Sometimes, a loss in boxing really can set you back.
In the case of Yuandale Evans, the first defeat of his career led to a near four-year absence from the ring, characterized by legal bungles, financial hardship, and enough downtime to cause rust to collect on the knuckles.
“Boxing is a cruel sport, a cruel game,” Evans, 28, told The Sweet Science in a recent phone interview. “One loss can affect you. It affected me for years.”
Evans can laugh about those days now, knowing that he has better ones to look forward to after earning a split decision over Luis Rosa in a thrilling — and brutal —10-round slugfest at the Masonic Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio, on the main event of the November 10 ShoBox card. The highlight of the night was a back-and-forth eighth round that saw Evans, fighting in front of his hometown friends and family, rocked early on but able to recover and retaliate. Analyst Steve Farhood called it “one of the best main events we have had in the 16 years of the ShoBox series.”
“Oh, man, I haven’t been able to sleep,” Evans said. “It feels like I just won the NBA finals, like the Cavs.”
Crucially, the win assures another TV date for Evans and preserves a career that only recently was well on its way to ruin.
The troubles began in 2012 when Evans was a 23-year-old featherweight prospect with a 16-0 record fighting under Roy Jones Jr.’s promotional banner, Square Ring. At the time, he received an offer to face Javier Fortuna, a highly-touted undefeated southpaw, on a broadcast of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. Evans remembers Jones cautioning him, “you don’t have to take this fight if you don’t want to.” But the Cleveland native was feeling confident and eager for a signature win, so he accepted. Besides, his girlfriend, now fiancee, gave birth to a son a month prior, and he knew he would need to start collecting bigger paychecks. It would turn out to be a short night for Evans, who never recovered from a strafing left hand that Fortuna landed on the temple midway through the first round. After another left hand sent Evans to the canvas, the referee waved off the fight with 1:29 yet remaining in the opening stanza.
After the knockout, Evans says many of his so-called friends in Cleveland turned their backs on him. “Even when I’d go out, I didn’t get the same attention from the ladies,” Evans chuckled.
For a prospect, a loss should have spelled nothing more than brief hitch in his development, but according to Evans, his promoter Square Ring, led by CEO and former Don King associate John Wirt, suddenly stopped offering him fights.
“They were basically trying to make him into an opponent,” said John Homerick, a Florida-based attorney and Evans’ current manager, in a phone interview. Homerick met Evans when he saw him sparring against Yuriorkis Gamboa in a Miami gym. At the time, Homerick saw what was happening to Evans and, as a friend, offered free legal advice. “He was basically becoming one of those boxing stories that you hear about.”
“I mean, he got clipped by Fortuna before he could clip Fortuna. One of them was going down. It’s not like he got beat up for 10 rounds and showed that he couldn’t hang with the big boys.”
To make matters worse, Evans’ former manager, Miami-based Paulie De Blasi, told him he could no longer pay out any more advances and that Square Ring would need to shoulder more of the financial burden. Seven months later, with no fight on the horizon and no money, Evans filed suit against De Blasi to get out of his contract. It would take another seven months before the courts granted his release.
By that time, Evans had not had a fight in over a fight over a year and he was still signed with Square Ring, which showed no indication to secure a fight for him.
With no resources to mount another legal battle, Evans simply waited for his contract to lapse, even though he claims that Square Ring was already in breach for not fulfilling his minimum number of fights. “I knew John Wirt could hold me in a lawsuit forever. He’s a lawyer,” Evans said. “I just don’t understand why promoters shelve guys just because of a loss.”
Wirt declined requests for comment.
Another year would go by before Evans became a free agent, by which point he was 26 years old, the prime age for many fighters.
No longer able to earn a living from boxing to support his fiancée and two kids, Evans began taking courses at a local college, while working the first and third shifts at a factory, in addition to a host of other odd jobs in the Cleveland area. “That was hard, man. I’d go to work in the morning then go to sleep in the afternoon, then went back to work,” Evans said, who prefers to moonlight today as a Lyft driver. He persevered, though, going so far to save enough from two factory jobs to purchase a $7000 engagement ring for his girlfriend.
Boxing remained the priority and Evans diligently continued to put in the hours at the gym, training alongside his good friends and fellow Ohioans, Terrell Gauche and Willie Nelson. “The layoff was crazy man,” Evans recounted. “It broke me down mentally and physically, but I knew that I belonged in this sport so I stayed in the gym. I knew that I had the talent.” It also helped that, through local trainer Mike Stafford and IBF lightweight champion Robert Easter Jr., Evans found some additional work as a sparring partner for Rau’shee Warren at Barry Hunter’s Headbangerz Gym in Washington D.C., where, Evans couldn’t help but notice, “guys always had fights lined up.” (Hunter was the head trainer for Evans in the Rosa fight, and Evans plans to continue to work with him: “Barry fathers his fighters and he never runs out of ideas.”)
Sometimes Evans would run into a gym mate who promised to introduce him to Al Haymon or would receive a call out of the blue from a matchmaker looking for someone to play the B-side on a club card — but nothing ever materialized. Evans admits it hurt to see so many of his colleagues, from the Peterson brothers to Austin Trout and Hank Landy, working toward a fight, while he toiled seemingly without purpose. And when they asked him when his next fight was, Evans never had an answer.
“You know how people sometimes say it’s not a job if you love to do it?” Evans offered. “I had to tell myself that this is my job. I couldn’t think that I loved to do it. I don’t love to do boxing for free. These are not amateur days anymore.”
After a short stint with New York-based manager David McWaters, Evans would eventually sign with Rick Torres of Victory Boxing and Management on the assumption that Torres could arrange for a deal to be made with a notable promoter, namely Top Rank, Golden Boy or Roc Nation. In the end, the best Torres could offer was a deal with Warriors Boxing, a promotional company best known for showcasing Al Haymon’s PBC fighters, in what turned out to be yet another pointless partnership.
Although Evans fought two times under Warriors in 2015, both fights were against no-hopers, indicating to him that his career was not seen as a primary concern. Seven months later, with a third fight nowhere to be seen, Evans, on the advice of Homerick, decided to ask for a release from both Torres and Warriors. Both complied. “I think they had good intentions,” Evans said, “but they couldn’t carry out their duty. They couldn’t get me where I wanted to get.”
Once again, Evans was a free agent but had little appeal. Big promoters didn’t want a fighter coming off a long layoff and the smaller ones, Homerick pointed out, “wanted to sign him on the cheap: an amount that would have been insulting to a 5-5 fighter.”
Around the same time, Homerick officially came on board as Evans’ manager. Together they worked the phone lines tirelessly calling up every promoter they knew. Finally, after enough hounding, they were able to get Lou DiBella to agree to give Evans a shot on a small card in Oklahoma against Australian Billel Dib. Evans turned in a dominating performance, earning a unanimous decision win and his first decent break in years. After the fight, Evans signed with DiBella.
“His hunger is what attracted me to him,” DiBella said. “I was impressed by how persistent he was at asking me for an opportunity. It made me want to give him a chance. I was thinking ‘Damn, if this kid is going to work this hard to get me to listen, then he’s working this hard in the gym and he’s going to work this hard when he’s televised in a real fight.”
True to his word, DiBella slotted Evans in ShoBox’s year-end main event against Luis Rosa. The fact that Evans not only won, but did so in a fiery shootout, bodes well for a fighter looking to make up for lost time and money.
“I know I didn’t fight my fight,” Evans said, laughing, “but ShoBox loved it and that means there’s a future for me on more main events. I’m just blessed to be fighting again.”
“There has been a lot of pride that has needed to be swallowed in that past few years,” Homerick said, who noted he was a “nervous wreck” during the fight. “After this win, I don’t want to say he’s in the driver’s seat, but big things are coming. People know he’s back.”
Layoffs in boxing usually lead to unhealthy levels of cynicism and stagnation but to his credit, Evans never grew pessimistic and he never stopped working. He believes he will be promoted correctly under DiBella and that a title shot against the champions of the featherweight division, such as Leo Santa Cruz and Gary Russell Jr., is not far off.
“He wants to be an active fighter, so that’s what we’re going to try and do for him,” said DiBella. “I think he has an opportunity to make some noise in the featherweight division.”
In the meantime, nothing much changes for Evans. He will continue to train with the tenacity of an unsigned fighter, with the one exception that the next time a fellow fighter approaches him about his next fight, Evans will be sure to have an answer.
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