Niagara Gazette

Sports

January 1, 2009

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Evans uses instincts to rise up in UFC

Rashad Evans smiles and nods when the advice comes.

Advice from friends on how to duck a punch. Advice from family members on his next opponent’s weaknesses.

Advice from his mom on the career path he chose.

Come to find out, the Niagara-Wheatfield High School graduate knows exactly what he’s doing. Whether it’s the instincts that led him away from criminal justice and into the Ultimate Fighting Championship or knowing when to unleash the monster right that knocked Chuck Liddell out in UFC 88, Evans is simply on a roll when it comes to decisions.

When Evans got his legs wrapped around Forrest Griffin last Saturday in Las Vegas, he knew what to do then, too. Evans kept punching until a technical knockout earned him the Light Heavyweight belt.

In fact, it’s possible that his newfound celebrity status — including a ceremony today that will present him with the key to Niagara Falls — is the only thing the former two-time state wrestling champ didn’t see coming.

“It’s crazy, to be honest,” Evans said Wednesday of his rise in popularity, after learning that he was named the Niagara Gazette’s Athlete of the Year. “I would have never thought all this would happen. I just try to go in there and do what’s right. I never would have thought this would take me where it has.”

Nor did Evans’ mother, Shirley, who originally tried to talk him out of the fight game when he proposed the idea.

The longtime Town of Niagara resident still gets worried about her son in the ring, but she’s learned to trust those instincts he’s put to such good use.

“At (Michigan State), he was into psychology and criminal justice and when he first said that’s what he wanted to do, I said, ‘that’s really what you went to school for?’ But when I realized that really was what he wanted to do, all you can do is support him. I still get nervous. It’s a brutal game, but what else can you do?”

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