After a year of trash-talking and grandstanding following their coaching gigs on “The Ultimate Fighter 10,” Evans jumped out to an early lead after clipping Jackson with a quick right hand in the opening seconds of the fight. Jackson stumbled across the mat as Evans chased after him, but “Rampage” never went down and used the extended clinch time against the cage to regain his wits. Evans used the threat of the same punch again late in the round to set up a takedown attempt, which secured him a 10-9 lead through one round.
In the second, Evans again used the overhand right to set up the takedown attempts, and again as in the first round, the action often stalled while in the clinch against the cage. Jackson’s sprawl allowed him to stay upright for the round but Evans’ relentless pressure kept the ex-champs in close quarters. Often fighting from the clinch, Jackson couldn’t get the distance he needed for his preferred striking, and Evans went up two rounds to none.
In the third and final frame, Evans resorted to a stick-and-move game plan while shooting in and out of his opponent’s range. While initially proving too quick for his opponent, Evans saw the momentum of the fight turn on a dime when Jackson clipped and dropped him with a left hook just a minute into the round. The fight came dangerously close to a stoppage when Jackson unloaded a powerful barrage of blows, and referee Herb Dean was clearly mere moments away from stopping the fight.
“I was fighting through it,” Evans said. “In my mind, I was like, ‘I’m not giving up.’”
Evans miraculously survived the onslaught and got back to his feet, though he was still clearly wobbly and feeling the effects of the barrage. But either unable or unwilling to close the distance, Jackson remained at a distance, which allowed Evans time to recover. It was a crucial mistake that Jackson’s cornermen loudly screamed for him to correct. By then, though, it was too late, and Evans took another round on two of the three judges’ cards.
In the end, he earned the unanimous-decision win via scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28.
“The game plan was simple: not have a game plan at all,” Evans said. “At first he was sharp, but he kind of slowed down. I was able to use my speed.”
With the loss, Jackson, who hadn’t fought in 15 months due to a short-lived retirement and movie project, cost himself a title shot that UFC president Dana White guaranteed to the winner a few weeks ago. It also drops his overall record to 30-8 overall and 5-2 in the UFC.
Evans, now on deck for a shot at recently crowned champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, improves to 15-1-1 (10-1-1 UFC).