UFC 161: Has There Ever Been a Fighter Booked to Look Bad More than Rashad Evans
Rashad "Suga" Evans picked up a victory on Saturday at UFC 161, but it hardly did him any favors in terms of MMA fans. It was a rather lackluster showing in what has become a rather lackluster run from Evans in recent years.
Evans has never really been the popular kid on the block despite his UFC success. His strategy in recent fights hasn't done anything to change fans' opinions on him, but is the dislike more of a result from the UFC's booking of Evans?
In pro wrestling, heels (bad guys) are booked against babyfaces (good guys) to make their characters disliked by the fans. The heels usually face the guys who are universally loved in order to get them over with the crowd to where fans want to boo them.
Has the UFC used this method with Evans?
Just take a look at the career of Evans and look at all the fan favorites he's faced throughout his career.
It all began with Evans' stint on The Ultimate Fighter II. Evans was a small heavyweight who was actually taking it to the big guys. Rather than embracing Evans as an underdog, fans viewed "Suga" as a cocky fighter due to his arguing with fan favorite and MMA legend Matt Hughes.
However, that ill will disappeared and Evans went on to enjoy some success in the Octagon. This included wins over well-known names like Stephan Bonnar and Tito Ortiz. The ugly fight with Ortiz was followed by a split decision over Michael Bisping (before he became public enemy No. 1) which left Evans in limbo as far as where "Suga" belonged in the division.
Evans' run of destroying fan favorites would begin at UFC 88.
"Suga" would face off with another MMA legend in former champ Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell. It was supposed to be Liddell bouncing back against the young upstart. Instead, Evans nearly decapitated Liddell and earned a number of knockout accolades in the process.
Evans dancing around the Octagon to celebrate after dropping one of the most universally loved fighters only continued the discussion about Evans' confidence and cockiness.
Evans would follow that performance by defeating yet another fan favorite in Forrest Griffin for the title at UFC 92. That win gave Evans yet another high-profile fight and victory over a guy fans viewed as one of their favorites.
The cockiness returned once more at UFC 98 when Evans faced Lyoto Machida. Although Machida has drawn mixed reviews recently, at this time the Brazilian was all the rave in the MMA world. The karate master was coming off very impressive performances, and his strange fighting style drew quite a bit of intrigue.
Evans looked to taunt Machida even as the Brazilian was landing powerful strikes. Machida dropped Evans in a way that provided the MMA world with one of the best pictures along with a free showing of how to properly do the stanky leg.
The former champ would get back on the right track by defeating Thiago Silva, but once again, the performance was very lackluster. After Silva would come another high-profile fight against a fan favorite in Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
By this time, Evans was already one of the least-liked fighters on the UFC's roster. Going toe-to-toe with "Rampage" in verbal insults while coaching on TUF only furthered the distance between Evans and fans.
Yet, Evans came into his bout with Jackson with the intention of planting Jackson into the canvas with a knockout blow. Both men promised to trade power shots with one another, but it seemed only one of them had true intentions.
Evans landed a huge punch to begin the fight, but it'd be the only shred of offense Evans would put up against Jackson. "Suga" would employ a wall-and-stall attack that would cause even the most conservative fighters would've asked for more action.
Not only did Evans defeat yet another big fan favorite, but he did so in a very boring manner.
A rematch with Ortiz followed the Jackson victory, only this time it was Evans who was playing the part of the bad guy. Ortiz had become more popular in the final years of his UFC career, even changing his nickname to "The People's Champion."
Evans was coming off the pedestrian showing against Jackson and was also in the midst of an ugly break up with former coach Greg Jackson. As with any dispute, fans began to take sides, and with Jon Jones becoming one of the most popular fighters in the UFC at that time, Evans was easy to peg as the bad guy.
The former light heavyweight champ would face another popular fighter in Phil Davis following the victory over Ortiz. Davis has a prominent presence in the Online MMA community and has been tagged as a blue-chip prospect by many in the MMA world. A victory over Evans would finally vindicate the praise Davis had earned since entering MMA after winning a Division I wrestling title.
Instead, Davis failed to do much of anything, and Evans took full advantage. "Suga" utilized his wrestling to take down the former wrestling champ, but Evans also failed to do much of anything with those takedowns.
Even after all these mishaps in and outside the Octagon, Evans had the chance to finally redeem himself at UFC 145. He was facing his former training partner and now UFC champ "Bones" Jones.
He seemed to enter the contest with Jones riding a wave of positive energy from fans. The "Bones" Jones act had grown very stale with fans, and Jones had become one of the most despised fighters on the UFC's roster. Evans entered the contest as "the knight in shining armor" as the man who could topple the seemingly unbeatable champion.
Instead, Evans fell into Jones' trap and looked like a deer in the headlights as the champion routinely beat Evans to the punch. The dominant decision sent Evans back out of favor with the UFC fanbase.
The next bout would possibly be Evans' biggest mishap in the Octagon since the Jackson fight. Facing Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Evans was heavily favored coming in. Rather than use his speed, powerful punches or wrestling, Evans chose to play pattycake with the Brazilian. The 15 minutes of "fighting" could easily be called the worst fight of 2013.
Evans was then placed in a no-win situation this Saturday at UFC 161. He was facing yet another popular fighter in Henderson, and yet again found himself in a high-profile position. Originally supposed to be a feature fight on the card, injuries forced the UFC to bump Evans vs. Henderson to the main event.
It was bad enough Evans was facing a popular fighter, but "Suga" once again left more to be desired by his performance in the Octagon. Evans was already going to be scrutinized for either losing three straight or by taking out a popular fighter, but the least he could've done was put on a good show.
Now, Evans once again finds himself the target of negative attention from fans.
Part of it is the fact Evans has faced a number of fan favorites in his high-profile matchups but "Suga" has also made his own bed of negativity from fans. His confidence has routinely been portrayed as arrogance, and unless acting in a comical manner (see Chael Sonnen), fans aren't likely to latch on to cockiness.
Evans hasn't seemed to care about how fans view him thus far in his UFC career, and I doubt that will change. But I'm sure Evans will be looking for that fan support when his name comes up on the UFC's chopping block should he continue to put on lackluster showings.
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