Dana White said on Saturday he thinks the tide might finally be changing for Rashad Evans.
After years of being one of the light heavyweight division’s most successful yet seemingly least popular fighters, Evans might -- in the wake of his thorough domination of Tito Ortiz at UFC 133 – be on the verge of a breakthrough with fans who have long jeered him. At least that’s how the UFC President sees it.
“As he continues to grow as a fighter and a person, it’s kind of hard not to like Rashad Evans now,” White old MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani hours after Evans finished Ortiz via TKO following nearly two full lopsided rounds. “It’s kind of hard not to respect him.”
Indeed, what wasn’t to like about Evans’ showing last weekend? Despite the perhaps dubious level of his competition, he answered all of our questions about how he might be affected by a 14-month layoff, changing training camps and the distraction of an ongoing feud with frienemy Jon Jones. He turned in arguably the best performance of his career, showing improved striking and aggressive ground-and-pound while further distancing himself from early criticisms that he’s a boring fighter by crafting his fifth stoppage win in his past 10 fights.
Already a former champion, Evans ran his career mark to 16-1-1, reaffirmed his position as the 205-pound division’s No. 1 contender and looked better than ever while doing it. Even still, the Philadelphia crowd booed and heckled him on his way to the cage and, if anything, seemed indifferent to him on his way out.
Admittedly, they have their reasons: Then there’s the prefight (and sometimes mid-fight) dancing, the obligatory crabwalk into the cage, the sometimes brash attitude and, yeah, there are those sunglasses. Add to that the questions about his killer instinct after a stretch from 2004-06 where he won five consecutive decisions and his choice to sit out this past year to try to preserve a promised title shot against then-champion Mauricio Rua and you start to get the picture.
Yet fans’ distaste for Evans sometime feels out of proportion to all that. Though he’d certainly be included on a list of MMA’s most-hated fighters, his reasons for his being there aren’t as pronounced as some others.
Evans isn’t viewed as a self-styled pro-wrestling heel like Chael Sonnen. He’s not seen an over-the-top bully like Josh Koscheck. He’s not regarded as a pitiable sad sack like Tim Sylvia. He’s just a cocky guy in an industry full of cocky guys. He’s a guy who speaks his mind and, deep down, maybe does half of those antics mentioned above because he knows they make you mad.
Is it time we cut him a little slack? Probably, but for his part – and despite White’s prediction of a coming sea change -- Evans isn’t holding his breath.
“I think the fans boo me because they love me,” he joked at the UFC 133 postfight news conference. “I’m going to get a shirt that says ‘Boo if you love me,’ so maybe then they might stop, but it doesn’t bother me. Somebody’s going to be the villain, it’s just the way things work. I don’t mind being the villain, because I know I’m not a villain in life. If they boo me, they still paid to see me, either way.”