Lakers-Celtics…Tar Heels-Blue Devils…Redskins-Cowboys…Wolverines-Buckeyes…Yankees-Red Sox! The aforementioned pairings are the most intense rivalries in their respective sports. If you think this is where the list ends, think again. The Ultimate Fighting Championship could be the entity responsible for birthing professional sports’ latest grudge match, Rashad “Sugar” Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
The beef came to fruition at UFC 96, March 7th, 2009. Jackson just won a split decision over Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine, who happens to be Evans’ friend and fellow product of Jackson’s Submission Fighting Camp (No connection to Rampage). As if watching his friend suffer defeat at the hands of Jackson wasn’t enough, then UFC Light Heavyweight champion Evans, who was in attendance, heard Jackson utter “I WANT MY BELT BACK” during a post-fight interview with UFC analyst Joe Rogan. Evans obliged, entered the octagon and got into Jackson’s (also, a former Light Heavyweight champion) face and a rivalry was born. Jackson promised he would get “his” belt back. Evans offered him the first punch once the eventual meeting became official and the dialogue that ensued was fueled with four-lettered interjections and insults. The verbal jabs spilled over into Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter, as the two were pitted against each other as team captains. While they had their share of “almosts” in confrontations, the two were able to suppress their anger knowing their night with destiny would come.
The two were originally set to do battle at UFC 98, but Rampage had to pull out due to jaw surgery. He was replaced by Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida, whose shocking win over Evans became another monkey wrench in the heated foes’ plans. Now that derailments are in the UFC Nation’s rear view, Sugar and Rampage will finally meet in Mixed Martial Arts’ most anticipated first-time match up to date.
The question now is who wins? Rampage is in a zone to the likes of which I’ve never seen before. The latest installment of UFC Primetime captures the Wolfslair Fight Camp product training harder than ever before. His chin is rock solid, his standing & punching game can’t be rivaled by many and his wrestling is ferocious. Remember the aforementioned date? Not only was March 7th of a year ago the beginning of a bitter relationship, it was also the last time Rampage did battle inside the octagon. Evans too has a mean wrestling game and his punching power doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Unfortunately, Machida exposed his chin at UFC 98, and unless it has toughened up since then, it would behoove him to guard his grill. The best thing for both fighters is to fight their respective fights and not fall victim to the other’s manipulation. Barring my loyalty to Evans, Rampage’s 448 day layoff (The longest in UFC history) rings a tone of octagon rust. With that said, I’m looking for Sugar to earn a second shot at the sports’ most transitional title.
The date is May 29th! The time, 10pm! The place, MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, or in front of a television set, via Pay Per View. Be on the lookout for my UFC 114 recap, soon to follow.
By Antoine Hoffman