Rashad Evans, despite all his accomplishments, never managed to win the crowd.
Mixed martial arts (MMA) fans are a fickle bunch and Evans has a history of breaking their hearts. He captured the light heavyweight belt with a technical knockout win over Forrest Griffin at UFC 92, a title shot he procured by nearly killing Chuck Liddell at UFC 88.
What do those two wins have in common?
Both Griffin and "The Iceman," at the time, were two of the promotion's most popular fighters. It would also be naive to ignore the fact that some fans, deep down, were not ready or just didn't want a young, confident and talented African American fighter dancing all over their champions.
I've banned enough racists in my tenure as senior editor here to vouch for that.
But the former Michigan State Spartan wasn't really given a fair shake. The brash young wrestler made his first appearance under the ZUFFA banner as a heavyweight contestant on season two of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). That's where Evans drew the ire of opposing coach and fan friendly welterweight champion Matt Hughes, who announced his disdain for "showboaters," after Evans popped and locked his way past Tom Murphy in episode five.
Even UFC President Dana White called the fight "boring."
In pro wrestling, that's referred to as a "burial." The king of the mountain squashes the new guy before he ever gets a chance to "get over" with fans. But much to Hughes' chagrin, Evans was more than just a juker and jiver. Sure, he was still green and a little rough around the edges, but his skill set could not be denied.
Something Mike Whitehead and Keith Jardine, both early favorites to win the season, found out the hard way.
Evans would be the only competitor to fight three times before moving on to the live finale, where he faced off against Brad Imes on Nov. 5, 2005 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. "The Hillbilly Heartthrob" was a true heavyweight, standing a massive 6'7" and tipping the scale at 250 pounds.
"Suga" was just 5'11" and ate a big breakfast to enter the bout nearly 30 pounds less.
In the opening round, it seemed the size disadvantage would be too much to overcome. Imes was able to bully the smaller man with vicious Muay Thai knees and even secured a takedown to put the wrestler on his back.
"Every time Rashad works inside, he's in danger of that jab," notes cageside play-by-play man Mike Goldberg.
With just over 90 seconds left in the opening frame, Evans batters Imes with a combo and the big man hits the canvas.
He would stay alive and make it to the second stanza, but the tempo of the fight had forever changed. Evans, clearly more confident, controlled the remainder of the contest and in the final frame, once again put his massive foe on his ass with a furious combination.
The final result was a split decision win in favor of "Suga."
Fast-forward to 2013 and Evans is starting from scratch, much like he was following his victory over Imes. In the wake of consecutive losses to Jon Jones and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, the former division kingpin will make his last stand in the top 10 rankings against grizzled veteran and fan favorite Dan Henderson.
Don't expect him to win the crowd, but that's nothing new these days.
Evans has already defeated four UFC hall-of-famers, as well as four ex-light heavyweight champions. At this weekend's UFC 161 pay-per-view (PPV) event, which takes place on June 15, 2013 at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, he can make it five.
For more on his upcoming fight against "Hendo" click here.