Rashad Evans simply looked fantastic stepping into the Octagon for UFC 209. Making his middleweight debut, the former UFC light heavyweight champion was lean and ripped and appeared a full decade younger than we last saw him.
Dan Kelly wasn’t so aesthetically pleasing. But he got down and dirty and got the job done.
The four-time Australian Olympic judoka relentlessly pressured Evans, and that was enough to get the nod for the biggest win in his MMA career. Kelly got two out of three 29-28 scores at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for the split decision win.
“Thank you to Rashad for taking the fight, he’s a legend and an icon, I couldn’t be happier,” said Kelly (12-1), who improved to 6-1 in the UFC.
The 39-year-old Kelly moved forward and landed frequently with jabs and overhands. Evans, for his part, also had his moments in an entirely competitive fight, as he scored takedowns and did his best to parry Kelly’s judo throws.
The fight went on in this pattern for a surprisingly entertaining, back-and-forth 15 minutes. Evans turned up the heat and landed several big blows in the fight’s closing seconds, but in the end, it wasn’t enough to get the nod.
Evans (19-6-1), who had been denied a spot on both UFC 205 and UFC 206 due to an undisclosed medical issue, has dropped three straight fights.