(Note: This column was written immediately following UFC 96, which saw Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson engage in an intense staredown in the Octagon. They were expected to fight two months later. That didn't happen. Instead, the fight finally will happen this weekend, a year after the first proposed meeting. Has anything changed since that now-famous staredown?)
Columbus, Ohio – The blood is already boiling for the main event of May’s UFC 98.
Quinton Jackson defeated Keith Jardine by unanimous decision in the featured bout of UFC 96 on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena, sealing his shot at Rashad Evans’ light-heavyweight title.
Evans, who provided commentary on the fight for the pay-per-view broadcast, was brought into the Octagon following the fight and the two had an intense staredown, talking back and forth to each other before finally shaking hands.
"I’m getting my belt back," Jackson said to Evans before telling him he was going to "knock (him) clean out."
The staredown did a lot to build to the May fight, which will replace the previously announced undisputed UFC heavyweight title fight between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir.
An ad at the end of the pay-per-view broadcast dubbed May’s event "UFC 98: World Light-Heavyweight Championship." That’s because Jackson said he’d have to sit down with his manager and see if he’s even capable of taking his third fight since December.
"Quinton didn’t know about it until 15 minutes ago," UFC president Dana White said at the post-fight press conference.
Of course, White said Lyoto Machida has accepted the bout if Jackson can’t go – meaning Evans has a tough fight on his hands no matter what.
"I’ve been training really hard," Jackson said. "I felt like I was overtrained a little bit tonight. I want to be the best I can be and I want to show the world that I’m one of the best fighters."
The fight will easily be the toughest test of Evans’ career. He won his title via third round TKO against Forrest Griffin at UFC 92, but has not faced a fighter of Jackson’s caliber during the course of his 14-fight career.
But Jackson will also have his hands full with Evans, who has knocked out Chuck Liddell and Griffin, the man who defeated Jackson for the title in July, in his last two fights and has a solid wrestling background and an ever-improving stand-up game.
But the reason it will be a tough test for Evans is because the way’s he beat Liddell and Griffin — one punch knockout and brutal ground-and-pound — isn’t likely to work on Jackson, who has never been knocked out with a single punch in his career.
It took Wanderlei Silva a series of hard shots (including an incredible series of more than 50 consecutive knees and punches in their first meeting) to finish Jackson. The same for Mauricio Rua.
If we’ve seen anything out of Evans in his career, it’s that he tends to strike quickly. Jackson has never been dropped to the canvas with a punch in his UFC career, meaning Evans will have to put together stinging combinations to finish Jackson. Or he can opt to try to take the fight to the ground, but that might not be an easy task against Jackson.
Jackson will surely test Evans’ chin. Griffin swarmed Evans at times in their bout, but Evans maintained composure and circled out. If we’ve see anything out of Jackson in his tenure in the UFC it’s that he has the ability to land hard, accurate shots on his opponent. If Evans gets too wild or his striking isn’t tight, Jackson has the ability to land a clean counter that will show the world for certain if Evans has a chin.
But Evans will almost certainly rise to the occasion as he tries to step in and attempt to avenge Jardine’s loss.
"Much respect to Quinton, he’s one of the superstars of the sport, but of course I think Rashad is going to do well in that fight," Jardine said.
In a way, Jardine has been, for a lack of a better phrase, Team Greg Jackson’s guinea pig for Evans, intentional or not.
Evans has fought Stephan Bonnar, Griffin, Liddell and now Jackson after Jardine fought them.
Evans is 3-0 in those bouts. Jardine is now 2-2.
It’s just another interesting twist in a fight that has all the makings of an epic clash.