Wednesday, May 13, 2009 | 1 a.m.
Rashad "The Underdog" Evans. Doesn't sound right, does it?
But believe it or not, Evans (18-0-1) will enter the octagon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena as just that on May 23 in UFC 98. In 2008, Evans knocked out the likes of Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell, claimed the UFC light heavyweight championship and held on to an undefeated professional record.
Despite it all, he's opened this year with a fight that sees him as a plus-170 to the favored Lyoto Machida.
"I don't take it personal," Evans said during a teleconference Tuesday afternoon. "Whether they believe I can win or they don't doesn't matter. It's not the first time I've been an underdog on a big fight and I haven't lost yet."
UFC 98 Evans vs. Machida may be living somewhat in the shadow of what hopes to be a legendary UFC 100 fight card in July, but pitting two undefeated fighters in the UFC's most stacked weight division against each other shouldn't be overlooked.
The reason Machida (14-0) may be favored is that the Brazilian has rarely found himself in trouble in the octagon. As a student of karate since he was 3 years old, Machida's style isn't always the flashiest, but he's shown it may be the most effective.
"It doesn't present a problem necessarily," said Evans, on how he was preparing for another fighter who never has lost. "When you're watching somebody fight and breaking them down, sometimes the best elements you get when they're not really a weakness that someone else exploited, it's just something that you think you might be able to do. I've seen enough in areas that I can do myself that fit in with what I do well."
Not known for knockout power, Machida's fights routinely go the distance, and he is often hailed as the most elusive counterpuncher in the sport. He's also sometimes known as the most boring, a perception that could change if Machida is able to finish off Evans as he did Thiago Silva, when he knocked him out in the first round of their undercard fight on Jan. 31.
"Of course, it's part of my job to entertain," Machida said. "In the end it's still a sport, but it's also entertainment. I believe that all the criticism goes on to a good side of my training. I hear what people are saying and I adapt my training to get better in whatever way I can."
It may be in Machida's best interest to stay defensive against the explosive Evans, who has shown the ability to finish off opponents in a variety of ways. Evans is known for being comfortable on the mat, drawing off years of experience as an all-American wrestler at a junior college and at Michigan State. He also has the striking power to knock out his opponents, as he showed in his two fights last year.
According to Evans, he hasn't made a commitment to going after Machida or allowing the action to come to him, waiting to see what happens on fight night.
"I don't know how I'm going to approach this fight, it depends how I feel," Evans said. "Sometimes you go out and see opportunities, other times you don't. If you have your mind set on just one thing and go out there and don't see it, it takes awhile to recover. I like to just react on my feet. If I see an opening, I'm going to take it. If I don't, I'm going to just sit back and chill."
The fight will be Evans' first chance to defend his belt since taking it away from Griffin last year. Machida has never fought in a title fight before.
"I think the title shot came at a great time for me," Machida said. "I've had a lot of time to grow and a lot of time to train. It took a little time but in the end it's great timing. I am very well prepared."
The Grudge Matts
There's a feeling that sometimes comes up regarding reality television, when the audience can't help but question the "reality" of it.
That feeling did not apply when watching Matt Serra and Matt Hughes express their dislike of each other during the sixth season of "Ultimate Fighter," when they coached opposing teams. A different feeling came across actually, one of -- Wow, these two guys really do not like each other.
"There's nothing manufactured here, that's what I have to stress to people," Serra said. "Some people ask, 'Is that all fake for TV?' And I'm like, 'No, basically if the cameras aren't there I'll be doing the same thing.' I didn't have any agenda as far as if I do this, it will lead to this and that. I respect him as a fighter but I don't think we'd ever really hang out. We don't get along too great."
That "Ultimate Fighter" season was supposed to be followed by a hyped-up meeting between the two in UFC 97 Nemesis in 2007. But Serra had to back out of the fight because of a back injury he suffered in training. Georges St. Pierre ended up taking Serra's place and defeating Hughes by submission in the second round.
Both fighters went on to accept other challenges and the rivalry was put on hold.
"There are people going in there wanting to see me get beat down and there are people who want to see me beat down Matt Hughes," Serra said. "There's a lot of stuff that goes into prefight - this is genuine. The only person I want to fight right now is Matt Hughes. It's something that never got finished. We were on the show together and it's not just for us, it's for everybody. Better late than never."
A win over an arch rival is always special, but May 23 might mean even more considering each of them are in the final stages of their career. Both former UFC welterweight champions have gone through injuries in recent years and have admitted to accepting the idea of not fighting anymore.
Both also took relatively long breaks between their last fight and UFC 98.
"I'm getting older now and the time off was actually pretty nice," Hughes said. "We've both had injuries, but that happens when you're as rough on your body as we are. I think fans still want to see this fight, bottom line."
Although the two fighters are just a combined 3-5 over their last eight fights, expect both of them to come out with a lot of heart for the grudge match.
"I think it's definitely added some motivation," Serra said. "I don't want to lose to him. Just the thought of it is bad. Put it this way -- it got me through a great training camp."