MMA is a young sport (sure, its roots go back centuries, but, well, bear with me) and like any sport, we can sometimes find a generation gap among fans. Those who remember his PRIDE run may tell you Fedor Emelianenko as the greatest heavyweight of all time, while newer fans often call him the best of a lesser era. Those of us who labored to hunt down third-generation VHS tapes to follow the sport laugh at the new MMA fans who scoff at anything not broadcast in HD, and vice versa. Rashad Evans, who fights in the main event Saturday at UFC 161: “Evans vs. Henderson” against Dan Henderson, is another such case.
Talk to guys who have been around the sport for a while, and we’ll probably refer to Evans as a steady performer of the new school. Evans debuted with ZUFFA-era UFC after only a year fighting on smaller shows. He’s mostly known for winning a UFC title and beating up some of our old favorites like Chuck Liddell, “Rampage” Jackson and Tito Ortiz, who were already established stars before Evans even debuted. He got beat up by the “New Era” Jon Jones and that “New Era (That Didn’t Quite Happen as Hoped)” in Lyoto Machida, but is otherwise as dependable as they come. He’s of the new breed of MMA fighters – quick feet, heavy hands, and solid wrestling credentials.
Talk to the young ‘uns, and you may hear the opposite: “Evans is of the old school. Come on, he debuted back when champions were built in The Ultimate Fighter and no one got in trouble for Tweeting, and be honest, anyone who says they remember those days is probably lying. He won a UFC championship, but the guy he beat has already retired. He can wrestle a little, but lost this totally boring fight in February against a guy named Antônio Rogério Nogueira, who the old folks talk about but is barely .500 in the UFC. Evans is old news.”
So, who’s right? Well, perhaps both parties have a point or two, but I’m leaning towards the former perspective. Evans indeed had a bad night last time out, but he’s had an otherwise excellent career against the UFC’s best for almost a decade now.
The classic “wrestle-box” type of fighter which has come to dominate North American MMA, Evans has only suffered three defeats in his 21 pro bouts. He has those quick feet, isn’t afraid to throw his heavy hands, and boasts solid wrestling. His transitions from striking to takedowns are among the division’s best. He has to stay healthy, which apparently wasn’t the case in his last outing. But, he’s still got all the tools.
Evans is somewhere in between two eras now, and maybe, at 33, the best is yet to come. A solid win this weekend at UFC 161 in Winnipeg should offer his career needed momentum, and this weekend’s opponent in Henderson, who tends to plod forward, should be particularly suited his style.
In fact, there’s no one short of the current champion Jones who I’d classify as a heavy favorite over Evans at light-heavyweight. With the possibility of Jones moving up to heavyweight, don’t be surprised if Evans wears UFC gold again… in whatever era we find ourselves in.
Then, look for fans, new and old, to find someone else to disagree about!