UFC 108: Rashad Evans Vs Thiago Silva: light-heavyweight bout
Rashad Evans 4/9, Thiago Silva 13/8.
The light-heavyweight division has long been one of the most competitive in the UFC, as evidenced by the routine changing-hands of the Championship belt. No fighter was able to retain the title beyond a single defence between 2007 and 2009, and one man to temporarily call it his was Rashad Evans.
The 30 year old won his place at the head of the division by beating Forrest Griffin, making good on the promise he had shown in winning The Ultimate Fighter 2 as an under-sized heavyweight, and taking a record of 14-0-1 into the title matchup.
The Greg Jackson-coached fighter's record includes wins over Chuck Liddell and Brit Michael Bisping. Following his win over Griffin, he took on fellow unbeaten fighter Lyoto Machida in his first title defence. This fight saw Evans crumble to the canvas following a concerted attack by the Karate stylist, an emphatic knockout defeat.
Evans will want to put memories of his first MMA loss - if he has any, given its nature - far behind him.
Rashad's strengths lie in his wrestling and boxing ability, and a refusal to be bowed by reputations - Evans fought former champion Tito Ortiz to a draw at UFC 73, and, entering as a heavy underdog, was able to ice Chuck Liddell with an overhand right at UFC 88.
He has taken his confidence to extremes in occasionally showboating in the Octagon, most notably during TUF when chastised by opposing coach Matt Hughes, and also when facing Forrest Griffin for the belt - check 1:20 into the second round. He must keep these instincts for playing to the crowd in check against the heavy-handed Brazilian Thiago Silva.
Silva comes into this fight following a win over Keith Jardine, and with a similar record to Evans - 14-1, his only loss at the hands of Rashad's sole conqueror, Lyoto Machida. He has a lesser calibre of opponent behind him, with wins over Houston Alexander, Tomasz Drwal and James Irvin, but the conclusive nature of these victories leaves no doubt that Silva deserves to be competing at this level.
The average fight length of Silva's bouts prior to the loss to Machida was just 101 seconds, entering the second round only once in his last 11 fights and winning nine of these by KO or TKO - and the last four victories have all come via punches.
Silva's approach is typically based on aggression and pushing the pace of fights, in the style of his hero, Wanderlei Silva. Thiago has fierce punching ability, throwing varied shots and preferring shorter, harder to block strikes to the telegraphed overhand "swinging for the fences". He will look to close the distance to land his damaging blows.
Silva's boxing and eagerness to engage has won him many fights, but it counted against him when facing a superior tactician in Machida.
Evans, as demonstrated through his natural coaching ability on TUF 10, has a more cerebral approach to fighting. The former pupil of UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn will be thoroughly prepared to remain patient and wait for the right moment to strike, as he did against Forrest Griffin, absorbing Griffin's blows in the early rounds before exploding on him in the third. Silva was meant to fight Evans back at UFC 84, prior to Rashad being bumped up to face Liddell, which led to his title shot.
Silva will be looking to show UFC president Dana White that he picked the wrong man to move up the bill by subjecting Rashad to another KO defeat. However, I see Rashad Evans' wrestling and ability to control where the fight takes place as the deciding factors in this fight and expect him to firm up his credentials for an eventual shot at the winner of Machida-Rua, should he win the much-hyped grudge match against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson set to follow a victory here.
I think the 4/9 available represents good value for an Evans victory, most likely a unanimous decision at the end of a cagey, but entertaining three rounds.