After several health-related snafus, former Light Heavyweight champion Rashad Evans made his Middleweight debut tonight (Sat., March 4, 2017) against Daniel Kelly on UFC 209’s pay-per-view (PPV) main card from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
And Kelly was having none of it.
Evans came out aggressive, pumping a left jab as Kelly pawed at him with his right. Evans landed a stiff jab, but Kelly kept plodding forward and circling to his right. Kelly landed a clean straight that stung Evans, who wrinkled his nose and kept moving. Moments later, Kelly dropped a big left hand on Evans, who dove in for a single-leg takedown to mix up his attack. Kelly — an Olympic-level Judo competitor — was able to grapple his way back to his feet. Kelly landed another shot, but Evans plugged him right in the forehead that opened up a cut on the Aussie’s brow immediately. Evans went for another takedown, but Kelly side-stepped him and landed several short, annoying shots as the round came to a close with a “Suga” high kick.
Kelly started the second round with his annoying, awkward pressure. He was able to get close enough to attempt a Judo throw, but Evans was able to defend rather easily. Kelly clipped him with a looping left hand as Evans tried to close the distance. He shot in for another takedown, but Kelly denied him once more. On the break, though, Evans landed a solid knee the seemed to stun Kelly momentarily. Kelly then dove in with another attack, but he ran straight into the fingers of Evans for an inadvertent eye poke. Both fighters exchanged shots in the center of the Octagon on the restart, while Evans scored with a solid kick to Kelly’s left flank. Kelly put together another solid combination, while Evans responded with a nice ankle-pick takedown. Evans got his leg hung up on Kelly’s shoulder on a failed high kick and then got mushed into the fence and ate a few shots as the round ended.
Third and final frame and it was a very close match — it was either fighter’s fight to win with a convincing round. Evans really began to let his hands go, finding a home for two uppercuts that really seemed to affect Kelly. He didn’t stop coming forward, though, returning fire, including an uppercut of his own that snapped back his opponent’s head. With 90 seconds remaining, it basically turned into a telephone booth fight, with both guys trading short shots and shovels inside. With 10 seconds left in the fight the pair just unloaded on each other until the final horn blared.
Again, it was a super close, competitive fight. Evans appeared to really let loose in the third round and score with the ringside judges; however, it was seemingly a case of too little, too late as Kelly was awarded a very hard-fought split decision win. Indeed, Kelly — who is almost 40 — once again proved the doubters wrong. He has a very confusing, odd style, but it works — he is now 6-1 inside the Octagon. And he just took out a very motivated, experienced and fit former champion.
For complete results from UFC 209: “Woodley vs. Thompson 2,” including play-by-play updates, click here and here.