Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweights Rashad Evans and Dan Kelly will battle this Saturday (March 4, 2017) at UFC 209 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Evans has run into no shortage of problems in the last three years. Aside from injuries and a pair of consecutive losses, Evans faced problems receiving permission to actually fight, leading to a pair of his bouts being canceled. Nevertheless, Evans persevered, and now he can finally make his Middleweight debut. On the other hand, somehow the cookie seems to continue crumbling in Kelly’s favor. The 39-year-old has somehow won five of six fights, perplexing me each and every time. Once again, Kelly is faced with a more experienced and skilled foe, and once again, he’ll be forced to perform beyond expectations to pull off another unlikely win.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Phil Davis (UFC on FOX 2), Dan Henderson (UFC 161), Chuck Liddell (UFC 88), Quinton Jackson (UFC 114)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 145), Glover Teixeira (UFC on FOX 19), Ryan Bader (UFC 192), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (UFC 156)
Keys to Victory: At his best, Evans was one of the smoothest to ever combine the Sweet Science of boxing and his background of powerful wrestling. Evans transitioned between the two far better than most, making himself a difficult man to deal with for just about anyone.
Even if he’s lost a step, those skills should be enough to work around Dan Kelly.
At 37 years old, Evans’ problems seem to be that he’s not quite the takedown threat he used to be. Stranded on his feet, Evans lost due to the newfound speed and skill of Ryan Bader and due to Teixeira’s brutal punching power.
To be frank, Kelly doesn’t have either of those traits. Evans will be able to keep this on the feet — and potentially score takedowns of his own too — and needs to simply avoid being bullied. If he can move his feet, feint a bit, and mix in the occasional shot, he doesn’t need to be in his athletic prime anymore.
There’s a serious disparity in skill here, so Evans simply needs to perform.
Key Wins: Chris Camozzi (UFC Fight Night 101), Antonio Carlos Junior (UFC Fight Night 85), Luke Zachrich (UFC Fight Night 55), Steve Montgomery (UFC 193)
Key Losses: Sam Alvey (UFC Fight Night 65)
Keys to Victory: Kelly is a Judo Olympian with decent power in his hands. However, the 39-year-old clearly has a lot of wear-and-tear on his body, which is apparent whenever he tries to move with athleticism. That isn’t an insult — it’s commonly visible that Kelly’s movements are often rather stiff.
Despite that, Kelly has overcome experienced and skilled opponents largely via heart and will. He’s big, sneaky in the clinch, and tough as hell, which combined has been enough to build a really solid Middleweight run.
In this match, Kelly is unlikely to find much success with his Judo, at least while both men are fresh. Evans is used to takedown attempts from bigger men and is a decorated wrestler, so it’s not a viable path until Evans is worn down from punches or fatigue.
Instead, Kelly needs to push the pace and force a brawl. Evans’ durability has declined in recent years, whereas Kelly has come out of every true scrap he’s been in. If Kelly can get in Evans’ face and make it ugly, he’s got a realistic chance of pulling off the upset and continuing his unlikely win streak.
Bottom Line: Neither man is a title contender, but it’s an interesting fight for both.
Evans’ journey down to Middleweight is a chance at a new start. While the most likely scenario is that his time as a contender ended a couple years back, he could always see surprising results with a renewed focus and healthy body. Either way, a win here sets up Evans for a higher-ranked foe in his next match up and keeps any 185-pound dreams alive.
A loss, however, leaves “Suga” without a clear path moving forward.
As for Kelly, he may not be a title contender at the moment, but he’s dangerously close to earning a position in the Top 15. Winning six of seven would be a grand accomplishment, particularly when capped off with a victory over a former world champion. At the very least, it would earn Kelly a shot opposite a ranked opponent.
On the other hand, Kelly did lose to Sam Alvey in pretty short fashion. If he comes up big again here, it’s more evidence that his ceiling is just outside the Top 15, which is still impressively high considering his age and initial ability on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
At UFC 209, Rashad Evans will make his Middleweight debut opposite Dan Kelly. Which man will have his hand raised?