“People still don’t believe in me and that’s the best part about it” said the affable “Sugar” Rashad Evans (18-0-1), in his habitual laid back demeanor.
A couple of weeks removed from his May 23rd title defense against Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida (14-0), the undefeated UFC Light Heavyweight Champion finds himself playing the underdog yet again. This time though, he has embraced the part and admittedly thrives on it.
Four years ago, Rashad appeared to be but a showboating wrestler, whose said boring style called for nothing short of annihilation at the hands of the much larger Brad Imes in The Ultimate Fighter 2 finale.
That did not happen, as what ensued was a battle that saw a great display of heart and raw talent by the future champion. A swarm of criticism has seemingly followed him long after his successful stint on the show, despite going 7-0-1 in a steady climb to the top of the ultra talented Light Heavyweight Division.
After two victories over Sam Hoger and Stephan Bonnar by way of the judges’ decision, Evans was heavily antagonized for having boring and non-fulfilling fights.
He emphatically answered back with four decisive finishes in his next six fights, including a pair of highlight reel knockouts over Sean Salmon and UFC superstar Chuck Liddell. A rather impressive feat by any standards as Evans displayed paroxysms of greatness in his title quest.
Consistently facing tough opponents, fans and pundits alike witnessed the evolution of Rashad as a mixed martial artist, both physically and mentally.
The vicious head kick knockout of Sean Salmon served as a reminder that he was past being just a wrestler, and his most recent victories over then champion Forrest Griffin and former champion Liddell affirmed that “sugar” had made considerable strides in the sweet science. But the confident champion takes little credit for his success.
“I think the turning point for me was when I went to Team (Greg) Jackson … we have a great team; Keith Jardine, Nathan Marquardt, Joey Villasenor and Georges St.Pierre … and the result is championships titles,” said the humble Evans.
While his kickboxer-wrestler arsenal is nothing to sneeze at, Rashad has also proven to be a terrific cerebral fighter.
From a nonchalant and non committal stance to taunting his opponents in the octagon, Evans has shown he had the ability to command an emotional response or a costly lapse in judgement from his adversaries, a fighting acumen his future opponent (Lyoto) has also displayed in the octagon.
Unfortunately for Evans, his bravado in the cage has also managed to stir an emotional response from many viewers, and the champion has been coined a show boater.
But the pleasant Rashad is undaunted by those comments and offers a relatively rational explanation: “it’s not me it’s the character,” he proclaims with a giggle; “when ‘Sugar’ comes out he does that…and ‘Sugar’ is sweet.”
Not to be confused with the more reserved Rashad Evans as he calmly states: “Rashad is a laid back guy ‘Sugar’ likes to go out there and have a lot of fun.”
Amidst the rise to fame and the criticism, two constants have remained in the unsolved equation that is Evans’s near perfect MMA record; he has a knack for ridiculing betting lines, and yes, Rashad Evans is here to stay.
Nonetheless, the champion finds himself the underdog in his upcoming match-up with Lyoto Machida. Then again, as “Sugar” so eloquently puts it, “I can’t remember a fight when I went into the fight and I was supposed to be the favorite.”
For the full interviews, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?=QbAZsvYu7j8
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