The Rise and Fall of Rashad Evans

On Monday of last week, which just happened to be the 13th anniversary of his first fight in the UFC — during which he did a dance in the cage that was widely castigated as showboating, on Season 2 of "The Ultimate Fighter" — Rashad Evans, who for just under five months had been the UFC light heavyweight champion, announced his retirement after having lost five in a row, the last being a gruesome, 53-second knockout loss to journeyman Anthony Smith at UFC 225.

Rashad, undefeated going into his appearance on the show, earned the obligatory three-year, six-figure contract with the UFC on November 5, 2005 by defeating Brad Imes, who was eight inches bigger than he was, at the live finale in Las Vegas. A draw against Tito Ortiz at UFC 73 (on 7/7/7!) was his only hiccup thereafter going into UFC 88 on September 9, 2008, in which Rashad was to fight UFC legend Chuck Liddell. When Rashad registered a shocking second-round KO of Liddell, it sent him to a title fight vs. the wildly popular Forrest Griffin at UFC 92 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on December 27. After losing the first two rounds, Rashad pounced on his larger opponent in Round 3 and scored a TKO.

A highly-anticipated title defense against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson seemed likely, until various setbacks to Jackson resulted in Rashad fighting Lyoto Machida at UFC 98 on May 23, 2009 instead. That fight, however, resulted in Rashad getting brutally knocked out by Machida, who was also unbeaten entering the fight. Rashad then appeared as a coach in Season 10 of TUF, opposite Rampage, with the two fighting afterwards. In that fight, Rashad defeated Rampage by unanimous decision at UFC 114 on May 29, 2010.

But then, the roof fell in.

Rashad was supposed to face Mauricio "Shogun" Rua for the light heavyweight belt at UFC 128 on March 19, 2011, but a training camp injury forced him out, and his teammate at Greg Jackson's camp, Jon Jones, replaced him against Rua. Glenn Robinson, who Rashad had recently took on as his manager, deliberately turned Rashad against Jackson, who had molded Rashad into a world champion after inviting Rashad to train at his camp on the heels of his TUF 2 victory (Rashad had defeated Jackson fighter Keith Jardine in the semifinals)

This was so that Robinson could bring Rashad to a new camp he had just started up in Boca Raton, Florida, consisting of a bunch of malcontents who had stormed out of American Top Team in a dispute over a new management team that Dan Lambert, American Top Team's owner, had brought in (Lambert would later exact his revenge when he made Robinson look like an absolute fool when they coached against each other on Season 21 of TUF in 2015 — and no doubt Lambert felt even more schadenfreude when Robinson was forced to file for bankruptcy the following year, before which a parade of highly respected coaches, including Mike van Arsdale, who had followed Rashad from Jackson's, Kenny Monday, an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, and Brazilian jiu jitsu coaches Marcus Aurelio, Sergio "Babu" Gasparelli, and Mario Sperry, had left Robinson's camp following "personality conflicts" with the narcissistic Robinson).

After Jones had utterly dismantled Rua to claim the title, Rashad climbed into the octagon, announcing that he would never fight for Greg Jackson again. A long-running, highly publicized feud ensued — a feud that finally boiled over more than a year later at UFC 145, when Jones beat Rashad by a unanimous decision that wasn't even close.

The degree to which the whole affair affected Rashad became readily evident in his next fight, when he lost to a clearly past-his-prime Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156, a fight in which Rashad was an 11-2 favorite to win. Two wins followed — a split decision at UFC 161 over a 42-year-old Dan Henderson, whose request to use TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) had been denied by the Manitoba provincial athletic commission (the fight was in Winnipeg), and a first-round TKO of Chael Sonnen, who showed up for the fight obviously out of shape, at UFC 167. Then came the five-fight losing streak that ended Rashad's career — a skid that included two losses by KO in less than two minutes.

Thus has concluded a Hall of Fame career by a fighter who did as much as any fighter did to make The Ultimate Fighter a genuine cultural endowment. Yet it is a career that both could have lasted longer, and been even better overall: had Rashad moved down to middleweight at once after Jones won the light heavyweight title (Rashad proved that he could physically make middleweight when he actually did it five years later, when he was five years older) and stayed with Greg Jackson instead of remaining at light heavyweight and leaving Jackson's, Rashad could have easily joined Randy Couture and B.J. Penn as the only two multiple-weight-class title-holders (Conor McGregor later became one) in UFC history — and would also have gone down as the Pylades to Jon Jones' Orestes, instead of the Cain to Jones' Abel.

And even at this late date, Rashad has not been able to let go of his grudge against Greg Jackson: In his interview on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show on ESPN during which he announced his retirement, Rashad couldn't have done a better job of damning Greg Jackson and his partner Mike Winklejohn (who took Rashad's desertion of the camp especially hard) with faint praise if he tried.

And that is a tragedy — a tragedy for which Glenn Robinson will pay a heavy price in the next life: "From the iron treasury of the Lord, the fee of wrath is paid the sowers of discord," wrote Dante.

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