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Rashad Evans says he’s ‘medically cleared’ to fight, seeking March or April return

Rashad Evans Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It was a difficult year for Rashad Evans in 2016, who was knocked out by Glover Teixeira in April and then denied a chance to redeem himself seven months later in November. Evans was slated to fight Tim Kennedy at UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden in his native home state of New York, but was unceremoniously pulled from the card just days beforehand under unclear circumstances.

The reason being whispered about at the time was that he didn’t clear a routine MRI, which prompted the New York State Athletic Commission to remove him from the event. He was later denied a license to fight in Toronto at UFC 206, and has been in relative limbo since then, with no upcoming fight booked.

So what’s been going on? Is Evans going to try and resume his career? The former light heavyweight champion said he’s feeling great, and that he’s hoping to get back in the Octagon in the first quarter of 2017

“I’m going to fight,” he said during an appearance on The MMA Hour on Monday. “You know, the thing that happened in New York, it was pretty much a misunderstanding with the brain MRI thing. Because the radiologist read pretty much the same radiology exam and then he gave two different assessments of it. In 2013, he said it was absolutely fine, there’s nothing. And then in 2016, looking at pretty much the same identical image, he said I had new changes, which to the commission was like, wait, if you have new changes with your brain MRI, then your brain is still injured and you can’t compete.

“But upon further review and having everything looked at and tested up the wazoo, it was pretty clear what happened. And it was just a radiologist not doing his due diligence. But, at the end of day it cost me, and it is what it is, but I was able to put it behind me and move forward.”

The 37-year-old Evans said that it’s been a trying time, especially after training for Kennedy and having the fight pulled out from under him. It wasn’t just that he lost out on a fight with Kennedy, who ended up fighting (and losing to) Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 206, it was that that he was denied a chance to fight on his home turf of New York.
“I was sick over it, to be honest,” he said. “Because I felt like I was in great shape. I was probably the best I felt in years. I really wanted to go out there and out on a good show, and it was just like everything…the stars were aligning. And I felt like, this is going to be great. And when that happened, it kind of put me in a really bad mental space just because, I talked to the UFC and they’re like, ‘yo, this is not an easy thing to get by — this could end your career if it doesn’t get handled correctly. This could end your career.’

“And that was something that was very hard for me to hear. As somebody who’s very competitive, but more importantly, I felt like I still had a lot of tread left on my tires, and hearing that, and seeing the writing on the wall, not being able to compete, it was a really hard thing for me to get by. It really was.”

Evans is currently in the midst of a two-fight losing streak, having dropped a listless unanimous decision against Ryan Bader at UFC 192 before the Teixeira fight. Overall he has lost four of six bouts in the UFC, but is still considered one of the top names in the division.

As the new year gets started, he says he has a new lease on life, especially now that he’s been cleared to fight. He said he would still welcome a bout with Anderson Silva, who is currently booked into a fight with Derek Brunson, or even Thales Leites. He said he’s “shaken off the cobwebs,” and feels confident in his ability — though he was also clear on how that sounds.

“These are just words,” he said. “I still have to go out there and do it.”

Asked if he knew when he’d fight again, Evans said he would like to get in there in either “March or April.”

“Everything’s cleared medically, everything is fine, so I’m looking to get a fight as soon as I can,” he said. “I just want to get out there, and I just want to perform. I feel like I’ve had a pretty good career, but at the end of the day, I don’t feel like I’m finished yet. And I don’t feel like I’ve been punchy or beat up or anything like that, by any means. In all my years of fighting, I’ve only been knocked out twice. You see some fighters who have 12 losses and they’ve been knocked out a few times, and people still say that they still have it.

“It’s all about right now for me staying persistent, staying healthy, and more importantly, just staying confident in my abilities.”

With the UFC having announced a pay-per-view event for April 8 in Buffalo, New York — UFC 210 — Evans said that would be the “ultimate dream” to end up on that card. Then again, it’s New York, and he’s not sure he wants to go through another bait-and-switch situation again.

“I want to fight on it, but with the New York commission, I don’t know if it would be a good idea for me to put my hand in there and do it,” he said. “If I can be guaranteed that I will get the clearance or something like that, then I’ll do it. But with the way the commission is, and things like that, and what happened last time, I don’t want to be flying on a plane coming in and them saying, hey you can’t fight again. That kills more than anything.

“When you’ve got to get your mind and your body ready, and you’re all revved up to fight for 10 weeks at a time and then they tell you that you can’t fight, it’s one of the most heartbreaking things that you’ve got to hear.”

Evans last had his hand raised at UFC 167 in Nov. 2013, when he scored a TKO victory over Chael Sonnen in Las Vegas.

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