For Davis and Evans, injury now biggest foe

On top of things: Phil Davis can state his case as a light heavyweight contender -- if he can stay healthy. Mark J. Rebilas for ESPN.com

At this point, the only thing standing between Phil Davis, Rashad Evans and an audience of millions might be the limitations of the human body.

As a flurry of fight bookings bring the UFC’s plans for early 2012 into focus this week, ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto reports the highest profile slot of all will fall to Davis and Evans, who are expected to headline the fight company’s first “official” live show on network television on Jan. 28.

For a couple of guys who’ve recently seen their plans sidetracked by injury, this could be the big break they need.

Of course, to reap the benefits, they’ll have to show up at the United Center in Chicago in one piece. The way things have been going for Evans, Davis and for the 205-pound division at large, that may be the biggest trick of all.

The pair was originally supposed to meet as a stand-in main event at UFC 133 in August, after champion Jon Jones bowed out with an injured hand. Fewer than four weeks before the show was set to go on however, Davis also withdrew after hurting his knee. Evans then ran roughshod over late replacement Tito Ortiz and appeared to finally earn his second opportunity at the title, only to have it snatched away and given to Lyoto Machida when it was revealed he’d injured his thumb in the process.

Leading up to their previous bout, the 9-0 Davis had been insistent a win over Evans would make him the No. 1 contender, but while they’ve been out licking their wounds, things have gotten a lot less clear cut. Dan Henderson’s victory over Mauricio Rua at UFC 139 now has some looking at him as the next in line to face the winner of Jones versus Machida.

For either Evans or Davis to leapfrog Hendo in the constantly shifting light heavyweight queue, they’ll need to do something great. Luckily for them, a stellar performance in front of a worldwide television audience might just fit the bill.

After the promotion’s initial “teaser” show on the Fox network peaked at around 8.8 million viewers earlier this month -- over 10 once you consider DVRs and whatnot, the company says -- even more people are no doubt expected to tune in for the UFC’s first full-length show. That obviously means big things for Evans and Davis, who stand to benefit from a complete slate of televised fights leading into theirs, not to mention the fact their bout will likely go longer than 64 seconds.

Both guys have personalities that will be easy to promote and their stand-out collegiate backgrounds make them exactly the kind of fighters the UFC should be trying to spotlight for a mainstream audience. Put all of that together and it appears likely that Evans versus Davis ends up being one of the most-watched fights in UFC history.

With one good performance, Evans stands to bust out of the doghouse he's been in since sitting out 10 months during 2010-11, waiting for a title shot that never materialized. Meanwhile, Davis could go from under-the-radar rookie to household name and either fighter could earn a big money pay-per-view fight against Jones in the process.

The ball is teed up for a homerun here. These guys just have to show up healthy enough to swing the bat.