Rashad Evans grabbed his crotch, then kissed two fingers and pointed skyward.
It seemed like some kind of off-the-wall nod to Michael Jackson and Sammy Sosa all rolled into one.
Except, Evans pulled his little act in the Octagon – in the middle of his UFC light heavyweight title fight against defending champion Forrest Griffin. He didn’t do it during some weak-ass pop concert like Jacko, or after another charming, performance-enhanced long ball a la Slammin’ Sammy.
No, Evans flashed his flair with a confident mouth-piece smile, seconds after being backed into the cage by a flurry of punches from Griffin, whom Evans went on to belt-strip with a lethal ground and pound.
That’s cajones, folks.
That’s the kind of “it” factor that magnetizes fans and makes them choose positions on one of two sides: love or hate.
Fighters such as Evans are great for mixed martial arts, adding yet another hint of spice to a sport that’s already a mouthful of fire. He’s a fresh champion with personality to accompany ability, the kind of star for which the world’s top boxing promoters would give up a testicle – maybe two.
Long in suffrage after a glorious string of showy belt-holders, boxing now has hairy, drone-like Russian champions with names that are difficult to pronounce if anyone actually cared to talk about them. They can barely beat the mush-brained Evander Holyfield, who is probably one big punch from eating Gerber products and playing checkers against non-existent foes at a senior center.
They are boring, blah, bland.
Evans, meanwhile, masterfully saunters the line between confidence and cockiness (and, as an additional slap in the face to pugilism, he does so with the ultimate boxing nickname – “Sugar”).
He’s talented, he knows it and he shows it – but he doesn’t rub it in our faces. There is an understated swagger. Commenting on his mid-fight antics against Griffin, Evans said, “When (Griffin) got off his little flurry on me, and he gave me everything he had, I was like, ‘Oh man. I’ve seen every trick in the book.’ And I knew that there was nothing he could do to really hurt me. I felt all his power, and I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got this. I’ve got this now.’ And I wanted to let him know that (he) can’t hurt me. It’s going to be a long night from here on out.’”
Let’s also recall how, moments after he put Chuck Liddell on ice, Evans mimicked a heart attack that would have made Fred Sanford proud.
With that kind of measured flamboyance, Evans makes us pay attention. And what’s better than a fight involving a self-assured, colorful combatant?
Here’s what: A fight involving two.
Let that statement serve as this modest writer’s appeal to UFC matchmakers to set up Evans’ first championship defense against one Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Rampage, the howling, 40-grade chain necklace wearing bruiser, seems to be the rare fighter with a true alter ego. Outside the cage, he’s a wise-cracking, God-fearing jokester. Inside the cage, he’s a scowling monster who’s capable of one-punch knockouts and mind-numbing slams.
On the same night Evans conquered Griffin, Jackson cold-cocked Wanderlei Silva, who represented a ghastly skeleton in Rampage’s closet. His first-round demolition announced Jackson’s return to form just when it seemed like his career and life had taken a horribly wrong turn.
Back on solid ground and in a new camp that has refreshed the ex-champion, Rampage deserves another title shot, even though he claims to immediately prefer a chance to redeem his razor-thin loss to Griffin that precipitated a personal freefall.
Rampage-Evans would be an electric matchup. Given the duo’s robust personalities, it could exceed hype standards. And, given their coinciding techniques, it figures to deliver mass-appeasing fistic fireworks.
Certainly, from a spectator’s seat, this engagement would trump the likely alternative of watching Evans stalk the prance-and-peppering Lyoto Machida, assuming “The Dragon” gets past Thiago Silva at UFC 94 on Jan. 31 in a clash of perfect (13-0) competitors.
While a deserving challenger, Machida is like the antithesis of allure. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. His evasive approach is proven and may one day produce a lengthy title reign, something UFC President Dana White apparently believes.
But that can wait, please. Right now, more intrigue might rest in a rare collision of light heavyweights who can match capability and charisma. It would be fun to see if, for instance, Evans has the nerve to pull off another “junk-gesture” while in the cage with Rampage, an act that might be like poking a frothing canine with a stick.