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UFC schedule kicks into high gear with Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans

Next four months are mixed martial arts’ time to shine

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Sam Morris

UFC President Dana White answers questions during a news conference Tuesday, March 27, 2012.

Upcoming UFC events

  • UFC 146: Jones vs. Evans — April 21 in Atlanta
  • UFC on FOX 3: Diaz vs. Miller — May 5 in East Rutherford, N.J.
  • UFC on FUEL TV 3: Korean Zombie vs. Poirier — May 15 in Fairfax, Va.
  • Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier — May 19 in San Jose, Calif.
  • UFC 146: Dos Santos vs. Overeem — May 26 in Las Vegas
  • The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale: Ellenberger vs. Kampmann — June 1 in Las Vegas
  • UFC on FX 3: Johnson vs. McCall — June 8 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • UFC on FX 4: Maynard vs. Guida — June 22 in Atlantic City, N.J.
  • UFC 147: Silva vs. Sonnen II — June 23 in Rio de Janeiro
  • UFC 148: Cruz vs. Faber III — July 7 in Las Vegas
  • UFC 149: Aldo vs. TBA — July 21 in Calgary, Alberta
  • UFC on FOX 4: TBA — August 4 in Los Angeles

UFC 145

How much of a chance do you give Rashad Evans to upset Jon Jones at UFC 145?
No way Jones will lose — 29.3%
Evans will win — 25.7%
It would take a miracle — 25.2%
It's a toss-up — 19.8%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

ATLANTA — There’s a buzz for UFC 145 that other events lack.

Much of the excitement for Saturday’s card at Philips Arena surrounds the light heavyweight championship bout between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans, one of the most hyped mixed martial arts matchups of the year, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Fight fans, more than anything, are jubilant about the return of the UFC. Eight weeks have passed since the UFC’s last pay-per-view offering, an uncharacteristic gap for the Las Vegas-based promotion.

“It’s actually been really nice that I’ve been able to have a little bit of time off here,” UFC President Dana White said recently. “I’ve just been doing ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and catching up on some work, but I’m ready, man.”

The recent fight-less stretch is the longest the UFC has gone without a holding a card in five years. The UFC has never been set up seasonally like other sports, and White vows it never will be.

But Jones vs. Evans feels like the equivalent of the first Monday Night Football game in the NFL or MLB’s Opening Day. Including a Fuel TV event that took place last Saturday in Sweden, the UFC is putting on 13 fight cards from April to the first weekend of August.

“For those of you who thought the break was great, don’t enjoy it too much,” White said. “It’s not going to last. We’re going to be doing more fights.”

The combination of the UFC’s new television deal with Fox and its demand for pay-per-view events, according to White, dictates that the company must hold 42 events each year.

UFC 145 is only its ninth in 2012, so hold on and prepare for the UFC’s assault on the calendar for the next eight months.

White thinks it’s the next step in pushing the sport forward both nationally and globally. The Fox deal exposes fighting to a whole new audience. Nearly 15 million viewers have tuned in to the first two fight cards combined on Fox — and that doesn’t count those who have watched the UFC on sister networks FX and Fuel TV.

A bout like Jones vs. Evans was an easy choice to stir interest and captivate the masses at the beginning of the UFC’s mid-2012 run. The two 205-pound fighters have a combined record of 32-2-1.

Debate has begun as to whether the 24-year-old champion, Jones, is already the best fighter in the world. White has called Jones’ challenger and former champion, Evans, “the most underrated fighter in the UFC” all week.

“This fight has been referred to on several occasions as the Ali vs. Frasier of our sport, of our time,” Jones said. “I think this fight would sell out Madison Square Garden in the first day tickets went on sale. It’s amazing. I think it would sell out Yankee Stadium. There are a lot of people who want to watch this fight.”

A fractured relationship between Jones and Evans, who used to train together, is the top-selling point for UFC 145. People are fascinated by the brother-turned-enemy storyline.

Hopes are high that the tension could make UFC 145 come in as one of the year’s highest-grossing pay-per-views.

“Let’s be honest here, it’s a fight,” Evans said. “People aren’t buying it because they want to see two guys fight who only have nice things to say about each other. They want to see two guys fight who don’t like each other.”

In a break from standard procedure, White isn’t around to monitor the fight-week activities in the Peach State. His schedule won’t allow it.

As soon as UFC on Fuel TV 2 ended in Sweden on Saturday, White planned to fly to Brazil to spend a few business days there. He’s then slated to return to Las Vegas to host “The Ultimate Fighter Live” on FX Friday night before getting into Atlanta right before the fights Saturday.

He’s going to have to get used to the hectic travel. With the way the UFC has booked events the rest of the year, it’s how White will spend most of his weeks.

“My schedule gets crazy now,” White said. “Now it gets real. That’s the way it’s going to be for the rest of the year.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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