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Rashad Evans on Dec. 27, 2008 became just the eighth man to reach the top of the Ultimate Fighting Championship at 205 pounds. While his reign as light heavyweight champion lasted just 147 days, his achievements have continued to echo long after his run as an elite mixed martial artist ended.
Evans won Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series as an undersized heavyweight, downshifted a weight class and pieced together a hall-of-fame resume across his 14-year run in MMA. He made what was his final appearance inside the Octagon in June 2018, when he was victimized by an Anthony Smith knee strike 53 seconds into their UFC 225 confrontation. Evans, now 42, owns a professional record of 19-8-1. He was inducted into the modern-era wing of the UFC Hall of Fame in 2019.
As Evans’ competitive exploits drift further into history, a look at some of the rivalries that helped shape his stellar career:
“The Iceman” was no longer the undisputed light heavyweight champion, and his hall-of-fame career appeared to be winding down when he faced Evans in the UFC 88 headliner on Sept. 6, 2008 at Philips Arena in Atlanta. Evans, meanwhile, was on the ascent. His speed and athleticism proved problematic for the aging Liddell. Countless opponents had been lured into Liddell’s counters, but Evans stayed true to his game plan, circled away from danger and forced the San Luis Obispo, California, native to give chase. That resulted in the John Hackleman protégé reaching with his punches, and he did so one too many times. Evans timed one of his attacks perfectly and planted a crushing right hook on the former champion’s jaw that flipped the off switch, hundreds of mohawked Liddell supporters recoiling in the crowd. Referee Herb Dean arrived on the scene 1:51 into Round 2 to call for the stoppage. Silenced by the one-punch knockout, spectators were certain they had witnessed a fatality. Three months later, Evans captured the UFC light heavyweight crown. Liddell never won another fight.
With a game plan anchored in speed, takedowns and superior work in the clinch, Evans defeated “Rampage” by unanimous decision in the UFC 114 main event on May 29, 2010 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were 30-27, 29-28 and 30-27, as Evans got the last word after the two men coached opposite one another on Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series. “Suga” started with a bang when he sent Jackson reeling backwards with a right hand in the opening exchange. The Niagara Falls, New York, native moved immediately to the clinch and began to whittle away at Jackson’s resolve. Evans scored with a takedown with 2:15 left in Round 1 and rushed out to a quick lead in one of the most emotionally charged grudge matches in UFC history. The second round followed a similar pattern. Evans continued to push the fight in the clinch and kept his opponent’s back pressed against the cage. Visibly frustrated, a fatigued Jackson retreated to his corner in need of a knockout at the end of Round 2. He had his chance in the third, where he bullied Evans into the cage, flurried and threatened to end it on the ground. Evans weathered the attack, and Jackson, perhaps out of gas, could not capitalize on the opportunity, even as his counterpart wobbled in front of him. Evans closed strong, as he delivered another takedown with 1:45 to go, pinned Jackson against the cage and dropped punches from the top.
A vicious and beautifully executed knee strike to the body crippled Ortiz and sent Evans to a second-round technical knockout in the UFC 133 headliner on Aug. 6, 2011 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” bowed out 4:48 into Round 2. Backed by superior athleticism, speed and power, Evans outclassed the Californian for vast stretches of the fight—a rematch of their July 2007 encounter at UFC 73 that ended in a draw. There was no doubt about this one. Evans withstood a first-round takedown, worked back to his feet and unleashed his hands, swarming Ortiz with punches against the cage. Many were blocked, but the onslaught chipped away at Team Punishment founder’s resolve. Evans then executed a powerful slam, passed guard into side control and set up shop with his ground-and-pound. Ortiz survived, but he left the first round damaged and winded. He made a last-ditch attempt at an unlikely victory 90 seconds into Round 2, where he cinched a guillotine choke. However, he failed to corral Evans in full guard, and “Suga” freed himself with minimal effort, shifted into top position and trapped the fading Ortiz in a mounted crucifix. Elbows fell, as Ortiz bucked from the bottom. Later, with Ortiz in a seated position against the cage, Evans delivered a devastating knee to the sternum. Ortiz folded, as the finish became imminent. Referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in seconds later.
“Bones” controlled distance, unveiled an endless bag of tricks and kept his stranglehold on the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 205-pound division, as he defeated Evans by unanimous decision to retain his light heavyweight crown in the UFC 145 main event on April 21, 2012 at Philips Arena in Atlanta. All three judges saw it for Jones: 49-46, 49-46 and 50-45. His prodigious offensive skill and creativity was something to behold. The Jackson-Wink MMA representative tore into Evans with kicks to the leg, body and head, a stiff left jab, crackling right hands and even violent shoulder strikes from the clinch. However, his most effective weapon was the standing elbow—a technique for which Evans appeared wholly unprepared. It nearly finished the fight for Jones in the second round, where he staggered his former friend and training partner against the cage. A flying knee and a beautiful left hook followed soon after. Evans, like others who have preceded him, struggled to bypass Jones’ enormous reach advantage. He landed a clean head kick in the first round that seemed to rattle Jones and delivered a nice right hand in the third. Beyond that, he fought mostly with his back to the cage, eating punches and kicks from a distance. Jones punctuated his latest conquest with a strong fifth round, as he backed up a jab with a crisp right hand, uncorked a knee from the clinch and scored with the only takedown of the bout. Evans scrambled free, perhaps wary of the champion’s infamous elbow strikes on the ground, but his fate had long been sealed.
Evans made the mistake of playing the Pride Fighting Championships veteran’s game and wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision in the UFC 156 co-feature on Feb. 2, 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. All three judges arrived at the same verdict: 29-28 for Nogueira. The well-traveled Brazilian kept Evans on the end of his stiff right jab and stout left cross for much of the rather uneventful 15-minute confrontation. Evans secured his only takedown late in the first round, allowing Nogueira to settle into a rhythm on the feet. Neither man landed much of consequence in the standup exchanges, but Nogueira struck with more volume, accuracy and authority in the second and third rounds, helping him carry the scorecards. It marked the first time in Evans’ career that he had suffered back-to-back defeats. He won just two of his next seven fights before retiring in 2018.
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