Salmon is far from the biggest name Evans has faced and beaten. Still, mentioning the match-up instantly produces an image of a stiff Salmon falling backward to the mat after getting blasted in the face with a head kick. It was a seminal moment in Evans’ career, showing he had evolved as a fighter and possessed explosive power to go with his excellent wrestling ability. The highlight reel finish also propelled him into the upper-echelon of the division and he hasn’t looked back since. Evans’ most recent victory was important for a few reasons. First, it came against one of the finest fighters to ever grace the Octagon. Henderson’s knockout power and wrestling make him a threat to most, including Evans, but wasn’t enough to earn him the victory. Secondly, it allowed Evans to avoid a three-fight losing streak including a substandard performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. With Evans back in the win column, a grim future immediately became brighter, saving him from a lot of criticism and questions about his career. The rivalry between “Rampage” and Evans was epic, playing out on TUF 10. In fact, there was a point where it seemed as though the two would have to be physically separated after a heated exchange in the training center. The fight wasn’t necessarily as exciting as might have been initially envisioned, but Evans’ performance was on par with his best and he had little trouble handling Jackson minus a single sequence. Evans allowed professional instincts to outweigh personal feelings, showing the type of make-up that helps make fighters great. Liddell had seemingly shaken the losing bug after outpointing Wanderlei Silva and was ready to beat Evans en route to another title-shot. Of course, “Sugar” ‘Shad had other plans. After an evenly-matched opening round, Evans turned up the heat and ended up catching Liddell with a perfectly-placed, powerful punch that melted “The Iceman” immediately. The victory made it clear Evans was among the division’s best while Liddell’s days were essentially done (two TKOs later he retired). Had it only involved the winners of TUF 1 and TUF 2 facing off the storyline behind Evans-Griffin would have been fine. However, the bout also happened to involve the light heavyweight title Griffin had won earlier in the year from Quinton Jackson. Griffin’s size advantage paid off early and plenty of folks had him up 2-0 after the first two frames. Come the third, the momentum immediately changed after Griffin slipped and ended up on his back. Evans attacked from above and, after some attempts at defending the ground/pound, Griffin gave in to the shots and was forced to tap. Evans would go on to lose the belt to Lyoto Machida in his first defense but, regardless, he will always be linked to the championship based on beating Griffin.
With questions about his remaining passion, 34-year old
has an important task in front of him this weekend when he squares off against Rashad Evans at Chael Sonnen . The co-headlining clash gives Evans an opportunity to show he still has what it takes to make a run at the title despite some recent stumbles as well as add another win over a game adversary to his resume. And, given the former light heavyweight champion’s past efforts in similar situations, there’s no reason to think he can’t do just that. (Photos by USA Today Sports Images) UFC 167