TUF Veterans Bonnar, Evans Vying for Respect

By Mike Sloan Jun 27, 2006
In life, there are good things and bad things. That’s a given. Nowhere is that more true than sport, particularly the fight game.

For Stephan Bonnar (Pictures) and Rashad Evans (Pictures) the double-edged sword of stardom, gained by competing in front of millions of viewers on Spike TV’s popular The Ultimate Fighter series, has the two light heavyweights teetering on the brink of turmoil: a loss could be catastrophic and the loser might be flung off of the pendulum that is the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s leverage meter.

Granted, if Wednesday’s showdown between Bonnar and Evans — the light heavyweight runner-up from the inaugural TUF season and the heavyweight champion of season two respectively — is a riveting affair of guts, determination, skill and drama, a loss wouldn’t be too hard to swallow.

But if the battle is even a remote letdown in terms of excitement, whoever prevails will be catapulted light years ahead of the other in terms of being granted a title shot and, most importantly, credibility.

Both Evans and Bonnar have their share of critics and have had to endure months upon months of scrutiny. Evans seems to be the more disliked of the two and it appears as though the vast majority of mixed martial arts fans — in particular hardcore fans — are anxiously waiting for these TUF “frauds” to fail.

Many are skeptical of their fame, as most figure the only reason these reality television personalities are brought back is not for skill, but because they sell tickets.

Bonnar lost in the finals of the first season and, save for his submission of James Irvin (Pictures), has struggled mightily in every contest since the show wrapped.

His victory over perennial lightning rod — at least in the eyes of TUF fans — Sam Hoger (Pictures) was as hard-fought as they come. It took every ounce of energy and might to score the decision over Hoger, who was thought to be a C-Level fighter at best.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Bonnar’s dubious victory over Keith Jardine (Pictures), one that had viewers feeling the decision should have gone the other way, left the Chicagoan with a ton to prove. But at least “The American Psycho” keeps his fights entertaining.

“You mean to tell me that there are people out there who don’t like me?” Bonnar asked in a jokingly flabbergasted manner. “I don’t know what to say, but I always put on entertaining shows. At least I think they are entertaining. Maybe I am wrong. I had no idea I had this many critics. I thought everybody loved me!”

Bonnar’s critics come at him in more of a twofold manner: he is a polarizing guy. People either love him or hate him. Some are put off by his dry sense of humor or his accountant-like looks or even his soft voice. Most think that Bonnar talks and looks nothing like a real fighter and given the fact that his win over Jardine was controversial, it sent his critics in an uproar.

“Listen, you can’t please everybody out there,” Bonnar continued. “People can say whatever they want and I don’t mind. It doesn’t bother me at all because I’m the one training my ass off. I’m the one fighting my ass off and I am the one who is stuck on the Dan Ryan (a popular expressway in Chicago) in gridlock traffic at 10 at night.”

Evans, on the other hand, is a hit-and-miss fighter in the minds of fight fans. He surprised virtually everybody by winning the heavyweight division of season two by toppling Brad Imes (Pictures), but like Bonnar he struggled in out-pointing Hoger this past April.

While he is nowhere near as polarizing as Bonnar or the popular Chris Leben (Pictures), Evans isn’t exactly a fighter people are clamoring to see in action.

It seems that nobody likes Evans and no matter what he does, the Lansing, Mich. resident can’t win anybody’s respect. It’s something that Evans said used to bother him, but not anymore.

“I don’t know exactly what it is but for whatever reason people just don’t seem to like me,” Evans told Sherdog.com. “I’ve tried to pinpoint what it is, but man, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know why people just don’t like me. I thought people liked the underdogs, but I guess I’m the exception.”

“I used to let that stuff, like criticism or fans’ trash talk, bother me,” Evans continued. “But to be honest, I let that all go a while ago. I figured that the less I worry or wonder what I need to do to get some sort of recognition or respect in this game, the better off I am. I used to think that people didn’t like me because I am a black fighter, but there are plenty of good, popular black fighters out there. We have “Rampage” Jackson, Yves Edwards (Pictures) and even (Kevin) Randleman, so I don’t think race or color has anything to do with it.”

Evans’ problem appears to be much worse when compared to Bonnar’s. At least Bonnar will have a legion of fans cheering for him alongside the legion of fans cheering against him. Evans, however, doesn’t seem to have anybody cheering for or against him at all.

He is like a phantom fighter that nobody pays attention to, despite being a supremely talented competitor who sports not only an unblemished professional record but also bragging rights about being crowned an official Ultimate Fighter, an honor Bonnar can’t claim.

“I have never been beaten in my professional career,” Evans said. “I know I am not the best on the planet just yet and I know I am fairly far away from landing a title shot, but it’s OK. I am willing to be patient, to work the hard way in order to get a shot at a title. If it means me fighting seven, eight or nine more times in the UFC before I can land a title shot or get a big contract, I’ll do it. I have time and as long as keep winning, people are bound to catch onto me sooner or later.”

One person who does like Evans, though, is Bonnar.

“I’ve met Rashad on numerous occasions and he is a good guy,” Bonnar admitted. “I have not a bad thing to say about him at all. He is a very classy, well-spoken guy and he’s a good fighter. He’s undefeated. He doesn’t appear to get enough recognition but I know what he’s capable of. But to be honest, I have nothing mean or nasty to say about him because with Rashad, there really is nothing bad to say about him. Maybe I’ll make up stuff and start talking all sorts of shit when the UFC interviews me for the pre-fights video stuff.”

Evans shares a similar fondness of the man he will try to beat the snot out of live on Spike TV. Like Bonnar, Evans has nothing negative to say about his foe other than the aspect that he is comfortable about scoring the victory.

“I know Bonnar is a good guy, man,” Evans elaborated. “I really don’t have any bad feelings towards him at all because he’s always been very nice to me. But I know this is a sport, a business, and I have to put those nice feelings aside once the bell rings. I know I can beat him and I am confident that I will beat him.”

If anybody has a solid chance of upending Bonnar’s three-fight winning streak it’s Evans. Bonnar’s last opponent, Jardine, was one of Evans’ chief training partners. According to Evans, he picked up many more angles on how to beat Bonnar after the Jardine bout.

“I think Keith won that fight hands down,” Evans exclaimed. “It was close, yes, but in the end, Keith won at least two of those rounds. I knew how to attack and approach Bonnar before Keith fought him, but after watching that fight and watching Keith actually win, I know so much more now going into this fight. I’m not going to say exactly what he does wrong, but I picked on some glaring weaknesses that fall right into my strengths. Well, we do know that Bonnar is super brave with a lot of guts and is willing to go toe-to-toe with anybody he fights. I know that once I offset his game plan, he’ll opt to go right at me. That will be his downfall.”

Bonnar scoffed somewhat at the notion and said he is prepared for what Evans brings to the table. He is unfazed by the fact that he’ll be fighting Jardine’s right hand man and doesn’t buy the theory that Jardine exposed him for all the world to see.

“Well, for one I don’t expect to be fighting the same guy anyway,” Bonnar explained. “Jardine is an awesome jiu-jitsu guy and Rashad is more of a striker banger-type guy. Did Rashad pick up on some things I did in that fight? I certainly hope so. But for him or anybody to think that he has some sort of advantage over me because his training buddy — who fights a completely different style — fought me is crazy.”

Regardless of their differences of fight theories and who fought whom, one thing is certain: their immediate future in the Ultimate Fighting Championship is hanging in the balance.

Bonnar is expected to finally relock horns with Forrest Griffin (Pictures) later this summer provided he prevail.

Evans doesn’t really have anything huge on the horizon, but he knows a loss would be crippling to his career for the time being.

Whichever way you slice it, plenty rests on the fate of the outcome between Bonnar and Evans. Both need to win and both need some well-deserved respect.

It’s now just a matter of who wants it more.
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