This marked the first fight for Evans under his new "six figure" contract, which he earned by defeating Brad Imes via split decision in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 2 Finale. "The Hillbilly Heartthrob," who stood at 6'7" and pushed the 265-pound heavyweight threshold to the max, was a mountain of a man. Evans, 5'11," realized real quick he was too small for the division and immediately dropped to light heavyweight after the conclusion of the show. In his 205-pound debut he was booked to battle Sam Hoger, the unabashed heel (and thief) from the inaugural season of TUF who everyone loved to hate. Quieting the "Alaskan Assassin," who was invited back after a surprise win over Bobby Southworth, would go a long way toward scoring major points with fans. It didn't happen. For 15 minutes Evans implemented the dreaded "lay and pray" strategy. He registered takedowns, but did absolutely nothing with them in an attempt to finish the fight. Meanwhile, Hoger, who was much busier despite his supine position, worked various submissions from his back and nearly ended the fight in the second round with a kimura. Evans survived the scare and hung on to squeak out a split decision win from the judges. He certainly didn't come storming out of the gates as planned. It was ugly.
Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz
UFC 73: "Stacked"
ARCO Arena in Sacramento, California
July 7, 2007
Here it was, Evans' big chance to prove that he belonged with the big cats. An unblemished record (10-0), a TUF title and two consecutive (technical) knockout finishes, including the vicious destruction of Sean Salmon, had earned Evans the opportunity to slay a major MMA dragon, former light heavyweight champion and promotional poster boy, Tito Ortiz. "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy," who has had a well-documented tumultuous relationship with UFC President Dana White, was unsuccessful (again) in his bid to unseat incumbent champion and bitter rival, Chuck Liddell, in his most recent bout. Ortiz was furious that the UFC would insult him with a fight against the unproven up-and-comer, Evans, in his rebound appearance. He reluctantly accepted the challenge, assuring fans that he wouldn't be "Suga's" stepping stone. He was only half right. Evans and Ortiz battled for three rounds, with the latter winning the first two on the judges scorecards. However, Ortiz was docked a crucial point in the second round for grabbing the fence to stop a takedown. Evans would come out and win the final frame, pushing the pace against his visibly exhausted opponent. The fight would end in a draw, which was a blessing in disguise for Evans, who came within literally inches of his first-ever professional loss.
Rashad Evans vs. Michael Bisping
UFC 78: "Validation" Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey
Nov. 17, 2007
After the disappointing draw with Ortiz, Evans was expected to meet him once again in an immediate rematch to settle their score. However, the UFC lost its patience with "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" on a bout agreement and switched gears, booking Evans to fight another TUF winner, Michael Bisping, in the UFC 78 main event. It wasn't a title fight, but there was certainly more at stake when the undefeated prospects collided. Hence, the aptly-named event moniker, "Validation." Evans and Bisping, at the time, were viewed as projects. Their notoriety and success merely the byproduct of the UFC marketing machine rather than built on pure skill and natural ability. Evans was the favorite heading into the showdown. And, with an impressive win, would clearly demonstrate that he was indeed the TUF winner who had what it took to seriously contend in perhaps sport's most dangerous division. Unfortunately, despite a solid first round from Evans, the final outcome only clouded their already murky statuses even further. The final two rounds could have gone either way, and they did, with the judges (and fans) failing to agree unanimously and awarding Evans with a controversial split decision. The result, along with the 15-minute wrestling match, which left both fighters gasping for air in the third round, left much to be desired. Describing this as an anti-climactic win for Evans would be an understatement.
Rashad Evans vs. Lyoto Machida
UFC 98: "Evans vs. Machida"
MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada
May 23, 2009
Evans was at the top of the MMA world. He had defeated Forrest Griffin to win the light heavyweight championship of the world just six months earlier. And was eager to remain there as long as possible. Undefeated enigma, Lyoto Machida, who was reluctantly rewarded with a title shot when Quinton Jackson had to undergo jaw surgery, had other plans. "The Dragon" was elusive, famous for his ghost-like abilities to strike and not be struck. Evans, historically, is never in a rush, which made the first round agonizing to watch despite a flurry of action at the close of it. Evans danced, while Machida pranced. Both fighters began to open up in the second, which spelled the E N D for "Suga" and his championship reign. Machida connected with a few solid strikes and Evans pretended he wasn't hurt. Bad idea. As he foolishly bobbed and weaved along the fence to avoid the Brazilian's onslaught, it was clear to everyone, except perhaps Evans, that he was in major trouble. And just like that, Machida connected with a fight-ending strike that had Evans doing the now infamous "stanky leg." He was knocked out cold for the first time ever in his career. It was so fierce that his wife could be heard screaming in horror from the stands.
Let's be clear: This fight never happened and therefore isn't an "official" loss. But the decision that Evans made, which company president Dana White described as "insane," to sit and wait for UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Mauricio Rua to recover from knee surgery was awful. Evans, 31, missed out on 12 months of action in the prime of his career ... and he never even got the opportunity that he earned in the end. Several weeks prior to the match he tweaked his knee in training, opening up the door for his friend (at the time) and training partner, Jon Jones, to steal his thunder. "Bones" did just that, did he ever, smoking "Shogun" to capture the belt. Evans was then booked to battle Jones, creating a rift with long-time trainer, Greg Jackson. Evans quickly detonated his friendship with Jones and parted ways with Jackson, heading to South Florida to prepare for the looming showdown. But that never happened, either. Jones soon announced that he elected to repair his injured hand. Evans, once again opponent-less, accepted a fight with Phil Davis. Shortly thereafter Jones recanted and announced he would not go under the knife and would defend his title later this year. Evans, already spoken for, had to watch while the promotion matched Jones up with Jackson, the man he defeated a year earlier, to get his title shot instead. Davis then got injured and Ortiz, who was winless for nearly a half-decade up until four weeks ago, was plugged in at the last minute. It's been a total year-long disaster, which can only be made worse with a loss to the "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" this weekend (Aug. 6, 2011) at UFC 133.