Sunday, April 22, 2012 | 1:30 a.m.
ATLANTA — Rashad Evans was supposed to have the best chance, and maybe the only fighter with a chance, to beat Jon Jones.
In the aftermath of Jones encountering no trouble while running over Evans in a unanimous decision win Saturday at Philips Arena, there’s a question worth asking. can anyone in the light heavyweight division dethrone Jones as champion? can anyone in all of the UFC even beat Jones?
“Now the big thing is everyone says Dan Henderson will definitely beat Jon Jones,” UFC President Dana White said after looking at his twitter feed. “So, I like that. It’s not a bad thing.”
White officially announced Henderson as Jones’ next opponent following UFC 145. He’s thrilled because, as a promoter, it’s his job to put together fights that will both stir interest and challenge his stars.
But to favor anyone over Jones at this point seems irrational. In Henderson, Jones will find a fighter with more powerful striking and possibly better wrestling than Evans.
But the 32-year old Evans is younger and faster than the 41-year-old Henderson. “Suga” also held advantages over Jones that no other opponent ever will.
Evans had trained Jones before. and he was in the 24-year-old’s head.
“Rashad did big-brother a few times when we used to work out together, so having that in the back of my head made me more hesitant,” Jones said. “I really had to fight myself in this fight as well as fighting Rashad Evans.”
Evans pushed Jones to a place he had never been before in forcing the champion to fight a full five rounds. It was the first time since UFC 94 — in a three-round fight against Stephan Bonnar — that one of Jones’ fights went the distance.
Despite all of that, Jones wrecked Evans. one judge gave him every round, while the other two saw Jones winning four out of five.
Jones never let Evans get close enough to hit him with any force. He used aggravating leg kicks and a sharp jab to keep Evans on the outside. Jones also repeatedly threw elbows, which left a welt on Evans’ forehead, to prevent Evans from shooting in for takedowns.
“Jones definitely has a talent that is different than anyone else’s,” Evans said.
If anyone would lead the crusade to declare Jones beatable, however, it’s Evans. He said as much in post-fight interviews.
Evans suggested some areas of Jones’ game had gotten worse since they trained together more than a year ago. Evans kept bringing up moments where he felt like he could have done something more.
“I got out-slicked,” Evans said. “I thought I was going to be able to get him. I felt his timing was off and his timing is never really off. I felt like he was nervous.”
That’s what should be so disconcerting to Henderson and the rest of Jones’ potential challengers. In a rare night where the champion wasn’t at his best, he still routed the division’s second-best fighter and someone who had only lost once before.
“I learned that I need to trust myself a little bit more and not be intimidated by what people have and just trust what I have,” Jones said.
Jones said he took a lesson like that out of every fight. He’s now beaten four former champions — Evans, Lyoto Machida, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua — in the past 13 months.
White noted the value of the experience Jones has gained in each of those fights. Good luck, Henderson.
“Dan Henderson is an awesome opponent,” Jones said. “He’s a winner. He has a huge fan base. I’m sure the haters are going to come right away, which I’m OK with. There are going to be a lot of things to conquer in this fight.”
But what challenges has Jones not conquered since signing with the UFC as a 20-year-old? There’s another question, one that may not have any answers.
Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or . Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.