Most of the analysis for Jones Vs Evans at UFC 145 naturally focuses on the physical talents of Jon Jones and Rashad Evans. Many questions are pondered about range, wrestling and style but actually I believe it’s the psychological side that is most interesting and potentially where Jones has an even bigger advantage than he does in the physical match up (scarily for Evans who may have at least hoped to have an advantage in this area).
obviously this requires a fair amount of educated guess work as none of us really know what’s going on inside the mind of the champion and the challenger but there are clues from the various bits of media available that suggest Jones is mentally in a better position and possibly better trained and prepared. This is perhaps most telling when you hear Jones and Evans talking about the threat that their opposite number poses. When Jon Jones is asked about Rashad Evans he speaks like someone who has done honest analysis of his opponent and planned for the problem at hand
“I know the ways I can lose this fight”
He says with a healthy dose of reality check. When Rashad is questioned in a similar manner he seems like someone who is trying to convince himself of his own answer
“I don’t believe the Jon Jones hype, I know what Jones is planning to do”
Hype or otherwise the mental game for Evans is a difficult one. If you’re on the Jones coaching staff then you can be very open and honest about the prospect facing your man without making them sound like an unbeatable monster – strong hands at close range, powerful double legs, good head movement etc. Jones can go though this analysis piece and feel positive about how he should prepare and have awareness about the areas where he will have an advantage.
If you’re on camp Evans it’s a very different proposition. If you sit down and do honest analysis of Jon Jones with your fighter you’re quickly going to start building up a picture that may fill your fighters head with demons – don’t stay at range, don’t let him get off first, don’t let him establish an upper body clinch, watch out for the spinning elbow, watch out for the fake attacks, try and take him down and hold him down etc. There are a lot of strengths that you need to be honest about while somehow trying not to fill your fighters head with anxiety and doubt.
Understandably it seems as if the coaching staff have chosen to go the other way, they’ve perhaps focussed on convincing Rashad that Jones isn’t the formidable foe that everyone is making out. ‘don’t believe the hype Suga’, ‘you know how this guy fights’ and ‘you’re too quick to get caught by that’ are all the kinds of things that I can imagine Evans trainers saying in order to build his belief. The problem is that if one camp has been entirely honest in their appraisal and the other has has to hold back a little and try and down play their opponents abilities then there’s only one fighter that’s going to potentially get a harsh reality check in the cage.
If Jones has been told to watch out for the double leg and he gets taken down with it it won’t be anything that he wasn’t expecting and prepared for. If Evans has been told that he can out wrestle the champ and he can’t then his confidence will quickly start to drain. Ultimately the difficultly in preparing for someone like Jones is that even Jones himself probably doesn’t know what he’s going to do as his versatility will allow him to take the opportunities as he sees them. Evans on the other hand doesn’t have such a luxury, he’ll have to close the range continuously on the champion if he wants to engage with his strengths which ultimately limits his tactical options and makes it far easier for Jones to prepare for.
The longer the fight goes the more a reality focused mental approach will be an advantage. If Evans can’t land a bomb and upset the odds by finishing the fight in round one then the reality check for Evans in round two and beyond will hit hard ultimately leading to a dominant Jones finish.