Rashad Evans Wants to Move Down to Middleweight and Fight at Madison Square Garden
When Rashad Evans walked onto the set of The Ultimate Fighter in August 2005 he weighed about 225 pounds. This made him the second-lightest contestant among the nine heavyweight fighters vying for a UFC contract that season, but Evans, who not two years earlier had wrestled in college at 174 pounds, somehow managed to overcome his physical deficiencies and beat all comers that year, even those who outweighed him by 40 pounds. Still, as soon as he officially entered the UFC he wisely dropped down to the 205-pound division, knowing that in any fighting situation outside reality television, size is destiny. One can only pretend to be a heavyweight for so long if one wants to keep one’s head on one’s shoulders and one’s brains in one’s head.
Eleven years later Rashad Evans feels as firmly established a part of the UFC firmament as the Octagon itself: one of those figures who’s always been there. But the cruel reality of MMA is that it’s an unforgiving mistress. And when the decline of the human body starts after a decade of repeated and constant devastation it doesn’t stop. There’s no turning around; there’s no getting it back. There’s only adapting and adjusting and resignation. Evans is now 36-years-old and for the first time in his long career in the midst of a losing streak. Two straight losses and four losses out of six should be enough for any man or woman pushing middle age to contemplate his or her place in the world. And with the inevitable slowing of the body no one would criticize Rashad Evans if he decided to make a late-career move back to the heavyweight division, where it all started for him, back to a place where, even at 36, he might still be the fastest guy in the room and where he would no longer have to fight his body’s ever-growing reluctance to drop enormous amounts of weight.
But god bless Rashad Evans, the man is indifferent to the easy way out. Rather than moving up to heavyweight and riding out his career blissfully eating what he wants and slipping the punches of stronger but slower men, as would be his right as a UFC loyalist, Evans instead told MMA Hour host Ariel Helwani yesterday that he will actually be going down to middleweight, back to the weight class he wrestled at 15 years ago, when he was young and wide-eyed and full of promise and blessed with a lightning-fast metabolism. Staring down 40, Evans said he’s looking to the smaller weight class for a late-career renaissance, one last rebirth before the inevitable decline, one more rush of life to put a cap on a fighting career before he makes a permanent move to the pundit’s desk.
"Well, you know, the thing about it is the fact that it is a tough cut but at some point I feel like I need just to kind of start over again, kind of get something fresh, you know,” Evans said. “And 185 is weight class that I've always thought about going but really never put the time and the discipline to make it happen. And, you know, coming off two fights losing, I just want to find the way to bring some life back to wanting to compete again. I feel like dropping to 185 is the best choice."
After a decade as a true company man—a former champion whose brashness and quick tongue and needle-pushing feud with Rampage Jackson helped fuel the UFC’s late-aughts popularity explosion—Evans deserves a chance to pump some life back into his career and his fighting spirit however he sees fit, even if it means putting his body through the wringer of a brutal weight cut. He’s earned the right to do what he wants. And if the Niagara Falls native wants to make his middleweight debut this November at Madison Square Garden as part of the UFC’s long-long-awaited return to New York then the promotion’s matchmakers should make it happen. They need all the native and adopted sons and daughters of the Empire State they can get on the card to sanctify the occasion and celebrate their return with the proper pomp and circumstance. Chris Weidman, Al Iaquinta, Rafael “Sapo” Natal, and definitely, absolutely “Suga” Rashad Evans, who recognizes perhaps more than anyone the solemnity and significance of the occasion and its meaning in the life of a lifelong fighter staring down the twilight of his career. For Evans, after a banner career and service above and beyond the call, a fight at MSG would mean a shot at immortality.
"It is absolutely perfect. I couldn't write anything better myself to be able to hopefully have an opportunity to compete in this card, to be a part of what this card means for the history of mixed martial arts,” Evans said yesterday. “This is what it’s about. It's just about being a part of history. No matter what happens in my life, I'll live forever in this moment, I'll be immortalized in this moment, being the fact that I can say that I competed in the first card at Madison Square Garden, UFC, mixed martial arts, and that for me it's something that nobody can ever take away.”
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