You might not have been aware this, but Rashad Evans, the former UFC light-heavyweight champion, fights again at middleweight this Saturday (August 5) in Mexico City. It’s a low-key undercard bout against Sam Alvey, his second of the year, and comes close to a decade after he won his UFC 205-pound title. If he loses, it will be Evans’ fourth loss in a row.
For ‘Suga’ Rashad, it hasn’t always been like this. It hasn’t always been this desperate and this quiet. Nine years ago, in fact, he was on top of the world, the best light-heavyweight on the planet, and even in recent years, before hitting his three-fight skid, Evans had at least shown an ability to hang with fellow contenders.
But now, in 2017, the whole picture looks different. Evans, currently a 37-year-old middleweight, looks different. So too does his form; five defeats in his last seven fights. He’s been injured and inactive. His presence has been felt more in the FOX studio than in the UFC’s Octagon. It has become that kind of career for Evans. One winding down. One nearing its end.
Let’s not dwell on the prospect of Evans, 19-6-1, slipping into relative obscurity and losing a fourth straight fight this weekend, though. Let’s instead remember how it used to be, how Evans used to look, and revisit seven moments that have come to define the New Yorker not as a trial-horse for middleweights looking to add a well-known name to their ledger but as a former champion who fought, and often defeated, world-class light-heavyweights for the best part of a decade.
Overcame a huge size discrepancy to decision Brad Imes and win The Ultimate Fighter in November 2005
Remember when Rashad Evans was a short and squat heavyweight? He wasn’t this way for long, thankfully, but on season two of The Ultimate Fighter he was often having to look up when throwing strikes and was cutting much bigger men down to size via takedowns en route to winning the whole thing. Speed, agility and athletic ability allowed him to excel, and his finale triumph over six-foot-seven Brad Imes was truly a case of David conquering Goliath.
Rendered Sean Salmon unconscious with a head kick in January 2007
After returning to light-heavyweight, his natural habitat, Evans registered a couple of decision wins and then exploded in spectacular style in January 2007, when knocking out poor Sean Salmon with a head-kick so picturesque it would soon become a staple of every UFC highlight reel going. Aside from it being a clean and pretty much perfect KO shot, what made Evans’ finish of Salmon so memorable was the sheer shock of it. Beforehand, before showing this ability, Evans had largely been pigeonholed as a tremendous wrestler with fast hands. But that, as it turned out, and as Salmon found out, was merely the blurb.
‘Knockout of the Year’ against Chuck Liddell in September 2008
A fighter often requires the scalp of a superstar in order to elevate their own stock and Rashad Evans got his on September 6, 2008, the night he stiffened Chuck ‘The Iceman’ Liddell in round two with a right hand from the depths of hell. He’d previously shared an Octagon with Tito Ortiz (a fight that ended in a draw) and Michael Bisping (a fight that ended in a narrow decision win), but it was Liddell and the manner of victory, as emphatic and conclusive as he could have hoped, that really made people start to sit up and appreciate his talents. It was ‘Knockout of the Night’; it was ‘Knockout of the Year’. For Evans, it changed everything.
Stopped Forest Griffin in December 2008 to win UFC light-heavyweight title
The Liddell knockout paved the way for Evans’ shot at the UFC light-heavyweight title in December 2008. The champion at the time was Forrest Griffin, a fellow Ultimate Fighter alumni, who’d impressively defeated Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson to take the title and simultaneously become a man with a target on his back. Evans saw the opportunity, grabbed it with both hands and proceeded to stop Griffin in round three of their fight at UFC 92. The fairytale, however, didn’t last long. Evans, like Griffin before him, lost the belt in his first defence and very next fight.
Prevailed in a bitter grudge match with Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson in May 2010
This wasn’t the greatest fight in the world, but it carried the kind of needle and animosity going into it that no doubt made the victory one of Evans’ sweetest. Before the age of manufactured grudge matches, with one eye on the cash register, the likes of Evans and Rampage were discussing their hatred for one another because they genuinely meant it. Evans hated Rampage; Rampage hated Evans. In the end, the fight, a non-title fight between former champions, became more than just competition. It was a fight for bragging rights; a fight to decide the alpha male. Three rounds and fifteen minutes later, it was Evans who had the last laugh.
TKO’d Tito Ortiz in two rounds in August 2011
Tito Ortiz tried with all his might to finish Evans with a guillotine choke in round two, only to watch the former champion fight it off, pop right out and then proceed to punish him, from side-control and the crucifix position, for the rest of the round. Finally, with seconds remaining in round two, and with Ortiz looking to escape, Evans plunged a debilitating knee into his chest and then finished off ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ with a series of ground strikes. It was, in retrospect, a glimpse of Evans at his clinical, merciless best. He wanted to punish Ortiz, stop him, and wouldn’t ease off until he’d achieved his goal.
Silenced Chael Sonnen inside a round in November 2013
Hopefully this won’t be remembered as Rashad’s last win, but, for now, until another example is available, it shall be known as such. It was a fine performance, too, one that saw Evans take Sonnen down midway through round one, posture up in half-guard, land a number of hurtful punches, get Sonnen’s back, get the mount, get his back again and whale away with even more shots until Sonnen was flattened out and in no position to defend himself. With that, Evans had won two in a row – previously he’d won a decision over Dan Henderson – and was seemingly set for yet another run at a title. Little did we know…