Why Rashad Evans won't retire despite long win drought

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Rashad Evans looks on before the start of his March bout against Daniel Kelly at UFC 209. (Getty)

There was a time, not long ago, that Rashad Evans was the guy on the other side of this equation.

It was 2008 and he’d just knocked Chuck Liddell cold in a fight that earned him a shot at the UFC light heavyweight title. Evans improved to 12-0-1 with the devastating finish of the legend, and had much to look forward to in his career. Liddell was, at that point, arguably the most popular fighter in UFC history, but that bout was his third loss in four fights. There were calls for him to retire after losing to Evans, but he fought twice more, getting knocked out by Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Rich Franklin before walking away from the sport.

Nearly nine years later, Evans finds himself in a strangely familiar position. He’s lost three in a row and five of seven heading into a bout Saturday against “Smilin” Sam Alvey on the main card of UFC Fight Night 114 in Mexico City, and the questions about retirement are becoming more and more frequent.

While Evans can’t dispute what’s in the history books, he’s not overly concerned with answering the questions about his future that are suddenly a regular topic of conversation.

“I don’t think age is a problem for me at all,” said Evans, who will turn 38 next month. “I can still compete. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could. There are things that have contributed to my performances, but I’m still able to fight at a pretty high level.”

He’s not one of those fighters without other options, one who needs to fight to make a living. Evans could retire tomorrow and live comfortably, as he’s prepared and set himself up well for his post-competitive career. He remains an elite television analyst as well, but the itch to fight hasn’t left him.

“This is a tough sport and you do it because you love it and I’ve always loved it,” Evans said. “I love to compete and I want to get back out there and compete and maybe put a little run together and see where that takes me.”

When that downward slide begins, it’s awfully difficult to reverse it. Evans hasn’t won since blowing out Chael Sonnen on Nov. 16, 2013. Since then, he’s lost a unanimous decision to Ryan Bader, was knocked out by Glover Teixeira and dropped a split decision to Daniel Kelly.

The Kelly fight came after he was yanked from back-to-back bouts at UFC 205 and UFC 206 against Tim Kennedy because of medical reasons.

Rashad Evans (R) punches Daniel Kelly during their UFC 209 match on March 4, 2017. (Getty)

He’s used to winning – this is a guy who began his career 13-0-1 and then went to 17-1-1 before things took a bad turn for the worse. He lost bouts to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira before defeating Dan Henderson and Sonnen. Then, he dropped the bouts to Bader, Teixeira and Kelly.

It leaves a bitter taste in his mouth and Evans isn’t all that interested in explaining it other than to say they’re explainable in his mind.

“It’s very motivating and it is heartbreaking and extremely frustrating,” Evans said of his losing streak. “I feel I haven’t competed to the best of my abilities. I know I’m better than this and I’m really trying to figure out exactly what’s going on, what the issue has been. My last few performances, how do I say it, look, I’m better than that. Period.

“I had some injuries and things I had [during] the short-notice fight with Glover, but no excuses. I came out on the bad side in fights against two tough opponents and the fight against Kelly, he is tough and he fought well, and it was my first fight at 185 and I was getting comfortable being back in the cage again. But those are over and I’m looking forward.”

He’s been in Mexico City for several weeks, adjusting to the altitude and the food, and says he feels as good as he has in a long time. He’s looking for a breakthrough performance against Alvey.

At his age, he knows it’s not going to last forever and that he should savor every moment.

“I feel like I have the ability to compete at a high level and beat guys and I want to go out there and get back in the winning mindset again,” he said. “I want to remember what it’s like to win a fight and then win another one and get a few wins in a row under my belt and see where it goes.

“I don’t look at it as, ‘Oh, I’ve had a great career and I should be satisfied with this and what I’ve done.’ I see it more as, ‘You know, I’ve had a great career but I can still add on and make it better.’ So I want to try to that feeling back of winning and see where that takes me.”

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