Since I first started watching the great sport of mixed martial arts, there were two fighters that caught my interest immediately because of their fighting styles and persona's, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Rashad Evans.
The first time I watched Rashad fight was against Chuck Liddell which has to be a viral knockout for any casual mixed martial arts fan like I was a few years ago. I was hooked when I saw that fight, but I seemed to be more impressed with Rashad as I became a little more knowledgeable about mixed martial arts and more familiar with the history and past fights.
Rashad starred in the second installment of "The Ultimate Fighter" series, the show starred future top ranked UFC fighters Joe Stevenson and Keith Jardine. Rashad was, without a doubt the most successful cast member to leave the show being the only person that held UFC gold.
He competed in the show at heavyweight at around 225 pounds and had that sort of "Josh Koscheck" aura about him as he left the show. What I mean by this is the fact that when we would see him on the show, we would see a one-dimensional fighter who got by in fights using his wrestling but as he progressed further in the UFC, they would possess the type of knockout power which would leave fighters unconscious for minutes.
Rashad defeated a 6'7, 265 pound Brad Imes in November 2005 to win the show via split decision in the finale, after leaving the show he dropped down to 205 pounds immediately.
He had some sloppy fights at the start of his UFC career earning some decisions that people might not have even scored for Rashad initially. See his first three fights, earning a split decision over Sam Hoger in April 2006 and a majority decision (meaning one judge had it so close they scored it a draw) win over future UFC star, Stephan Bonnar.
After these fights however, Rashad managed to get his first finishes in the UFC, using his wrestling to pound Jason Lambert into unconsciousness along with Sean Salmon with a head kick in the second round in what would be his first headlined show which sent the UFC commentators Joe Rogan, Mike Goldberg and Randy Couture crazy along with the thousands of fans who were in attendance.
"Who saw that coming!" shouts Joe Rogan.
In 2007, Rashad then started to receive bigger names, Tito Ortiz (coming off his second loss to Chuck Liddell for the UFC light-heavyweight title) and Michael Bisping. In a competitive wrestling match, Tito Ortiz would've sealed a unanimous decision win had he not grabbed the fence defending a takedown and deducted a point, who knows where Rashad would be at if that point wasn't deducted. Michael Bisping came up short in a close fight in what would be the third split decision win in Rashad's career, being saved by his wrestling.
Now something happened after the Michael Bisping fight which was really strange and amazing at the same time and that was Rashad Evans 2.0.
Rashad would headline his third show in September 2008 at UFC 88 in Atlanta taking on Chuck Liddell in which everybody seemed pretty set on Liddell putting Rashad to sleep.
We saw Rashad enter the ring with a demeanor which reflected his performance, a new look, the new black shorts that would become familiar throughout his career, the white tape on the feet, the confidence, the swagger, he's been known to showboat on occasions but the confidence was out on full form on the night of UFC 88.
As soon as the bell rang, we saw this new version of Rashad, one that had suddenly this new-found confidence and this herky jerky, yet effective, bounce in and out style of striking. If you were to watch any of Rashad Evans' fights before Liddell and then this fight, you would not fail to see a dramatic improvement.
We saw Rashad hang in there with Liddell in the first round arguably winning the first round by moving around, showing his speed, hopping in and out hitting Liddell with hooks and didn't even attempt one takedown during the fight which is shocking considering the reputation he had at the time for his wrestling.
So now we go to the second round, in a fight that didn't really change in tempo, out of nowhere, Rashad lands an overhand right counter to Liddell's uppercut knocking him unconscious in an upset which had me asking one question when I saw that knockout for the first time.
"...is he dead?"
Rightfully so, earning Rashad an immediate title fight against the champion at the time, Forrest Griffin.
He won the UFC light-heavyweight title using this new style to defeat Forrest Griffin in December 2008, taking him down and pounding him into oblivion, but lost the title to Lyoto Machida months later at UFC 98 in May 2009.
Now what I'm getting at here is highlighting the birth, the rise, the reconfiguration and the sudden fall of Rashad Evans, so let's fast forward to highlight this.
My personal favorite performance from Rashad (taking away the scary moment in the third round - getting caught by Jackson) was his fight with Jackson which showed me everything I like about Rashad and distinguished himself from the Rashad we see today.
Unorthodox movement, jumping in and out, constantly pressing for takedowns, well-conditioned, Rashad kept distance from Jackson and managed to set up his takedowns, besides getting caught and dropped in the third round after Jackson stuffed a takedown, Rashad kept composed and even arguably won that scary round.
He got the unanimous decision, winning the long-awaited grudge match, earning a title shot at UFC 128 against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. We can't really blame any of this on something for sure, but if we had to, would it be the change of camp? Would it be the knee surgery which cost him his title fight vs Rua having him pull out of the fight?
Jon Jones would step in for Rashad after he pulled out of the UFC 128 main event where Jones would completely obliterate Rua to a third round TKO.
We saw Rashad return to the cage in August 2011 against Tito Ortiz who he had fought in the past to a draw with as highlighted earlier.
After not seeing Rashad in the cage for over a year, the first thing I noticed was the sudden amount of muscle which had me concerned he might not be as fast anymore.
I always considered Rashad's build as muscular, but athletic, but thought no where near the kind after seeing him return with this new physique.
(picture from edmulholland.com)
I watched Rashad's performance and was awfully critical of it. The fight started off with Rashad not showing this jump in and out movement he normally does, he gets Ortiz to the fence and uncharacteristically brawling with him, taking him down, almost getting caught in a guillotine, looking for the finish at the end of round one by throwing dozens of consecutive hammer fists at Ortiz which I thought was a lot of energy used up in the early parts of the fight. Rashad ended up finishing Ortiz with a knee to the body in the second round earning the stoppage.
Ortiz wasn't considered much of an opponent because of his record and his age at the time, I put Rashad's game plan down to him underestimating Ortiz and just wanting to get in there and get it done.
However Rashad would then go on to face Phil Davis in the UFC's second ever FOX event in what I think (besides his performance last Saturday) was the worst performance of Rashad's career.
Rashad was no longer this speed slickster who liked to hop in and out and set up his takedowns, he instead looked like he was fighting for the knockout, throwing only power shots and was tired very early in the fight, making for a slow, repetitive fight. When I say repetitive I mean a tired Rashad throwing punches at Davis, stuffing takedowns, rinse and repeat.
When do you ever see Rashad Evans tired? From this point, when was the last time you saw Rashad tired? The Ortiz fight? The Bisping fight?
Obviously upset at his performance at the end of the fight, Rashad took the unanimous decision win over Phil Davis scoring a 50-45 on all cards.
Then going on to a title shot vs Jon Jones in April 2012, losing the fight via unanimous decision. Rashad showed heart, but the amount of meaningful strikes he landed in 25 minutes you could count on one hand. It's no shame to lose to a fantastic fighter like Jon Jones but I was sat there, watching and wishing that we had that speedster we saw in 2008-2010.
This Saturday was the last straw for me. UFC 156: Aldo vs Edgar, co-main event fight vs Antonio Rogeiro Noguiera.
With all these thoughts going through my head about how Rashad is deteriorating, he was doing no favors regarding making me think otherwise with some statements he made leading up to the fight.
"I'm going to sound cocky if I say I'm not worried about him... but I'm not," Rashad tells the UFC media, making me worried he's looking past a very tough Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Rashad did not want to engage in the fight, stood at the perfect distance which would allow Nogeuira to score with straight punches which made for a weird, long and sad fight. His few takedown attempts were slow, predictable and easily stuffed.
I was really dissapointed and in the third round when I expected Rashad to at least turn it on a little bit, I felt like the clock was running out, not only on the fight, but on a long career.
He did not want to fight, he showed that he didn't Saturday night and he's hinting that he doesn't want to at all.
Rashad talked to MMAFighting's Ariel Helwani which pretty much summed up where I thought he was at mentally regarding his recent performances.
"I took some time off, I was in a place where I was just going with the motions but just not really feeling the whole fight game for a while with the whole thing with the Jones fight and everything leading up to it had me kind of second guessing if I even wanted to fight anymore."
"When I first starting fighting, I had an immense drive to just go out there and train so I knew the difference when I didn't have that burning desire, when I went to sleep at night, it wasn't what I was thinking about, I was watching fight film all the time and I wasn't analyzing fights and there was a time when that's all I did."
After a long, successful career, it seems Rashad is hinting towards the end of it.
Dana White echoed my thoughts after the UFC 156 event to a group of media members.
"I like Rashad a lot. He's a good guy, a smart guy. But he's lost that hunger. He's lost that desire and drive, and he needs to get it back. There's no doubt about it. He needs to get hungry again. Back in the day, he used to get a little paranoid. He was always a little paranoid. But he would always do the right thing. He needs to get that fire back. He doesn't have that fire. He needs to get it. Rashad used to train like a beast. Rashad never used to get tired. The only time you saw Rashad get tired was when he first came into the UFC and fought Tito (Ortiz) in that first fight. Then after that he turned into an absolute beast. He's gotta get it back. If that word (retired) even comes out of your mouth in this business, it's a negative. It's bad. The fact that he even said the 'R' word shows you where his head is at and what he's thinking."
It seems to me we've lost a version of Rashad I don't think we'll ever get back.
Rashad has children, a massive house, lot's of money, (being one of the companies highest draws) maybe it's best for him to hang them up, I wouldn't be opposed to that.
Thank you for lots of great fights, Rashad Evans, no matter what decision he decides to make, will have a highlight reel that will outlive his UFC career and some great fights to go along with it.