The UFC gave Rashad Evans the best possible opponent for his middleweight debut in Dan Kelly to see what was left in the gas tank.
And the upset occurred. Kelly squeaked by with a split decision.
UFC provided footage of the end of the fight and also reminded everyone that appearances can be deceiving:
Evans looked sharp coming out to the center, but it was a feeling-out process against the unorthodox Kelly. Evans' speed advantage was noticeable early. Kelly offered up a few moments of offense in the opening half of the round.
Evans changed levels for a takedown, but Kelly was quick to work his way back to his feet to avoid being placed on his back. Kelly showed he was game, and Evans got a round under his belt at his new weight.
Bloody Elbow's Anton Tabuena commented on Evans' reaction time:
Kelly began the second round by keeping Evans on the outside. Kelly tagged Evans with a left hand that caught the attention of the former light heavyweight champion. Evans looked more gun-shy in the second round. Meanwhile, Kelly's output stayed consistent as he grew in confidence.
Evans finally began mixing things up with his wrestling, but the world-class judo background of Kelly allowed him to spring back to his feet. It was a close fight heading into the third and final round.
Kelly continued to defy expectations by matching Evans in the third. If Evans landed, Kelly was not far behind with offense of his own. Kelly also was coming forward more consistently, which looks good for the judges. Evans started to put together combinations in the final 30 seconds, but it was far, far too late.
Where does Evans go from here? That is such a difficult question, especially considering this factoid from SiriusXM's RJ Clifford:
His output has dropped in recent years, and he didn't put it to a lesser-known mid-tier middleweight. It may be the end of the road for Evans as a relevant fighter in the UFC. His name will still carry a bit of weight, and he exited the cage without injury. His next fight will be very telling.
As for Kelly, welcome to relevancy at 185 pounds.
His win over Evans should garner him a fight against a top-15 middleweight, and Derek Brunson would be a good opponent for the former Olympian. It's a big test for Kelly and will give Brunson a good fight to rebound from following a contentious loss to Anderson Silva.
Kelly did what he does best. Win ugly. It wasn't fancy, but consistency from the Australian proved to take the day.