Very few fighters have been able to make headlines despite being out of action for a year. Yet here we have Rashad Evans, a man who clearly can fight but is perhaps the most controversial and enigmatic fighter in the UFC right now. He's never been popular, starting with Matt Hughes's criticism back on TUF 2, but he went on to win the heavyweight title as a vastly undersized competitor. He performs his best when he's being underestimated . . . knocking out Sean Salmon when the hype train on the Ohio wrestler was high, he knocked out Chuck Liddell when the legend was still relevant and coming off the big win against Wanderlei Silva, and he beat Forrest Griffin when his hype was at an all-time high. His loss to Lyoto Machida was when he wasn't being underestimated. He then took on a tough Thiago Silva while waiting for Rampage Jackson, who he then pretty soundly beat back at UFC 114. With wins over Bisping, Liddell, Griffin, Silva, and Jackson; Evans sports a record nearly unmatched in the UFC. You just cannot argue he isn't a top fighter for the promotion.
Yet nobody seems to care, most of all the UFC who I think aren't that wild about putting him against Jones - he just makes the most sense right now. Jackson and Machida both have fights booked Liddell is retired, and Griffin has a broken foot. Phil Davis isn't ready, Rogerio Noguiera has underwhelmed, and that's about it.
I argued in the run-up and aftermath of the big Rampage fight that while fans might have wanted to see Rampage-Shogun II, it was Evans who had a better skill set to beat Rua - especially after such a long layoff. His relentless wrestling and knockout power is a tough out for anyone - but Rua has shown wrestling to be his weakness against Mark Coleman II and against Forrest Griffin. I think the way Jon Jones beat Rua shows that Evans could have implemented a similar plan.
Back to now - Evans caught all kind of hell for not taking a fight after the Rampage fight, waiting for Rua to heal so he could get his title shot. But I could understand where Rashad was coming from. While waiting for Rampage to make up his mind if he even wanted to fight again after making a movie, he DID take a fight against Thiago Silva. After dominated rounds 1 and 2, he got absolutely clobbered in round 3, almost lost, and got booed out of the building. He knows it was a near miss and that fight could have been stopped.
So now, after everything that has happened, he STILL gets his title shot.
But what makes Evans so tough to understand is his public statements. Jon Jones was his brother, he would never fight him. Now after Jones wins a title I'm sure Evans feels should be his after seeing how Shogun fought, he's ready to fight and saying he never wanted him at Jackson's anyways. And that he asked Jackson not to train Jones. But if you think back to UFC Primetime in the build-up to his fight with Rampage, Evans did almost all of his training with Trevor Whitman at Grudge. So has he re-thought Jackson for awhile now? And what about his relationship with Bones Jones? I personally think that Evans is now fueled by jealousy, and he has every right to feel that way. Its easy to argue that Jones got what Evans deserved.
He's such a hard fighter to figure out, that being Rashad Evans. When he's the underdog, he thrives (Salmon, Liddell, Griffin, Jackson) but when he's taken seriously or the favorite (Machida, Silva) he doesn't always show up. At his best, he mixes relentless takedowns with true knockout power, but he's a slow starter who can fall behind early and takes some time to get going.
I don't see any way he can beat Jon Jones, unless he knows something the rest of the world doesn't. Jones is bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic, and has the ability to submit you - something Evans does not have. But I thought the same thing going into the Forrest Griffin fight. As we learned from Lyoto Machida - who's 1-2 in the Machida Era - hype comes and goes in MMA, and oftentimes very fast. But Jones is different from Machida. Machida used a discipline previously unused in MMA (karate) to work with good submissions and knock out power. He key to unlock his enigma was leg kicks, and aggressive pin-point striking. Jon Jones is just better than everyone else right now. He's so long, innovative, and faster than everyone else.
But the story of Rashad Evans and exactly what is going on in his world is incredibly interesting right now, and relevant. He's been the #1 contender for over a year through a title change. From his perch on MMA Live, he has an outlet very few others do to make his views known. But what are his real views? Will he tell anyone? Was Jones a brother, or an unwanted interloper he hoped to keep at bay by winning the title and using the excuse of being camp-mates to keep him at bay? Has Greg Jackson lost a step as Evans now argues, or is he simply man at the mad scientist who build him from a small wrestler to a full on top-5 fighter in the world?