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In the end, ‘Suga’ Rashad Evans left with a sour taste

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Alvey vs Evans Miguel Tovar-USA TODAY Sports

Had he known coming in that seven of the 12 bouts at UFC Fight Night 114 would end in a first-round finish, Rashad Evans would have prayed that he find himself on the right side of one. Nobody on the card needed a victory as badly as Evans, who snuck into Mexico City as quietly as an ex-champion possibly could for his fight with “Smiling” Sam Alvey, as if to see if he could escape notice. Those who did notice spoke of it mostly in hushed tones. If Evans couldn’t beat a middling middleweight like Alvey, then…well, you know, the fight game has a way of turning a cold shoulder on aging glories in search of rediscovery.

Evans did not have the “get well” fight he hoped for with Alvey. After relocating his camp to New Jersey from his comfortable environs in Florida, he tried to squeeze back into his singlet. He wanted to take Alvey to the ground where he could run roughshod over somebody — anybody — just like the old days. It didn’t work. When he shot in on Alvey they slowed to a traffic crawl on the fence, a toilsome dance that made the altitude burn right through their shoulders. When they weren’t clinched Alvey and Evans kept a range that you could drive a tractor through. It was cautious get-back-to-basics combat between an admittedly star-struck fighter and gun-shy former champion.

For everybody else, it was an exercise in frustration. “Suga” Rashad Evans just couldn’t find the sweet spot he had been looking for. Turns out his mojo wasn’t hiding south of the border.

Alvey ended up taking a split decision in what quickly became a fight of reluctance — reluctance to pull the trigger from both sides, reluctance to fight to win rather than not to lose, reluctance to admit what so many were thinking as it unfolded (that it’s over). It was Evans’ fourth loss in a row, and the sixth split decision of his career, with the first four going his way. He dropped a split decision against Daniel Kelly his last time out at UFC 209. You might remember he started his UFC career with a pair of split decision victories over Brad Imes and Sammy Hoger, the latter coming in his foray back to his natural weight class of 205 pounds. For so long, Evans had survived his share of teetering scorecards.

Not this time.

If that was it for Evans, it was a dying trumpet sound drifting off Popocatépetl. Early on in his career coming off of The Ultimate Fighter 2 heavyweight tournament, he shimmied and showboated like few fighters we’d seen, much to the dismay of those traditionalists who still saw the game as a showcase of respect. Against Alvey he didn’t do much of anything. The old swagger was gone. It wasn’t even the mighty swan song he sang for Chuck Liddell at UFC 88 coming back for him, the one where Evans — then the upstart — coolly waited on the “Iceman” to come in with his hands down. Though Liddell would ultimately require further proof, it was Evans that showed him that the game had passed him by with a massive right hand.

Just as it was Evans that took Forrest Griffin’s title back at UFC 92, knocking him out in the third round. Evans was a UFC champion for a little shy of five months, but it was a marquee distinction that stayed with him the whole way. He lost his title to Lyoto Machida, but worked his way back into contention by winning four straight fights. In that four-fight run he took out old guard members like Tito Ortiz and his rival, Quinton Jackson. He was the cruel reality towards the end of careers. Then he lost to Jon Jones at UFC 145, in a fight that had all the hallmark ingredients of a big fight — loyalty betrayal, broken friendship, bitter blood.

Just like everyone else at 205 pounds, he couldn’t get by Jones.

Looking back, Evans may never have recovered from that loss. His “get well” fight that time against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was perhaps the most disappointing of his career, a listless performance at UFC 156 that turned a setback into a mini-spiral. He righted himself to a degree by the time he TKO’d Chael Sonnen, but that was three-and-a-half years ago. Since then it’s been four losses, camp relocations, weight-class reinventions, sketchy MRIs, and a growing sense of nostalgia. He got knocked out violently against Glover Teixeira. Then he lost to a softener in Daniel Kelly. And now to Alvey down in Mexico.

Evans was hoping to quietly smuggle out a victory, and to see where that might take him next. It simply didn’t happen. Alvey did just enough to present Evans with the truth of the matter, which is that the writing on the wall is this time meant for him. It was a tough thing to watch. In fact, it was a wholly forgettable fight.

Forgettable even for “Suga” Rashad. At some point, the sweet memories will take the place of the sour notes at the end. That will happen. In the meantime, it’s a lot of reflections.

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