On the heels of a three-fight winning streak, you would be forgiven to think that Rashad Evans has done enough to earn a shot at the title he lost to Lyoto Machida back in 2009. In fact, Evans accomplished that feat after besting arch rival Quinton Jackson in 2010, and then again after crushing Tito Ortiz last summer. And yet, a bizarre sequence of unfortunate events left the former light heavyweight champion having to do it all over again, this time against one of the sport’s most promising up-and-coming prospects, Phil Davis.

Light Heavyweight Fight: Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis

Undoubtedly the most highly decorated wrestler Evans has faced in his MMA career, Davis is a major threat even in Rashad’s comfort zone. Historically, Evans’ wrestling has never been an insurmountable obstacle. He was never one to finish clean double legs in the middle of the cage, and instead relied on pushing opponents against the fence and get the takedown from there. This has been a double edged sword, as Evans has struggled to enjoy too much time in top position due to his foes often finding opportunities to wall-walk. His more wrestling oriented fights turned into constant battles for position, as witnessed in his bout with Michael Bisping, which saw the Brit constantly escape from the bottom and turn the tables on Evans. Likewise, Thiago Silva was repeatedly able to regain his feet and prevented Evans from doing anything significant from the top, and it almost came back to haunt Rashad when he was badly rocked late in the final round. It wasn’t until the “Rampage” Jackson fight that Evans showed marked improvement in that regard, as for the first time in his career, the former Team Jackson product was able to use his ever improving boxing to set up takedowns. His transitions and level changes in particular gave his opponent all sorts of trouble, as Jackson never quite knew what to expect.

Against Davis, Evans is unlikely to find too much joy getting the former “All American” on his back for any extended period of time, as not only will “Mr. Wonderful” match Evans in that department, but he is an excellent scrambler as well. In fairness, Davis’ wrestling in MMA hasn’t been as dominant as one would have hoped, as he found himself continuously struggling to control the distance inside the cage. That is a direct result of Davis’ raw striking, which is reliant on a few kicks from distance but very little boxing, as his lack of confidence in his hands forces him to stay on the outside and fight “rangy”, which in turn often leads to him shooting from too far on the outside.

Davis makes up for that with excellent chain wrestling, highlighted by his ability to easily transition from one takedown attempt to the next, as well as some tremendous scrambling. Whether that will be enough to trouble Evans however, is doubtful, as “Sugar” excels in the scrambles as well, and despite not being exactly impossible to take down, he is very difficult to control on the ground, and knows how to create openings to get back to his vertical base.

This also negates one of Davis’ main strengths, and that is his ability to land submissions from scrambles. He possesses excellent front headlock control, and uses it to get dominant positions or transition into choke variations. Evans however, is too seasoned to fall victim to a guillotine or anaconda choke, and he would have undoubtedly watched enough tape on his opponent to be aware of the danger he poses in that position.

All of this could well turn the fight into a wrestling stalemate, and that is where Evans’ superior striking comes into play. Rashad normally has two approaches to his stand-up: he either patiently sits back and waits for the opportunity to land a counter right hand, or he moves forward aggressively, puts combinations together, and transitions to takedowns. The former will be a difficult proposition in this one, as Davis isn’t one to let his hands go and leave openings for counters, and Rashad will have to fight with more urgency in his stand-up. This will be detrimental to his chances of landing a fight-ending blow, as Evans’ strikes are considerably more effective when he has time to sit on his punches and counter. However, given the lack of volume and accuracy in Davis’ offense on the feet, Evans won’t find it too hard to out-land him by moving forward, closing the distance, landing some shots to the head and body, throwing plenty of knees to the thighs and dirty boxing.

As long as Evans doesn’t tire himself out by fruitlessly pushing Davis against the fence, he should be able to win enough rounds with that approach. Unless Davis shows enough improvement in his striking to where he can use it to set up his takedowns, he will have a hard time out-wrestling Evans for five rounds.  It won’t be pretty, and it could well turn into a lackluster clinch-fest, but Evans will be able to land just enough strikes from close-quarters to earn the decision.

Official Prediction: Rashad Evans to defeat Phil Davis by Decision