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The Rashad Evans Bandwagon is filling up fast

I must say I am amazed at the passion that Rashad Evans fans have exhibited in recent days. I can’t help but wonder where this passion was last week when I wrote that Evans was not only going to lose at UFC 88 against Chuck Liddell, he was going to lose early?

When I wrote Sunday that I only knew two people who predicted Evans to win, I meant two people that I knew personally. Outside of people I had conversed with directly, there definitely was a small show of support for Evans in the comment thread that proceeded my article.

Operative word: small.

It seems that overnight Evans has grown an enormous, rabid fanbase. You would have thought more of these so-called Evans fans would have responded to my strongly-worded column last week instead of waiting until the day after?

There’s a simple explanation: the support Evans is receiving is a prime example of bandwagon jumping 101. Wagon jumping happens in every sport so why should MMA be any different? It’s no different than a Boston Red Sox fan living Ohio that has no ties to the New England area. When they use the term “Red Sox Nation,” I guess they aren’t exaggerating.

And it’s no different than some of the Benedict Arnold Philadelphians I grew up with in Philly that claim to be Dallas Cowboys fans. I mean, how far is Pennsylvania from Texas? Oh, so you had an aunt and uncle that lived in Texas? So did I but I still supported the Eagles win or lose. Sorry, but I guess I have a little more spine than to shop for my favorite teams that just happen to be winning championships.

In MMA, we have a similar situation as it seems like everyone is jumping on the Evans bandwagon at the same time. Hindsight is 20/20 and many of the people coming out of the woodwork and singing Evans’ praises are people who a week ago at this time felt he had as little of a chance to win as I did. Ah, the beauty of anonymity and the luxury of being able to wait until after the fact.

This isn’t to suggest that Evans didn’t have his supporters before the fight. Those that stood by their man from the get go have every right to wag their finger and say “I told you so.” Those are the people I have respect for. And you know who you are. True Evans fans are the ones who won’t feel a need to respond defensively to the paragraphs written above. You saw something in Evans that I did not. And to the true Evans fans out there, this is for you:

You were right and I was wrong.

But there are some points I want to clarify because I get the impression that a lot of people didn’t read my Sunday article about Evans in its entirety. It’s almost as if they were keyboard happy and decided to write a response before even reading the entire article. Because if they had read the entire article, they would have seen that I did give Evans some credit. Granted, I don’t consider him to be as good of a fighter as some people out there, there are some positive things I have to say about him in light of the Liddell fight.

Such as:

1) Rashad Evans is definitely a top ten light heavyweight. When I update my rankings, he’ll be in it.

2) Rashad Evans deserves the right to fight Forrest Griffin for the UFC light heavyweight title on Dec. 27 more than anyone else in the UFC. Yes, Lyoto Machida has done well for himself but Evans is also undefeated in the UFC and his most recent defeat was against Liddell while Machida’s came against Tito Ortiz. Ortiz is a quality victory but Liddell was considered the next guy in line for a title shot and Evans beat that guy. I’m not saying Machida isn’t deserving of a title shot, only that I consider Evans more deserving.

3) Rashad Evans didn’t win with a lucky punch. In watching the fight over, it’s clear he knew what was coming. It wouldn’t surprise me if Greg Jackson and Evans watched tons of video together and identified the punches in which Liddell exposes his chin. It’s obvious to me at this point that the game plan was to evade Liddell and wait for an opening and then counter. As soon as Evans saw that opening, he knew exactly what to do. Well played.

But there are some other things to clarify as well. Such as that I have no bias or anything personal against Evans. What kind of grudge could I possibly have against this guy? I’ve never met the man. I don’t know much about him outside of what can be found on video or on the web.

I also never said Evans was a bad fighter. I think a lot of people are over-reacting simply because I do not yet believe he’s a great fighter. If you think he’s great, good for you. But just because we share a different opinion doesn’t mean I don’t like the man or have anything against him. I just call it like I see it and a lot of times I don’t see it the same way as the masses. So sue me?

My issues with Evans are as a fighter and are strictly professional, not personal. Well, maybe just a little personal. Personally, I haven’t found too many of his fights to be exciting. It’s personal preference I guess. I’ve always preferred fighters like Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Kimbo Slice, Houston Alexander, Arturo Gatti, and Kelly Pavlik — fighters that aren’t afraid to mix it up and take chances and attack their opponents. What can I say? I like brawlers.

What I see from Evans at times is reminiscent of Lyoto Machida in that he spends a great deal of his time in the Octagon trying to elude his opponent. While I think Machida can be a boring fighter at times, I can respect his methods because of his Karate background. Counter fighting is inherent to many traditional martial arts styles so Machida is only doing what comes naturally. But for a wrestler like Evans, it seems like he’s had to go out of his way in his formative years as a fighter to adopt a counter style.

I can’t fault him for the strategy he uses at times because this is a sport and the name of the game is winning. MMA is not performance art or professional wrestling. And since becoming a professional fighter, he’s never tasted defeat. For that, I hold a tremendous amount of respect for Evans. But that doesn’t mean I have to say I find him to be an exciting fighter when it fact I do not. If you enjoy his fights, more power to you. I just would like to see a little more action and I’d like to see how he handles himself in an extended back-and-forth exchange with a top caliber opponent. He’s beaten top caliber guys, but he’s never really gotten into a war with them.

So I think Evans is most certainly a good fighter. What will it take for me to consider him great? I’d like to see how he does vs. the likes of Griffin, Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, and Machida. Those are five light heavyweights in the UFC that I all have ranked ahead of Evans. I want to see if he sinks or swims once he enters the deep waters of the shark tank. A knockout win over Liddell was a fantastic start but he still has a ways to go before I’m going to view him as great.

Evans has the potential to win the title and assert himself as the top gun in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. He also has the potential to be nothing more than a guy who upset Liddell and wasn’t able to get past Griffin and was stuck on the cusp of true greatness. And if he fails to live up to all the hype being set forth for him right now then there is going to be an overwhelming amount of insurance claims from those who broke their ankles while jumping off the Evans bandwagon.

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