Light Heavyweight: Chael Sonnen (29-13-1 MMA, 7-6 UFC) vs. Rashad Evans (20-3-1 MMA, 13-3 UFC)

UFC 167: St. Pierre vs. Hendricks features a very intriguing co-main event between
Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans. While in terms of rankings and title contention this fight holds little relevance, stylistically the fight brings something new to the table for both fighters. With both fighters specializing in wrestling, this fight could go one of two ways – the better wrestler will dictate the action and show his superior grappling skills or the wrestling will cancel out and we will see who possesses the better striking.

Evans, 34, is at a very delicate stage in his UFC career. Having been considered one of the top 3 in the light heavyweight division for so long, the hype behind Evans has slowly died down after losing back to back fights to Jon Jones and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. While he is coming off of a split decision win over Dan Henderson, Evans looked extremely lack luster. He has recently gone on record saying that his old passion and drive for the sport has returned and to expect a new, revitalized fighter but we won’t know until we see him in the cage.

Sonnen, 36, is also in a delicate stage in his fighting career. Sonnen has become the UFC’s “guy” when it comes to marketing, broadcasting, news reporting, and when it comes to fighting – filling in for injured fighters. When Henderson was reported injured and out of his fight for Jon Jones, it was Chael who stepped up in his place. When Nogueira was reported injured and out of his fight with Mauricio Shogun Rua, it was Chael who stepped up in his place. Both of which at light heavyweight despite Sonnen being a middleweight fighter. His overall UFC record is rather unimpressive at 7-6, but the tenacity he brings in the cage presents a very ‘do or die’ dynamic. Sonnen could be the type of fighter that brings out the best in Rashad Evans.

Sonnen hasn’t earned a knock out or TKO since 2007, while Rashad hasn’t earned one since 2011. The likelihood of a knock out from Sonnen seems far less than one from Rashad, but Sonnen is known for surprises. He was able to find success in his striking against the great Anderson Silva, even staggering him with a punch because of his ability to mix up punches with take down attempts. If Rashad is not careful, he could be on the receiving end of some punches that he wouldn’t normally get hit by because of the level changes of Sonnen throwing him off. However, if Rashad’s wrestling is on point and he is able to defend Sonnen’s attempts using his superior athleticism and strength Rashad should find it rather easy to avoid both the striking and top-control of Sonnen.

With neither fighter being well versed in submissions off their back, getting on top of their opponent is detrimental for both fighters in this bout. Sonnen was able to set up a guillotine choke after taking down “Shogun” Rua in his last fight as well as submitting Brian Stann with an arm triangle back at UFC 136 – he is more than capable of pulling off submissions, but they’re entirely dependent on his ability to get on top of his opponent. Unfortunately, Evans hasn’t been submitted in his mixed martial arts career. That said, while Sonnen has shown to be susceptible to submissions Evans himself hasn’t submitted an opponent since 2004.

@MikalMMA ‘s Prediction: Rashad Evans defeats Chael Sonnen by split decision

As mentioned above, this fight comes down to grappling. For Evans, he needs to stay on point mentally to defend the take downs of Sonnen so he can use his superior and more versatile striking to out point Sonnen on the feet. For Sonnen, he needs to set up his take downs with strikes and his strikes with take downs to be able to not only keep up with Evans on his feet but to surprise  him and put him on his back. Unfortunately for Sonnen, I believe this is a scenario where the difference in strength and athleticism will allow Evans to avoid the take downs of Sonnen and pick him apart on the feet. Sonnen will continue to press forward which will score on the judges cards and he won’t go without any success in the striking, potentially stealing a round from Evans, but ultimately Evans will walk away with the decision.