The main event that wasn’t: Evans in waiting
When the Ultimate Fighting Championship travels overseas to London, England for UFC 85: Bedlam this Saturday, Rashad “Sugar” Evans (16-0-1) was supposed to take center stage. After former Pride FC standout Mauricio “Shogun” Rua suffered a knee injury, Evans was tapped as his replacement for a headlining fight to face Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell.
But it wasn’t to be.
A torn hamstring sidelined one of the UFC’s most feared strikers and simultaneously, sidelined Evans’ headlining status. James Irvin was picked to be Liddell’s replacement, a move that saw the former college wrestler’s main event prospects dropped to mid card status.
And then it happened again.
Like Liddell and Rua, Irvin became the victim of an in practice injury, suffering a broken foot. As always, the UFC scrambled for a new adversary for Evans and found southpaw Luiz Crane. However, after three opponent changes (Evans was originally slated for action at UFC 84), The Ultimate Fighter Alumnus declined the offer, voluntarily removing himself from Bedlam’s card.
With victories over household names like Stephan Bonner, Michael Bisping, and a stellar performance against Tito Ortiz (which resulted in the one draw on an otherwise unblemished record), Evans still has his sights on the man, and the fight that didn’t happen.
“[Liddell’s] a face in the UFC so he’d be a great opponent to fight,” Evans said, just days after it was announced that he’d no longer be a part of UFC 85. As of press time, there are no plans for a rescheduled Evans-Liddell match up, but the married father of two remains hopeful of a future opportunity to bring some heat to “The Iceman.”
“If it happens, that’s great, who knows.”
Evans was clear that a game plan for Liddell is still in place, whenever the two meet up in the same Octagon.
“Be persistent and never to allow myself to let him impose his will on me. Keep moving forward,” he said, enthusiastically sharing the keys to victory in the now fantasy match up.
With a background in wrestling and an ever improving stand up game, Evans resembles another fighter that was able to subdue Liddell in a past test for UFC supremacy: Randy “The Natural” Couture. The former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion scored a TKO victory over Liddell at UFC 43. Evans believes the Couture victory could be used as a blueprint for his own success should a match with Liddell take place.
“I was looking to put some hands on him,” the rising star says matter-of-factly. You know, I’m a wrestler by nature but I was going to let my hands go a little bit. When you fight Chuck you gotta go straight at him. I’d be looking for the knockout.”
With plenty of time to focus on training and future fights, Evans is ready to step in the ring with anyone UFC President Dana White throws his way—with one exception.
“Anybody except for [Keith] Jardine,” he says, noting that his training partner and fellow Jackson’s Submission Fighting teammate is off limits. “But I want to fight the top guys; I want to continue to move forward in the rankings and not backwards.”
An Underdog’s Early Days
Since his UFC debut on season two of The Ultimate Fighter, he’s done just that. Coming into the second installment of the Spike TV hit reality show, Evans was an underdog. However, through hard work and a strong commitment to honing his craft, the then undersized heavyweight fought the uphill battle all the way to a split decision victory over Brad Imes, becoming one of TUF 2’s winners.
In addition to a strong work ethic, Evans’ confidence has carried him to UFC stardom and has also gotten him into a bit of hot water. During his first TUF match against Tom Murphy, Evans decided to have a little fun in the ring, dancing his way to a unanimous decision. His fancy moves earned the respect of his fellow housemates, but left a bad taste in the mouth of Matt Hughes, who confronted Evans after the bout.
Where most fighters new to the UFC would’ve folded under the pressure of a Matt Hughes scolding on national television, the undefeated fighter stood his ground. Looking back on the incident, Evans insists that his playful antics are simply a part of his personality, and not a sign of arrogance.
“I’ve always been competitive and I like to enjoy myself and have fun when I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m not the type of person that’s like “Oh I’m gonna go out there and kick his ass,” that’s just not me. I have to go out there and I have to enjoy myself. In a sense, I’ve kinda gotten out of that.
“But in the since of staying true to who I am, I’ve always competed and wrestled like that.”
A Striking Personality
In the record books a victory by any means is still a notch in the “W” column, but MMA fans can often be cruel to fighters who aren’t capable of finishing fights in dynamic fashion. With the majority of his UFC victories coming via decision, there’s no doubt that Evans has the cardio to go the distance and pull out a win.
Unfortunately, fans don’t want to hear—or see—that, and those victories have done little to endear the legions of novice UFC watchers to Evans.
The thirst for a knockout was quenched in September 2006 and again January 2007. Evans stopped Jason Lambert at UFC 63 via strikes and floored Sean Lambert with a high kick at UFC Fight Night 8.
As a result, the 5’11” light heavyweight caught a new itch to finish fights, and has been working hard to scratch it. “I’m definitely looking to finish more fights. Why fight if you’re not looking to finish?”
With more time to train for his next bout, Evans’ new interest in striking is sure to spell trouble for the lucky soul who faces him next. With few certainties in the sport, Evans can always be counted on to walk out of the Octagon the same way he walks in: smiling.