Despite being nicknamed "Suga," things haven't been going so sweet for UFC light heavyweight Rashad Evans.
After stringing together an impressive four-fight win streak following his brutal title loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98, the former champ has looked abysmal in his last two outings, dropping back-to-back bouts to Jon Jones and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Now set to face former Pride champ Dan Henderson at this weekend's UFC 161, Evans will need a win to retain his elite status in the division.
If we rewind the clock to just a year-and-a-half ago, "Suga" was then considered by many to be a top-three light heavyweight at the time. Except for the elusive Machida, Evans took down nearly every top 205er the UFC threw at him, from up-and-comers like Phil Davis to MMA legends like Tito Ortiz.
This Evans was a killer who disposed of his opponents with a combination of high-level wrestling and explosive striking.
But in his last two bouts, Evans has looked considerably slower and plain out of form.
While failing to reclaim his belt from rival Jones was a tough pill to swallow for Evans, the fight against "Little Nog" was even more excruciating to watch. Evans looked uncharacteristically slow and lethargic in the final two frames of their UFC 156 bout, which landed him on the wrong side of a unanimous decision.
While I doubt that "Suga" will be given a pink slip by the UFC should he come up short against Henderson on Saturday night, a third straight loss will be a telling sign of the former champ's inability to hang with the upper echelon of the division.
With guys such as Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira quickly making their way up the rankings, a veteran like Evans needs to stay on the winning track to remain relevant, especially when it comes to title contention.
If the 33-year-old former champ is able to emerge victorious on Saturday—and in convincing fashion—he will at least momentarily silence the critics who have called for his head.
This fight will have a long-term impact on his career as well.
Whether it was injuries, a lack a motivation or a combination of the two, Evans looked like he didn't want to be in the Octagon in his last two fights. With another outing like that, he may become the division's newest gatekeeper.
A win against Henderson, however, would not only secure his position in the rankings but could also spark a new fire under "Suga." It all depends on which Rashad Evans shows up on Saturday night.
The one-time titleholder can either continue his downward spiral or rise to the occasion at UFC 161. Here's hoping for the latter.
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