‘Suga’ Rashad Evans: A Man At A Crossroads

For Rashad Evans, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, the future is anything but certain. There are many alluring distractions on the horizon for the man they call “Suga”.  Obviously there is the looming yet elusive grudge match between Evans and also former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

Another distraction might be found in attempting to avenge his only loss at the hands of Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida.  In doing so, he may avert another distraction by regaining his former title, which is currently secured around Lyoto’s waist.

With all that possibly in store for Rashad’s career, there is one challenge he must focus on more than any.  That challenge is what awaits him Saturday, Jan. 2 at UFC 108 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Rashad is going to find himself locked in a cage with a lethal striker;  A finisher with deadly hands and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  A man who destroyed Rashad’s teammate Keith Jardine by vicious knockout. Yet another distraction for the former 205-pound king.

The extremely dangerous Thiago Silva is what awaits Evans at UFC 108. There is no greater wild card in the light heavyweight division than Silva.  Rashad has more than enough on his plate with this Brazilian fighter to make him focus and forget about all the distractions that may be lurking on the horizon.

If he does not maintain focus, he is selling himself short without a doubt.  This fight, while a potential stepping stone to his aspirations for revenge and another shot at the championship, is one of the most dangerous of his career.

The risks and rewards both will have equally high impact on “Suga’s” career.

See, both Evans and Silva have a couple things in common.  Both fighters have but one loss on their records.  Both fighters have suffered devastating knockout defeats at the hands of current light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. Machida managed to issue both fighters their first loss in 2009, while maintaining his own perfect record.

Another thing Silva and Evans have in common is their distance from a rematch with Machida and a shot at the redemption they each seek. They are both one, or maybe two, impressive wins away from a title shot.

Silva, it would seem, has much less to lose in this fight.  Always the simplified combatant, all Silva has to say is that he is happy to be in this position and is here only to prove himself through fighting according to his comments at the recent UFC 108 press conference.

Evans on the other hand has many more questions to answer, many of which are based on his destiny with heated rival Quinton Jackson. A fight that the mixed martial arts community salivates over is the one that they were promised over an entire season of “The Ultimate Fighter”.  A war between Evans and Jackson is what the fans are craving.

After comments made by UFC President Dana White at a recent press conference, it appears that the entire match up between “Suga” and “Rampage” hangs in the balance.  The fight desired by the fan base, and by both Evans and Jackson, is contingent on Rashad emerging victorious against Silva.

Therefore, not only does another step towards his long-lost belt hinge on this fight, but so does his shot at getting his chance at his arch nemesis, “Rampage” Jackson.  Looking at Rashad’s plate, it is apparent it is getting full.

Again with all these distractions, the former champion must maintain focus; Focus on the game opponent he has been paired up with, and focus on finding his edge.  Everything else that may come afterwards depends on Rashad’s performance in this fight.

Evans can take one step forward by victory, or take three steps back in defeat.  The same can be said for both competitors in this match up, but the bottom line is you move forward slower than you can move back.  For Evans, the latter will surely prove the more difficult road.

He is fortunate that by defeating Silva he may open doors that lead him closer to the title shot he covets, especially considering this will be his first fight back in the Octagon since losing his title.

All that being said, if he loses, not only does he lose his title contention position, but he loses the opportunity to face his rival Jackson.  The road to rebuilding after a loss Saturday night will be a long one for Evans if he is to fail on his quest. If he falls, he not only falls in the cage, but he falls in the rankings.  Former lightweight top contender Kenny Florian can tell Evans all about being an elite fighter who has lost two title matches.  It doesn’t get better after that, only harder to prove ones self in this sport.

So while the 2-1 favorite on paper, Evans, may have more going on than just the odds when he takes his corner this weekend in Las Vegas, those odds are numbers based on previous outcomes.  None of those numbers were formulated with the weight and pressure that the former champion may be feeling these final few days leading up to fight night.

That is not to discredit Evan’s previous performances or his astonishing accomplishments within this sport.  “The Ultimate Fighter” Season Two winner, a former UFC champion, and coming full circle to become an absolute class act and pure clear cut leader as a coach on the TUF show years later is nothing to shake ones head at.  Rashad has isolated himself as a true mixed martial artist, a fine gentlemen, an ambassador for this sport.

Can he take it to the next level? He himself has said he wants to be remembered as one of the greats.  Greatness is forged in the fires of adversity and defeat.  Greatness emerges from the ashes like Phoenix shining bright for all to see.  Is Rashad capable of taking his next step towards that greatness he so desperately seeks?

All the signs tell fight fans yes. Saturday will be a large indicator of which way his career may go.  The ball is now in his court, and it is up to him as to what he does with it moving forward.

Will fight fans remember “Suga” as one of the greats, or one of those who fell just short?  This weekend’s match up will provide a lot of answers to many of the questions surrounding this highly talented former champion.

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