Former UFC light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans has come a long way since winning The Ultimate Fighter 2 back in 2005. Since then he has turned into one of the more recognizable athletes in the UFC today and has elevated his game from that of just a wrestler to a well-rounded Mixed Martial Artist who can beat anyone put before him in the cage. “Sugar” ‘Shad has proven time and time again no matter how tough the opponent he is always game for a big fight and will never let anyone tell him he can’t win.
He wasn’t supposed to win TUF as a small light heavyweight competing for the heavyweight title yet in the finale he defeated 6’7”, 265 lbs Brad Imes, impressive considering the size difference. After defeating a few fighters who were thought to be on par with his talent, Evans finally got his big chance against Tito Ortiz and gave the former champ all he could handle in what would go down as a Draw.
Soon thereafter, Michael Bisping, Chuck Liddell, and Forrest Griffin, the latter of whom he defeated for the divisional title, would find out just how far Evans had come. He had dynamite striking and was adept at using his wrestling to get the fight to the floor when necessary. In his nearly seven years with the UFC, Evans has lost only once and the stumble came in a title defense to accomplished 205er Lyoto Machida at UFC 98. That was nearly three years ago, though due to injuries and inactivity Evans has fought only four times since, winning against Thiago Silva, Quinton Jackson, Ortiz, and most recently Phil Davis.
The Davis victory set him up for a much anticipated shot at current champion and former training partner/friend Jon Jones next month at UFC 145 in Atlanta. The world already knows the history between the two and how Evans left Greg Jackson’s camp because of the animosity between him and Jones. However, there is much more to Evans than just the fight with Jones. He is as passionate about this sport as anyone else. He is a devoted family man who misses his best friend/big brother Lance Evans, presently stationed in Afghanistan. Evans knows that this fight is important, but he also knows that this one fight will not define his career. He is happy where he’s at and ready to reclaim the UFC championship.
“Things are going so good for me right now,” explained Evans in an interview with Five Ounces of Pain. “I feel good since my last fight and it’s just continued on with this training camp. I’d really like to fight three or four times a year. I like to have that feeling where I want to fight. As long as I have that feeling I’ll fight as much as possible.”
Evans had a lot riding on his fight with Davis this past January. If he had fallen he wouldn’t have received a chance to not only fight Jones but to also win back the title he lost to Machida. On top of all of that pressure, his bout with Davis was occupying the main event slot of a UFC on FOX card. It’s not that Evans hadn’t been in big fights before, but there were high expectations from all involved to produce an entertaining show after the UFC’s first foray on FOX lasted just a minute.
“It felt like there was a little bit more pressure,” Evans said. “Then again I really put the added pressure on myself because I wanted to put on a show and put on a good fight for the people of Chicago. The actual show itself was pretty much the same as any of the other fights I’ve been in. One thing I was worried about was the title shot, I really wanted to win and go after the title so that added some pressure as well.”
It seems all people want to do these days when they talk to Evans or Jones is get them to trash talk one another. For some, it’s gotten to the point where they want to tune it all out, anxious to simply see the fight to happen so the sport can move forward while the involved fighters move on to the next stage of their careers. Evans can relate to such a mindset, also having had his fill of people telling him what Jones is saying.
“I’m just looking forward to fighting him to be honest,” offered Evans. “A lot of the back and forth and a lot of the drama is so old. I’m tired of hearing people say Jon is going to do this to you and he said this about you. It seems everyone has their own opinion. For me, I am just looking forward to getting it on. I had a good experience in Atlanta when I fought Chuck and hopefully it’ll turn out the same.”
No longer training with Jackson in New Mexico, Evans has found a new home and a new family with the Blackzilians in Boca Raton, Florida. There, under the tutelage of Mike Van Arsdale, Evans feels comfortable and has formed a bond with many of his new teammates. Following him down to Florida thus far, amongst others, have Melvin Guillard and UFC heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem. Managed by Authentic Sports Management, Evans is at peace with his surroundings.
“Down here it’s more organized and there are a lot more talented guys,” Evans elaborated on his current circumstances. “There’s just a better overall atmosphere down here. I’m a silly dude and I like to joke around. I like to make things a little lighter and funnier. It’s crazy the way things are now and how they were when I first started. I thought things would always be the same, but now things have changed so much. Keith Jardine just came down to train with us for awhile and seeing him was nice. Keith and I said we would never fight and that’s the way things were supposed to be with John, but I guess he didn’t feel the same way.”
Should Evans get by Jones next month and recapture the light heavyweight title the UFC already has an opponent waiting in the wings. 41-year-old Dan Henderson, fresh off of his thrilling five round Unanimous Decision victory over former 205-pound champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, is next in line for the winner of Evans-Jones.
“I definitely think Henderson is next in line,” Evans proclaimed. “I heard he’s going to wait and face the winner of my fight with Jones. I mean it makes sense for him to wait. At his age he has every right to sit out and wait to fight for the belt. These opportunities don’t come around every day. He’s still going strong; he’s out there and still doing his thing.”
Evans is one of many UFC fighters who will be attending the MMA Show Live in Birmingham, England in May. Others scheduled to join him are Brendan Schaub, Frank Trigg, Stefan Struve, Stephen Thompson, and Brittney Palmer. No doubt happy to focus on something other than the Jones rivalry and get away from the spotlight of America, Evans is looking forward to meeting the English fans and seeing some old friends as well.
“I am going to be doing a seminar and a meet and greet with the fans,” revealed Evans. “I had a good time the last time I was in Birmingham to watch the fights. It’s definitely a different vibe over there, but I had a good time. I’m looking forward to spending some time with Schaub; it’ll be good to hang out with some of my old friends again. I watched Brendan go from a guy who came into the gym to get into shape and look where he is now, it’s nice to watch his progression.”
Also outside of the regular realm of the fight business, Evans brother Lance, who once tried out for The Ultimate Fighter and has fought for some regional shows in Michigan and the surrounding areas, has since gone on to enlist in the United States military and is stationed over in Afghanistan. Rashad will miss having his brother around come fight time, but he’s happy to see his sibling doing something he loves.
“He’s in Afghanistan right now, in fact he just went back,” Evans explained. “He won’t be able to attend the fight as he’s going to be there for awhile. He likes what he’s doing, it’s tough being over there and there’s a lot that they don’t show on the news over here. There’s a lot of violence and you never know what’s going to happen. Being away from your family is hard and you never know what you’re going to come back to, it’s tough on the soldiers. The thing about America is we follow fads and it goes that way as far as the troops are concerned. If it’s not cool to support them then people don’t support them and that’s a shame. I miss having my brother around and it’ll be nice to have him home when his time is up.”
Until Evans-Jones meet on April 21 you can keep up with Evans on his Twitter account (@SugaRashadEvans).