Rashad Evans has been away from fighting for a long time.
Georges St-Pierre was still the welterweight champion the last time “Suga” appeared on a UFC fight card. Anderson Silva was preparing for his rematch with Chris Weidman. Chael Sonnen had yet to be forced into retirement with a two-year suspension and Conor McGregor was still competing on the prelims.
Much has changed since Evans, who turned 36 last week, stepped into the Octagon. The former UFC light heavyweight champion has spent time on the sidelines rehabilitating an injured knee, while moonlighting as a UFC broadcasting analyst.
There is much to be said about the undying spirit of competition. Evans doesn’t need fighting, and he certainly doesn’t have anything left to prove by prolonging his career. He is a former UFC light heavyweight champion and a future Hall of Famer. His post-fighting gig is likely set with broadcasting.
You’ll be seeing Evans’ face in MMA for many years to come.
But the spirit of competition burns eternal, and fighting is the only way Evans truly knows how to scratch that itch. Before being sidelined nearly two years ago, Evans was a top light heavyweight contender. He was coming off back-to-back wins over Dan Henderson and Sonnen.
The landscape at 205 pounds that Evans used to know has eroded and been molded anew. Daniel Cormier is the light heavyweight champion and Jon Jones is currently inactive on the UFC roster. A host of new faces have also been added to the mix like Alexander Gustafsson and Evans’ teammate Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.
On Saturday night, Evans is slated to make his return to fighting at UFC 192 against Ryan Bader — a man many believe deserved the first shot at Cormier’s title. A win for Evans would automatically spring him back to the forefront of the title picture, but a loss would prove that his attempted return was too little, too late.
We won’t feign as if Evans is the same fighter from three years ago. His reaction time has taken a dip, and his chin isn’t as reliable as it used to be. All of these issues come with the territory after competing for over a decade as a professional fighter.
Bader is predominantly a wrestler with one-punch knockout power. He is typically an impatient slugger who tends to skip hors-d’oeuvres and go straight to the main course meal of meat hooks and uppercuts. Evans, a former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler, can match wits with anyone in the wrestling department, which means this bout will most likely be contested on the feet.
There is enough savvy left in Evans’ game to outwit Bader on the feet, but it wouldn’t come as any surprise if Bader dropped the former UFC champion like a sack of potatoes.
Evans’ return is great for the light heavyweight division as a whole, as it adds another legendary name into the mix. However, inactivity for extended periods of time, especially at Evans’ age, tends to expedite the declining process. Evans is still a top-10 fighter at 205 pounds, but it’s tough to see him competing with Cormier, Gustafsson, Johnson and even Jones, when he returns.
The hourglass of Evans’ career has lost too much dust, and his time is dwindling. This could have been said after he lost a decision to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and rebounded with an uninspiring split decision win over Dan Henderson in 2013.
Father Time will have a front row seat at UFC 192 as Evans looks to turn back the clock against Bader.