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Heavy Lies the Light Heavyweight Crown of Rashad Evans

The next time Rashad Evans fights, he will have something to lose other than just his perfect record as a professional mixed martial artist.

Following his third round TKO victory over Forrest Griffin during the main event of Saturday’s UFC 92 event, Evans became the rightful owner of the most prestigious title in all of mixed martial arts. Yet part of the prestige factor behind the UFC’s 205 pound title has to do with the fact that it is a division that is overflowing with the world’s greatest light heavyweight fighters.

The fact is that there might be no crown heavier in MMA than the light heavyweight one currently being worn by Evans.

When Griffin suffered an upset knockout loss at the hands of Keith Jardine two years ago at UFC 66, the light heavyweight winner of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter practically had a nervous breakdown inside the cage. Yet following last night’s defeat in his first-ever defense of the UFC light heavyweight title, a cool and calm Griffin took the loss in stride.

While it’s nothing more than pure conjecture, perhaps Griffin was able to keep his emotions in check because he felt a slight sense of relief now that he will be able to return to the role of hunter as opposed to the role of the hunted?

The role of the hunted now will be played by Evans, the heavyweight winner from the second season of The Ultimate Fighter. Counted out at almost every turn in his UFC career, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Evans once again doubted by the critics.

Winning a title in MMA is one thing but holding onto it is a completely different achievement into itself. There will be no shortage of world class fighters in the UFC that will now attempt to make Evans’ reign as the promotion’s 205 pound king as brief as possible.

At the top of the list of light heavyweight assassins looking to pick Evans off is none other than former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Jackson made everyone forget about his summer bout with delirium by avenging two previous losses to Wanderlei Silva courtesy of a big left hook at UFC 92 that floored “The Axe Murderer” during the fight’s first round.

While UFC President Dana White stopped short of guaranteeing Jackson the first crack at Evans during the post-fight press conference for UFC 92, he came pretty close.

“It does make sense for Rampage to get a title shot,” White informed the media in attendance. “There’s a lot for us to get back to the office and talk about.”

While Jackson wouldn’t mind a shot at becoming a two-time UFC light heavyweight champion, he also expressed an equally strong desire for redemption against Griffin.

“I’m ready to get my title back,” began Jackson. “Everybody wants to be the champion. Everyone wants to be the best. But to be quite honest, I’d rather go and fight Forrest. That’s the fight that haunts me when I go to sleep. I have nightmares about it. That’s the fight. I won the belt. I was the champion. But I’d like to get Forrest first, but it’s up to the UFC.”

It almost seems like a lock that Evans’ first defense will either be against Jackson or the winner of the January 31 light heavyweight clash between unbeaten Thiago Silva and the inconvenient truth, Lyoto Machida. That’s because Chuck Liddell lost to Evans as recently as September and has just one win in his last four fights. Meanwhile, Wanderlei Silva has lost four out of his last five. Jardine would normally be an option following is his UFC 89 win over Brandon Vera in October but as a teammate and friend of Evans, it’s a matchup that can never happen. And Jackson isn’t fighting Griffin, there is no way Griffin deserves an immediate rematch before Jackson gets his shot.

If the UFC gives Griffin to Jackson first, then the only other viable option might be to grant the first title shot at Evans to the winner of the Machida vs. Silvas. A Evans vs. Silva or Evans vs. Machida light heavyweight title fight has limited box office appeal but the UFC may find itself in a position where it has no other alternative than to schedule the match and pair it with a bigger main event.

While Machida and Thiago Silva have yet to break out as legitimate stars, they are already legitimate top ten light heavyweights who have the potential to end Evans’ title reign before it even gets a chance to start.

Silva is 13-0 overall and 4-0 in the UFC with wins over James Irvin, Tomasz Drwal, Houston Alexander, and Antonio Mendes. That’s hardly an impressive win resume but a win over Machida would certainly enhance his case. A former member of Chute Boxe who now trains out of American Top Team, Silva’s aggressive standup style and solid ground skills would make him a threat to Evans.

But the even bigger threat would be Machida, a 13-0 fighter who has a elusive defensive style that gives opponents absolute fits. Despite a well-earned reputation for being a boring fighter, Machida could force the UFC’s hand and earn a title shot if he improves his record inside the Octagon to 6-0 with a win at UFC 94.

With career wins over Stephan Bonnar, B.J. Penn, Rich Franklin, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou , and Tito Ortiz, the balance between sport and entertainment within the UFC could be compromised if Machida doesn’t get a title shot if he beats Silva.

With potential fights with Jackson, Machida, and Thiago Silva looming, there lies a second wave of potential challengers that Evans will have to face if he’s successful during the initial going. As it stands now, the UFC’s light heavyweight division is also home to Vera, Rich Franklin, Luiz Cane, and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

And we can’t overlook the possibility of a darkhorse candidate being enlisted to challenge Evans. If the UFC opts to make Jackson vs. Griffin II and determines that if can’t afford to match the winner of Silva vs. Machida against Evans, do not rule out the possibility of Randy Couture attempting to win the UFC light heavyweight title for a third time.

Couture will soon be busy filming a movie and has expressed no interest in cutting to light heavyweight again. However, an opportunistic Couture ended a one-year retirement in 2007 because he saw a heavyweight champion in Tim Sylvia that he perceived to be vulnerable.

If Couture happens to be one of Evans’ many doubters, the lure of furthering his legacy may be too much to resist. And while Couture is coming off a loss to Lesnar at heavyweight, the UFC might find the idea of a Evans vs. Couture fight to be very attractive, as it would provide a win-win scenario for the promotion. Having Couture as its light heavyweight champion would be great for business while a win over a legend would help Evans become an even bigger star.

Regardless of what direction the UFC chooses for Evans, the breadth of world class fighters at 205 could make his hold on the light heavyweight title a tenuous one.

23 COMMENTS
  • Brad Hopkins says:

    Great article but you forgot about one dark horse Anderson Silva. Who with one big win over a Liddell, Shogun, Griffin, or Thiago Silva could easily get an immediate title shot

  • dpk says:

    I think Rampage should get the first shot, and the Machida/Silva winner can fight Forrest for the next shot.

  • Eric says:

    Evans fights the winner of Machida/Silva and that winner faces Rampage/Griffin

  • Rich S. says:

    i’ll agree that Rampage should get the next shot, simply because after last night, he has absolutely nothing left to prove..

    but i still think it’s crazy that Machida hasn’t gotten a shot yet, and i’m not even a fan of his.. in fact, i don’t even like him that much..

  • screwface says:

    sam is it really that hard to congratulate evans or give props to his fighting prowess or constant evolution as a fighter? even now with his ultimate victory here you are planning his demise. what does he have to do to gain your respect. everytime u write an article containing him, your either brushing his victories off and quickly changing topic or counting him out. its obvious to me you hold him in some sort of disdain and im just curious why. the man is and was always a top 5 fighter and now proved hes #1 lhw. if he defends his belt and wins, will that finally change your opinion?

  • Rich S. says:

    i have this weird feeling when it comes to Rashad..
    he continues to [not really amaze, but] disprove me, and wins his bouts..
    and he wins them in devistating fashion..
    he now has KO’s over Chuck and Forrest..
    but for SOME WEIRD REASON, i still can’t buy that he’s really that good..
    the guys 17-0, not only have i never seen him lose, i’ve never seen him rocked.. hell, i’ve never even seen him WINCE at a punch.. and submissions don’t seem to be a problem for him..
    obviously he’s got some amazing skill, but i just can’t buy that he’s really this good..
    i don’t know what it is..
    maybe it’s the fact that he used to be “the guy that can’t finish a fight” or “the guy that dances and plays with you en route to a decision [see: evans/murphy TUF2]”
    and now, all of a sudden, he’s sprung into “the guy that knocks future hall-o-famer’s cold”..

    either way, i don’t know what it’s going to take to beat him..

  • 5percentbodyfat says:

    Still no respect for Page. Sam I can’t believe you even wrote this?!?!

    How difficult is it to determine who Evans next opponent will be, its one word Rampage. Many including I don’t even think he lost to Forest. Look who he has beaten, I even think he deserved an immediate rematch. Give the man his due, give him a title shot.

  • Joey says:

    Page doesn’t deserve a title shot over Machida/Silva. He should fight Forrest first then fight for the belt after that.

  • James says:

    great win by rashad…i just wish he could put the in ring antics aside…the sport needs men with respect, honor, and class at its forefront for its own good

  • flassassin says:

    No one’s mentioned it yet (and I don’t really think it will happen), but…

    How awesome would it be to see Anderson Silva take on Rashad Evans??

  • ihateemo says:

    I totally agree about Griffin’s attitude – he was clearly unconcerned with being champion and hated the attention it brought.

  • Hunta says:

    The UFC won’t have a problem with giving Machida a deserved title shot. But they will have a problem if he wins. His title shot could be put on a card with a more marketable headline fight. But do they want this guy to be the champion of their most stacked division? Future drawcard title fights will be hard to make. And Lyoto could stay at the top for a while.

  • mike wolfe says:

    I think Rashad will be around for awhile as champ. His stand up is light years ahead of where it was on TUF, and he is very quick. He’s also in a great camp, and that’s a huge advantage.

    I don’t think Silva can stand with Rashad because of Rashad’s quickness and elusiveness. Machida is a more intriguing match up, and he should fight Silva to earn the shot. Rampage’s “come back” is a feel good story, but he hasn’t proven that he’s got the discipline to stay back on top. Wanderlei isn’t the fighter he once was, and Rampage’s win didn’t mean much for a title shot. Let him fight one of the other contenders to prove he’s all the way back.

  • G-DUB says:

    It’s pretty disconcerting that people can’t seem to give Rashad his due credit. What more does this man have to do?? It seems that even highlight reel knockouts and overcoming adversity in the octagon doesn’t help …. I just don’t get it. I too wasn’t the biggest fan of Evans, but he’s won me over in his past few fights. It amazes me that people still talk about his “antics” in the ring …. what antics? He’s got great movement …. looks pretty and is highly effective ( … and can we get over the nipple tweeking as well please? … It’s an inside joke … to me, less offensive than giving the “slit-your-throat” gesture). Also, can anyone hate on how humble and respectful he was in the ring after his win? The show of sportsmanship by both fighters was awesome and should be held in high regard.
    Well …. throwing the race card out there b/c I do think it plays a small role in many fan’s perception of Rashad. If the crowd I watched Satuday’s fights with is any indication, maybe it plays more than just a small role.

  • Imbecile says:

    Rashad is a strange fighter to me. Like Rich S. said above, he continues to disprove, and wins when I think he will lose. But I’m still not sold on his talents. Everyone says he is an amazing record, but his college wrestling credentials are a joke when compared to someone like Lesnar, or even guys like CB Dollaway and Ryan Bader. Rashad wasn’t much better than 50-50 in his college record. Also, I don’t think he has displayed incredible takedowns or top control in MMA.

    He also has a strange striking style that can be effective, but can be just as effective in getting him hit. Despite his constant movement, he doesn’t have fantastic defense, and his head movement doesn’t seem to get him out of the way of punches. His best attribute is that he is fast, and he does wing in some fast strikes, mainly from the outside.

    Also, the guy seems to have no offensive jiu-jitsu, and he has never really been tested against anyone who poses a threat with their jiu-jitsu. Sure, a half-KO’ed Forrest Griffin attempted some lazy subs, but nobody has really tested Rashad’s sub defense yet.

    Rashad is also the type of fighter who can go from very lackluster performances against fairly average 205 lb. fighters, like Tito Ortiz and Michael Bisping (I thought he actually lost to Bisping on my scorecards), to knocking out Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell. Also, it doesn’t hurt to mention that he was losing almost every second of the fight to Forrest until the end.

    My problem with Rashad is that while he certainly has talent, I just still have too many questions about him as a fighter. He had a reasonably easy road up the ranks, and I jst don’t know how long he will be able to hold onto that belt for.

  • Imbecile says:

    @ G-DUB

    I think you are absolutely wrong in throwing the race card out there, saying that many people don’t like Rashad due to race. I happen to have a lot of questions about Rashad’s fight game still, and I haven’t particularly liked the way he has carried himself before and after certain fights. He isn’t so much a jerk, but just has a certain arrogant swagger that is quite annoying. But none of this has to do with race. I personally love Rampage, Anderson Silva, and a whole lot of other black fighters. I really don’t even see fighters based on skin color, and I’m sure many others are the same way. Just because a guy isn’t popular doesn’t mean it has anything to do with race. We have a black President now, for goodness sake… can people just get over their victimhood and stop seeing everything through racially tinged glasses. Sure, there are racists out there. But people that accuse racism in others with no evidence of it are just as pathetic and bad as the real racists out there.

  • G-DUB says:

    It is your right to disagree Imbecile … it is my opinion and it’s not something that I just tossed out there whimsically. I think it’s exactly that “arrogant swagger” that you refer to that throws people off, but my impression is that fans seem to be more accepting of that swagger in caucasian fighters. Moreover, to say that Rashad is an “arrogant” dude is a joke. Has anyone ever heard him be interviewed? It’s just the way he moves …. and partly the entertainer aspect of what he does.
    Like I said …. this is my take on it so I’m sharing it. It is based on my exposure to fans during Rashad figths, especially against Forrest this past weekend … and hey … citing our new Pres as proof that there is little racism in this country is an arguement that doesn’t hold much water. 47% of Americans didn’t pull the lever for him so I don’t quite see where you were going with that one.

  • mmastation says:

    G-Dub

    “47% of Americans didn’t pull the lever for him so I don’t quite see where you were going with that one.”

    You are throwing that number out there like it means 47% of americans didnt vote for him because he is black, which it doesnt mean at all. Not everyone agrees with his policies.

    I dont think throwing the race card out there is even necessary at this point.

    I am also a rashad hater though i am starting to come around slowly. For some reason I just feel like he hasnt done enough or fought a variety of dangerous opponents. He is very well on the path now to fighting those opponents now though.

  • neijia says:

    @5percentbodyfat – totally agree. Rampage deserves it immediately. That would be a great fight but I think Rampage’s experience outweighs Evan’s skills. That Liddell held the title so long is impressive in such a stacked division.

  • Max says:

    There’s a lot of haters posting up comments in regards to Rashad Evans. Claiming that Rashad is one dimensional… Who really gives a F***!!! So was Chuck Liddell, a good striker and a good sprawl. But everyone seems to agree that Chuckie was a great fighter even though he had a limited arsenal. Rashad was getting his ass whip for the majority of the fights…. Who really gives a F***!!! What matters is whose hand is raised at the end of the fight. Rashad evens admitted that he starts slow. Nogueria is famous for his come from behind victories but no one is a bitching about that. Rashad’s antics disgust you… Who really gives a F***!!! Liddell throws up gangs signs up in every fight. Rampage thinks his a werewolf. St Pierre is a breakdancer. Anderson Silva is also dancing in the ring. It makes for good entertainment. Stop hating. Rashad has proven himself time and time and time again. He definetly belongs in the top 10 light heavyweight and pound for pound. If you don’t like him because you “THINK” you know the kind of person he is… OK Rashad is a good fighter on the road to being a great fighter. And he fights with a lot of heart in that ring.

  • KTru says:

    Evans will continually not gain the respect he deserves. Easy road this and losing on scorecards that. Not impressive in aspects of his fight game. HE DOES NOT LOSE!
    Evans does not put himself in position to get subbed, does not leave his chin out, and pounces on the opportunity when his opponent leaves it open. Who will he have to beat in order to get the respect? All the Evans haters look for whatever they can to do what they do the best…HATE…
    Before he beat Liddell there were glaring weaknesses, before he fought Forrest there were his ring antics….
    Before his next fight……
    “the guy seems to have no offensive jiu-jitsu, and he has never really been tested against anyone who poses a threat with their jiu-jitsu. Sure, a half-KO’ed Forrest Griffin attempted some lazy subs, but nobody has really tested Rashad’s sub defense yet.”

    Well after he beats Rampage, I guess you will still be able to hang your hat on that

  • Imbecile says:

    I’m not minimizing Evans’ accomplishments, I am just saying I still have questions about his overall game. He has definitely disproven me time and again, but I still think he has major holes in his game until I see differently. He obviously has a lot of talent, but he has yet to face an equal or better wrestler, and he has yet to face a really strong jiu-jitsu fighter. He is also someone who just a couple of fights ago barely squeaked out a split decision over Bisping, so I wonder about his consistency. Maybe he will disprove me, maybe he won’t. The guy could have awesom BJJ defense, but I don’t know at this point. I only know what he has shown me, and that is that Rashad is a better than average wrestler (but far from completely dominant), with average top control on the ground, pretty average conditioning, and some fast and powerful striking that can be very wild at times.

    What else do I know about him? I know he makes excuses for times he has been in trouble in fights, he is cocky and diminishes his opponents skills in interviews and talks about how nobody can hurt him, and he is prone to disrespectful displays inside the octagon, a la the kiss and groin tap. He isn’t an outright jerk, as I said above, but he isn’t someone who endears himself to a lot of people, either.

    He is certainly a threat to anyone at 205, but I’m not sold on him as the best 205 lb’er out there just yet.

    None of that is hate. He just isn’t my favorite, and I have a lot of unanswered questions about his overall game.

  • TS says:

    Rampage doesnt deserve a shot just yet. C’mon only one win. Dont get me wrong Rampage is one of my favorite fighters but I dont think one victory gets a title shot, nor do I think the winner of Machida/Silva get it. Let the winner face Rampage in about April then have that winner fight for the title in or around July. If you have to have a title shot sooner then it has to be the winner of Machida/Silva and to make the card more interesting add Mir vs Lesnar.

  • Mark B says:

    I just want to see history made in the UFC one day especially seeing BJ Penn not being able to do it against Georges St Pierre for his second belt, I think Anderson Silva should face Rashad Evans or whoever has the title when its time in a light heavyweight bout and go for 2 belts, I think Silva would win and hold that belt plus the middleweight belt for a very long time. Hell i’d say he’d even beat Lesnar at heavyweight if he could swing his weight that much. Royce Gracie was great back in his day now people might as well face it, Anderson Silva is by far the dominant one today. I dont know what the UFC is waiting on they sure gave a title shot to Lesnar in a hurry everybody knows he should not have got it as quick as he did at the time, I think Both Coaches at the last ultimate fighter should’ve been before him especially Frank Mir since we already know he’s better than Brock Lesnar. So why not make the others wait in the light heavyweight and give it to Anderson Silva then let him be the hunted, I mean come on what else does he have to prove.

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