By Raphael Garcia
Here at MMA Ratings, we’ve used the phrase “Father Time is undefeated” more than once. That still doesn’t make it any easier to watch fighters who are past their prime struggle with the possibility that they are no longer mainstays at the top of their divisions. At UFC 209, “Suga” Rashad Evans is facing a test of whether he’s still a top-tier talent in mixed martial arts at this point in his career. But in either victory or defeat, we will learn a lot about the former champion.
At 37 years of age, Evans is poised to step back into the Octagon after yet another extensive layoff for his middleweight debut. The New York native isn’t fighting for a title, nor is he even fighting in a title eliminator, but he’s still fighting for something very important: his career. At 19-5 Evans is riding a two-fight losing streak -- coming off of a vicious knockout at the hands of Glover Teixeira at UFC on Fox 19 and being controlled for three rounds by Ryan Bader at UFC 192 before that. Even though those two losses are rather recent, it was the defeat to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in 2013 that started the questions as to whether we’ll ever see the best Rashad Evans again.
Daniel Kelly fits in. Kelly is actually older than Evans at 39, but he is much less experienced than The Ultimate Fighter Season 2 winner. Kelly is riding a three-fight win streak and has gone 5-1 since joining the UFC in 2014. Kelly hasn’t faced an opponent of Evans’ tier, as he’s never faced someone ranked in any of the weight classes, so this is just as much of a test for him as it is for Evans. A big win for Kelly pushes him a bit higher up the ladder, securing him his most important victory to date.
When it comes to booking fights, everything isn’t about revenue generation, star power, or promotional talk. Sometimes athletes are booked in test fights that are meant to gauge exactly where they are in their careers. Rashad Evans is in such a fight at UFC 209. The former lightweight champion is fighting for a place on the roster, and Daniel Kelly is the test. A failure for Evans most likely means he’s out of the UFC. A win isn’t a proclamation that he’s back, but more of a sigh of relief that he’s still capable of competing at this level. While not a title, this is what’s on the line for Rashad Evans at UFC 209.