Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweights Rashad Evans and Ryan Bader collided last night (Oct. 3, 2015) at UFC 192 inside Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Having not fought in nearly two years, there were a lot of questions surrounding "Suga's" return to the cage. It was a very important fight for Evans, as the result determined whether he was relevant to the title picture or past his prime.
This was a huge opportunity for Bader as well. The talented wrestler has long been overlooked and passed over as a contender, despite showing improvement and earning some key victories. If he defeated Evans, Bader would have to be taken seriously.
Last night, Bader announced himself as a contender more seriously than ever.
Bader opened up with a lot of kicks, looking very fluid on his feet. He also slipped in a couple sneaky straight right hands, using the threat of the overhand to open up that strike.
On the other hand, Evans was likely suffering from some ring rust. He didn't throw a ton of strikes, and it seemed that his timing was a bit off, as Evans missed a majority of his thrown punches.
While he didn't do a ton of damage, Bader was clearly the more successful fighter after the first round.
Evans was very tentative to start the second round, as Bader continued to score with quick punches. Then, he scored a strong blast double leg on Evans, and while he didn't manage to do a ton with it, that takedown was definitely a big moment for Bader.
With about two minutes remaining in the round, Evans stepped up his aggression and really began to pressure Bader. However, he still had a hard time pulling the trigger, and his last second takedown attempt came up short.
In all likelihood, Evans needed a finish to earn the victory.
Evans probably knew he was behind on the cards, and he continued to pressure Bader early. He also threw actual combinations, but Bader was still able to slip many of the punches while landing his own stiff shots.
The second half of the round was more of the same, as Bader was simply the more accurate and harder to hit fighter. Evans did step up his aggression and volume, but it ultimately wasn't enough, and the judges unanimous awarded him each round.
This was far and away the best Bader has ever looked. The former wrestler with a big overhand that awkward bounced around is truly dead and gone, as Bader fluidly circled, threw combinations, and worked hard kicks into his attack.
Hell, Bader even landed a nice side kick!
One of the more notable improvements to Bader's striking was his jab. Bader used his jab very well to keep Evans at bay and crush his eye, which puffed up quickly.
Additionally, Bader did a nice job mixing his wrestling with his punches. "Darth" did a very nice job using a level change feint to land punches, and those punch setups later allowed him to land some important power double leg takedowns.
After this win, there's no doubt that Bader deserves a title shot. Really, there's only the question of Jon Jones' return. Depending on that time table, Bader may have to wait a bit or fight someone like Anthony Johnson to keep busy.
Evans was so tentative in this fight. Maybe Bader still wins if Evans throws more -- he was looking very sharp -- but Evans never really made it a fight, as he coasted to a loss. While some of that can be blamed on Evans' layoff, "Suga" has done that before in the past.
If Evans wants to keep fighting, there are plenty of interesting challenges for the aging former champion, such as "Shogun" Rua. However, there's also a decent chance that he's going to call it a career, as Evans already has a position as a broadcaster and does quite well with it.
Either way, I wish the former champion well in his future endeavors.
Last night, Ryan Bader put on the best performance of his career over Rashad Evans. Will Bader finally receive his title shot?
For complete UFC 192 "Cormier vs Gustafsson" results and play-by-play, click HERE!