For as dominant as Jon Jones appeared to be Saturday night while earning a lopsided unanimous decision against Rashad Evans, the challenger had a glimmer of hope to win the fight. And if Evans goes home to cry like he joked he would during the UFC 145 postfight news conference, that'll be why.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion wouldn't reclaim his title for several reasons. First on that list of course: He fought Jones. The current king is on a tremendous run, and by all rights stands unbeaten after 17 fights regardless of what the rules say about what went down against Matt Hamill.
Had Evans done everything right he still probably wouldn't have won, such is the state of Jones' natural ability, tenacity and preparation. But that doesn't change this fact: Even if it was but a brief moment, Evans must have felt like victory was possible.
Following a brutally rough second period in which he was knocked around the cage by the champion's elbows to a degree I'd never seen before, Evans was in worst-case-scenario mode. He couldn't decipher range or timing and Jones had settled in. The challenger said later this was because he fell flat, which, if you wish, could be added to the list of reasons he didn't win, but that's not reflective of reality. Evans didn't fall flat in the biggest fight of his life so much as Jones rendered him ineffective.
That is, until early in the third round, when, after taking all those "sneaky" elbows to the face, Evans slammed home an overhand right that knocked the champion back. The punch didn't "hurt," Jones said, but it certainly fell within the limits of what's required to wobble him.
If Evans goes home and cries, it will be because this was the lone sequence in the fight when the notion of winning didn't seem completely off-base. And, quite possibly, it's the closet he’ll ever come to beating his former teammate and rival.
While two of the three judges scored the first round for Evans, I thought the third was his best stretch and gave it to him. Perhaps that was aided by the fact that the challenger managed to halt Jones' growing momentum and seize some for himself.
Hey, maybe the idea that Evans really had a crack at the fight is illusory. I don’t want to overstate this. It’s not as if Evans rocked Jones, then let him off the hook. He didn't, in part because the champion can take a punch.
The point is, Jones felt Evans’ power. The dynamic of the fight was there to shift in the challenger’s favor, and yet it didn’t. Instead, during the championship rounds, Evans accomplished little to establish any momentum. Or, as it were, simply go for broke. He fought as if beating Jones and reclaiming the title weren’t as motivational as he made them out to be in the lead up to the bout.
Evans essentially had one situation to feel good about over the 25-minute bout, yet in the end that punch could very well be the thing that makes him shed tears -- it represents a wasted chance. He needed to win this fight Saturday. A rematch won't bode well for Evans. Jones will only improve technically and mature physically in the time between fights. His confidence continues to mushroom, too. Perhaps Evans could pick up some tricks in the gym, but his speed won’t increase. He won’t get any taller. His arms won’t lengthen by 10 inches.
Jones is on the upswing; Evans, on the downswing.
And in a game that requires making the most of one’s chances, the challenger didn’t help himself very much when he could have.