Rashad Evans and former training partner Jon Jones are building up what should be an epic fight. The two have gone back and forth in the media, gone nose to nose in a Las Vegas night club, and are now bringing the sticky issue of race into their pre-fight trash talk. In an homage to Muhammad Ali, Evans has accused Jones of acting like a "white boy." That formula did wonders for building interest in Ali's fight with Joe Frazier. It's still compelling decades later in a whole new racial environment. I can't remember a fight in recent UFC history being built up so masterfully.
The problem? There is no fight on the horizon.
Jones sent shockwaves through the MMA community by breaking the unwritten rule at Jackson/Winklejohn MMA: teammates don't fight teammates. A hurt Rashad Evans responded with bold words. The fight was on and the internet was abuzz. Jones, who despite the UFC's best efforts hasn't quite caught fire with the sports' fans, finally looked to have the fight that could propel him into the mainstream. And then - chaos.
First Jones cancelled the fight, with manager Malki Kawa revealing that Jones needed surgery on his hand. That was disappointing - but reasonable. Jones absolutely should be at his best when he fights an athlete of Evans's caliber. Things got a little confusing. Jones later decided not to have surgery after all, waiting until Evans was booked into a fight with prospect Phil Davis before making his announcement. Jones was going to fight without getting his hand fixed - but it wouldn't be against Rashad. Kawa filled in the details on MMA Nation last night:
Every doctor that the UFC sent us to recommended for him to have surgery. He has tears in the thumb, he’s got torn ligaments in his thumb, and he has some other activity in the hand in between the thumb and the forefinger and below the thumb as well that was causing him pain making a fist. It hinders his use of his hand. After the Shogun fight, it got completely jacked up, unbearable pain, the hand was bad, so based on that, the UFC sent us to get some tests done," Kawa said. "As we were getting the tests done, we say a doctor in New York and a doctor in LA and the reports went to the UFC doctor which is Dr. Saunders. All three doctors that saw him said he needed to have surgery. Jon never wanted to have surgery. Jon wanted to try and gut it out. The problem was that his hand was really hurting. As time kept on going, the pain started to go down and the swelling subsided, so when we went to go see the surgeon, the surgery was set for two Thursdays ago in Vegas the week of the summit
...The day that Rashad came out and said Jon was faking the surgery, we were supposed to be in surgery that morning. What happened was we went to the pre-op which is with the actual surgeon. We weren’t getting anymore opinions. This was not a 'let's go check the hand and see what happened now'. This was 'Hello surgeon, I’m Jon Jones, nice to meet you. Tell us what you’re gonna do and how long we’re gonna be out and what we need to do.' And when he started testing Jon’s hand, he said 'Jon, considering you’re a fighter, you’re probably going to hurt this hand again and it’s probably going to get worse.'
Let me explain this surgery. It’s so invasive that he’s gotta cut a piece out of his wrist to tie the ligaments after he drills two holes into the bone. It was a lot of work for his thumb and at the end of the day, there was no guarantee that this would never come back. So he was like "when I do these surgeries, I usually do them for someone who lost complete mobility in their thumb and it’s just unbearable. Is it unbearable today?" And Jon was like "this motion doesn’t hurt and that motion doesn’t hurt but this one does. But with more time, it’s possible that the pain goes away. The surgeon recommended that Jon does not have surgery.
It's a decision that has cost the UFC a mega fight - or at least delayed it. Evans hasn't fought in almost a calendar year and the UFC is holding firm to his August bout with Phil Davis. Kawa and Jones are open to an Evans fight, but not if it means keeping Jones out of the cage for months at a time:
After we found out we weren’t having surgery, we went to (UFC President) Dana (White) and asked to see if we could get a fight in September or October based on the timeline of what the doctor said and what they expect of Jon’s hand," Kawa said. "Dana said he’ll try and fulfill that request. If he does, that’s why in my twitter feed I said it probably won’t be Rashad because they said they wouldn’t take Rashad out of the fight with Phil Davis. Since he’s fighting Phil Davis in August, we’re thinking Rampage or Lyoto or someone in the 205 division who is up there that would be worthy of getting a title shot. Now, lets say that Rampage gets hurt and can’t do it, Lyoto gets hurt and can’t do it, whoever they pick can’t do it, then I have to assume the next person he’ll fight will be Rashad. The only reason why I’m not willing to wait for Rashad to fight in November, December, or January; lets say something happens to Rashad or Phil in that fight and now Jon would be out of the cage for seven, eight, nine months. I don’t want to do that either so that being said, we requested a fight immediately and if we get our wish, we’ll be back in the cage hopefully no later than October.
The UFC has felt the pain of waiting too long for mega fights before. It missed out on Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie at UFC 3 by putting them on opposite sides of a multi-fighter tournament. They made the same error with Shamrock and "Tank" Abbott when that was the hottest fight in the game. Is it a mistake not to book Jones-Evans at the first available opportunity? I think it is. Lightning doesn't always strike twice. This feud is smoldering - now. It has the potential to ignite Jones into the mainstream - now. I don't think you can risk that opportunity by betting Evans will dispatch with Davis. Sure, if Evans and Jones both make it through their next fight, the super fight is still there. Even if one or both lose, it's still a compelling grudge match. But it will never be a hotter fight than it is right now.