixed in strikes with his bull rushes of Jackson into the fence.
Jackson, taking deep breaths in his corner while waiting for the final round to begin, came out determined to make something happen as he stalked his foe. And with a minute gone, Jackson finally got his shot and took advantage of it rocking and dropping Evans with a right hand.
“I was hurt for a little bit but that’s what happens sometimes,” said Evans. “I’m not gonna give up, no matter what.”
“I was very surprised that he recovered from that,” said Jackson. “I put all my eggs in that basket.”
A series of ground strikes followed and the end appeared to be near, but Evans was able to shake the cobwebs loose and make it back to his feet with 2:40 remaining. Jackson, winded, moved slowly after Evans, who was now content to use his movement in order to keep Jackson guessing. It worked, and with under two minutes to go, Evans got a takedown and began raining punches down on Jackson, who was pinned against the fence. Jackson, game to the end, made it back to his feet, only to be taken down again and punches by the rejuvenated Evans. And while Jackson was able to stand up again, by the time the bell tolled, the result was clear on the faces of both men.
With the win, Evans ups his record to 20-1-1; Jackson falls to 30-8.