Mixed Martial Arts

Rashad Evans faces Thiago Silva in return at UFC 108

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The Canadian Press
1/1/2010 8:35:46 PM
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LAS VEGAS -- The quest for the title starts anew Saturday night for Rashad Evans, whose reign as 205-pound champion was cut painfully short by Lyoto Machida.

Evans takes another Brazilian light-heavyweight in Thiago Silva at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the main event of UFC 108, a mixed martial arts card available on pay-per-view but has been ravaged by injury.

For Evans, the matchup is a chance to remind people he is an elite fighter. For Silva, it's an opportunity against a quality opponent to prove that he is championship calibre.

Evans (18-1-1) has had seven long months to think about that UFC 98 knockout loss to Machida. And during filming of Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter," rival coach Quinton (Rampage) Jackson never let him forget it.

"Actually that was probably the most healing part that helped me get over the loss," Evans said of Jackson's jibes. "When you've got somebody constantly making fun of you . . . it kind of got you to laugh a little bit at the whole situation. And sometimes laughing at yourself is probably the best medicine. You get to look at it from a different point of view. Because to you it's very serious, but when somebody makes light of the situation or just makes you get to see it differently, in a different light, it helps you get over it."

Evans has also consulted training partner Georges St-Pierre, upset by Matt Serra in his first title defence. The Montreal welterweight star, who like Evans says the trappings of the title affected him, went on to retool and reclaim his championship.

In the leadup to the Silva fight, the 30-year-old Evans has talked about rediscovering his hunger and focus.

Citing time spent with his coaches and new training partners on "The Ultimate Fighter," Evans said the TV show was "a rejuvenating process."

"It allowed me to simplify my game a little bit more and just touch up on some things that I've long forgotten about," he said. "And to just get back to what I need to do to get on the road to victory."

That may include a return to his roots. Evans was a wrestler at Michigan State before he turned to MMA but has looked to other weapons in recent fights.

He averaged nearly eight takedown attempts per fight in his first seven UFC bouts. In his last three, he attempted one takedown against Forrest Griffin and none against Chuck Liddell and Machida.

Evans, whose takedown success rate is 58 per cent, fell in love with the power of his hands.

Returning wrestling to his arsenal can only help Evans, who has yet to attempt a submission in 117 minutes two seconds of action in the UFC. That's a record among active UFC fighters.

There is plenty of stake Saturday for the charismatic Evans. White has said he needs to beat Silva to ensure that his grudge match with Jackson happens.

Evans also apparently likes the Silva matchup, accepting the fight after turning down a chance to meet Randy (The Natural) Couture at UFC 105.

Like Evans, Silva's lone loss is to Machida, who manhandled the Brazilian before finishing him in four minutes 49 seconds. Silva has since bounced back with a knockout win over Keith (The Dean of Mean) Jardine, a close friend and training partner of Evans.

Like others before him, Silva (14-1) exploited Jardine's defence, flooring him with a counter punch as Jardine threw a big left.

Silva, 27, celebrates his wins with a throat-slitting gesture and rubbed it in a little more against Jardine, standing over him after the knockout and pointing down at him.

"That wasn't directly related to Jardine," he said later through an interpreter. "I just came back from a big loss and it was just my standard point to say 'OK, I'm back.' "

That explanation may not cut the mustard with Evans.

Silva, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, has hinted he too is refining his game, but more on the mental side by learning from his mistakes and being "a smarter fighter."

But apart from Machida, his style has worked for him. Silva has finished off his opponents in 13 of his 14 wins, including 12 by stoppages due to strikes.

Only four of his 15 fights have made it past the first round and his six UFC bouts average three minutes 48 seconds -- fifth shortest among UFC fighters in the modern era with more than three bouts.

At six foot one, Silva is two inches taller than Evans. And he has an excellent takedown defence, resisting 77 per cent of his opponent's attempts, compared to 55 per cent for the average fighter.

Still it's hard to count Evans out. He comes from a great camp, with coach Greg Jackson masterminding his fights.

In Season 2 of "The Ultimate Fighter," Evans did not impress during the first day of training. Coaches Rich Franklin, Matt Hughes and UFC president Dana White thought he could be the weakest link in the cast.

But Franklin changed his opinion on Day 2. "I saw something in Rashad that I liked," Franklin recalled.

Evans went on to win the show, fighting out of his weight class as a heavyweight.

Evans is also highly motivated this time out. He says not a day has gone by since the Machida fight that he has not thought about losing his title.

"It's something that you never forget because it helps you harness your focus whenever you get a little distracted and get off-trail,' he said. "On those days where you don't feel like training and you want to take it easy but then you think about how you lost and then you're like 'You know what, let me go in there and do a couple more rounds' so that way it doesn't happen again."

Saturday's card has been a disaster in terms of injuries.

The main event was slated to be the Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin heavyweight title fight that was pushed back from UFC 106 in November.

When Lesnar did not recover from a serious digestive illness, the showcase bout was switched to heavyweights Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Cain Velasquez, only for Nogueira to be sidelined by a serious staph infection.

Other fighters to fall off the card are Steve Cantwell, Carlos Condit, Gabriel Gonzaga, Tyson Griffin, Rory Markham, and Sean Sherk.

Lightweight Jim Miller is on his third opponent in the form of Duane (Bang) Ludwig after Griffin and Sherk both pulled out injured.

But there are still fights of note on the card. Canadian lightweight Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout faces a stiff test in Joe Lauzon while rising Brazilian heavyweight star Junior Dos Santos takes on former Pride fighter Gilbert Yvel.

And English banger Paul (Semtex) Daley faces submission ace Dustin Hazelett in the co-main event.

Joe and Dan Lauzon make UFC history by becoming the first brothers to fight on the same card.

Dan's fight against lightweight Cole Miller will be shown live on Spike TV (9 p.m. ET) along with the welterweight matchup of Martin Kampman and Jacob Volkmann.

Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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