Rashad Evans laughs during Thursday's UFC On Fox pre-event press conference. (Photo Credit: Esther Lin/MMAFighting.com)
I went into last August's UFC 133 a little disappointed. You see, I've been a fan of Rich Franklin for years and the opportunity to cover one of his fights in person was something I was really looking forward to. When he dropped off the card, I was bummed but quickly shifted focus to Tito Ortiz as the improbable story that was his career resurgence was a lot of fun.
But what I came away with was a new-found appreciation for his opponent that night in Rashad Evans. I was impressed with his presence, how people reacted when he entered the arena, how he took care of business against Ortiz and how he carried himself in general.
The 32-year-old isn't just a star, but he's a big star and should be recognized as such.
That's why I can't understand why people boo him relentlessly and how he attracts so much vitriol. This Saturday, Evans main events UFC On Fox 2 against Phil Davis and will be on display in front of potentially the largest audience that has ever seen him perform. Why should they and you appreciate him?
He doesn't fight slouches: His last eight opponents in a four-year stretch where he went 6-1-1: Ortiz, Michael Bisping, Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Lyoto Machida, Thiago Silva, Quinton Jackson and Ortiz again. When I look at some of the top fighters in the world, I'm intrigued by the level of competition they go in there against. Are they continually testing themselves against the best? When you look at this list and think about the point those opponents were at when Evans fought them, what other current top light heavyweight has had a stretch like this in their last few years?
He comes off like a star: Evans has the presence of an NFL quarterback, dressing in nice suits and carrying himself with an "I'm the man" swagger. Quite simply, he acts like a star and he should. In today's fight game, that is hugely important as the UFC needs more guys that people will pay to see. If MMA was bigger with mainstream media outlets like ESPN, Evans would be seen and covered in a different light and perhaps Saturday on Fox will be his big breakout to the masses.
He's got a big rivalry: One of the UFC's few big money matches is Evans vs. current light heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones and like an old-school pro wrestling storyline, the build to this inevitable clash has been tremendous. This a story made for Warrior 2: two teammates and friends split down the middle due to one winning a title and saying he'd fight the other, breaking a pact they had. Their camps split, the fighters split and it's all they can do to not bring each other up when they're fighting other people.
Bird had Magic, Williams had DiMaggio, Liddell had Ortiz and perhaps Evans vs. Jones can be a great rivalry for the next few years. Evans is just one injury-free win away from finally getting his shot at reclaiming the title he violently lost to Machida in May 2009. To do so, he would have to go through his former friend and now mortal enemy. That's a story that's impossible to ignore.
When Evans steps on the scale Friday, he'll likely get booed again because apparently that's the thing to do. Like it or not, he is one of the biggest stars in MMA and in front of a big network TV audience, a big win will finally get him the respect that he deserves and has earned.