By Ryan Busuttil:
In May 2010, Rashad Evans defeated Quinton “Rampage” Jackson by unanimous decision to become the number one contender to the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. What happened in the next 23 months was a whirlwind of emotions, changes and frustrations for Evans. After the Rampage fight, he didn’t fight again until August 2011 due to injuries to opponents and himself. 3 other fighters, including Rampage, got a shot at the title before he did. His teammate, Jon Jones, stepped in for Evans’ title fight against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Jones’ title victory led to Evans leaving his training camp at Greg Jackson’s gym inArizona. When he finally got his title shot at UFC 145, Evans was unable to do enough to defeat Jones. With all that he has been through, to not win the title has to be disappointing for Evans. Wouldn’t any of us be disappointed knowing that all the issues that we’d gone through in almost 2 years didn’t have a pay off? We, like Evans, would be asking ourselves “What now?” Where does Rashad Evans go from here now that the brass ring that he was trying to reach, which was within his grasp, is far away again?
He can follow the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and fight his way back to a title shot. On the plus side, he’s the first fighter to take Jones the distance in a title fight, he was never in grave danger of being finished and he won a round on two of the judges’ score cards. He’s also only lost twice in his career and has beaten some of the best in the division. You figure that if Evans can win a few fights against top ten opponents in the division, he can make a good case to challenge for the title again. Add that to the fact that there are still some good fights with Evans at light heavyweight. Evans-Machida II makes sense right now with both fighters coming off losses to the champion and Evans can try to avenge the only other loss in his career. Evans-Shogun can finally happen. If Dan Henderson loses to Jones, a fight between him and Evans could headline a Fox event. Like Phil Davis before him, Alexander Gustaffson can try and get into title contention in a match against Evans. Even a fight with fellow wrestler Ryan Bader would be interesting. Those are 5 fights that Evans can have and he could probably just fight and win 4 of them and get another title shot. Plus, by then, Jones may have moved up to the heavyweight division and Evans’ path to the title could be easier.
Rashad’s second option, and in my mind, the better option, would be something he spoke about a year ago when Jones was offered the title shot that was once his: dropping down to the middleweight division. Chael Sonnen has shown how effective wrestling is against the UFC Middleweight Champion, Anderson Silva. Evans’ wrestling is among the best in MMA. It’s not hard to imagine that if Evans goes to middleweight he’ll probably only have to win a fight or two before getting a shot at the title. After Silva-Sonnen II this summer, there’s not much left for the Spider (if he loses) in that division. He doesn’t seem interested in moving up to light heavyweight again and the welterweight division has gotten more competitive in GSP’s absence, making that dream match seem more and more likely that it will not happen. Evans has main evented several UFC events and would be a legitimate contender, something that the middleweight division is lacking. Let’s be realistic: how many casual fans would pay $55 to see Silva defend his title against Rousimar Palhares? Evans has shown that he can sell a fight. Silva, if he keeps his title, could use an opponent like Evans as he finishes off his career. Aside from a title fight, Evans has attractive potential fights at middleweight including against Sonnen, Brian Stann, Chris Weidmann, Chris Leben, Vitor Belfort, etc. The move would open up new possibilities for Evans’ career and new fights for fans to see.
In my opinion, an even better reason for Evans to make the drop to middleweight is that most of the fighters in the division are lacking the skills that Evans excels at. Sonnen is a wrestler, through and through. His standup leaves something to be desired. Leben likes to stand and bang, which means he can knock others out, but is also prone to getting knocked out himself. Stann has great standup, but lacks effective wrestling and takedown defense. These fighters are not as well rounded as Evans. He’s shown that he can outwrestle you, outbox you and knock you out in his fights. Sonnen may have taken Silva to deeper waters than he’s ever been, but if you look at Sonnen’s face after their first fight, it looked like he was on the losing end before that triangle choke forced him to tap. Evans style and speed would be a challenge for Silva. Combine that with Evans’ wrestling and you have a threat to Silva’s throne. Most critics will reference Evans’ “stanky leg dance” against Machida and point out that Silva trains with Machida, so it’ll be the same outcome. But, I think that Evans has shown that he’s learned from that loss in the fights since. He’s faced some powerful strikers in Rampage and Thiago Silva and has weathered anything they’ve thrown at him. Evans’ style might not always be the most exciting for fans, but it gets him wins, which is what matters at the end of the day.
Evans stated at the UFC post fight press conference that if there were opportunities at 185 pounds, he’d be willing to give it a try. I think the opportunities at middleweight are more immediate for Evans than having to go through a gauntlet of talent at 205. Either way, he’s got to get through the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world to capture gold again.
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