This has to be considered a promotional blow to the UFC. According to multiple reports, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones is out of his fight with Rashad Evans at UFC 133. Pennsylvania's own Phil Davis is stepping in for the injured champion. To wit:
Put the grudge match on hold. Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press broke news on Twitter that Jon Jones has pulled out of his first title defense against former teammate Rashad Evans. John Morgan of MMA Junkie added that Jones "is facing a lengthy recovery from a torn right-hand ligament suffered in his title win."
Phil Davis will step in to fight Evans, which will do little to dispel the inability of some fans to differentiate between Jones and himself. There has been no official announcement, but MMA Junkie reports that the bout is expected to take place at UFC 133 in Philadelphia.
The match-up between Evans and Davis is noteworthy. Two former wrestlers. One former champion and a rising contender. But there's little the two can do to replicate the driving force that the narrative between Jones and Evans carried. Evans vs. Davis is intriguing and will make for an excellent fight, but there's no real substitute for what was likely to be a blockbuster of a main event for the UFC.
And now this fight has its own set of questions. Tomas Rios makes an important point:
The UFC baffles me sometimes. They go from slotting Davis against Hamill to booking him against Nogueira and Evans over 4 months.
Substitutions on cards are by definition non-ideal circumstances, but there's a question of what track Davis is or was on. Was it the prospect track of gaining valuable experience against increasingly challenging opposition in more demanding scenarios? Or is it now the contender track where Davis is fighting the elite of the division to earn a title shot? The two tracks do have some points of overlap, but the sudden change from prospect to contender seems strange.
Some would argue Davis' defeat of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira proves Davis is ready for increasingly difficult challenges, notably Rashad Evans. I'm not so convinced. I tend to think Nogueira is enormously talented, but shop worn and in terms of ranking, likely overrated as an opponent. Davis' win is still excellent, but didn't inspire confidence that he was ready to move to the next stage in his career.
Part of Davis' run on the prospect track was to give him time to develop his other skills, notably his striking, that needed sharp improvement before they could be reliable weapons fight in, fight out. He seems to be losing that latitude now.
As for Evans, Jones' injury puts him in an unenviable position. He waited on Shogun until he himself was injured. His teammate takes his place and wins the title against the man he was originally waiting for. Then Evans is forced to distance himself from said teammate and team. Evans gets his title shot only to now lose it again. But he can't put off fighting due to his long period of inactivity. So now he must face Davis, a prospect turned contender overnight. Evans could lose his title shot, but has much more to lose than that should he be upended by Davis. In short, Evans wins only stats quo with a win over a very tough and unheralded opponent after sitting out much of the last year.
Not so fun.