The chain of events that will eventually lead us to Atlanta on April 21 and allow the world to witness a battle for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship between current title holder Jon Jones and former champion Rashad Evans was set in motion long before Jones ever stepped foot inside the Octagon. You may agree with this assessment or not, but in my opinion UFC President Dana White is a master puppeteer and saw an opportunity to pay Evans back for his refusal to fight former teammate Keith Jardine the minute Jones joined Greg Jackson’s camp and started making his way up the ranks of the light heavyweight division.
After recently speaking with Evans it became apparent very quickly that he is fiercely loyal and steadfast in his beliefs. While many will say MMA is an individual sport most of those people haven’t had the opportunity to spill blood, shed tears, and sweat alongside a teammate day in and day out. Evans values his relationships amongst his teammates more than he does a championship or a paycheck. That’s not to say he doesn’t desire to hold the UFC light heavyweight title or make a good living and be able to support his family. It just means he isn’t willing to sacrifice the relationships he has forged along the way and alienate the men who have helped get him where he is today.
Evans and Jardine quickly developed a bond when the two men were contestants on the Ultimate Fighter 2 back in 2005. They actually fought on the show with Evans winning by decision. As soon as taping was over Evans joined Jackson’s gym and quickly strengthened that bond with Jardine, one that is still going strong today. As the two fighters slowly but surely climbed the light heavyweight ladder talk began to grow that they could possibly face one another if their success continued. Beginning with his fight with Tito Ortiz at UFC 73 in July of 2007, Evans started to fight a higher level of competition. After the Ortiz bout he would go on to defeat Michael Bisping, Chuck Liddell, and then Forrest Griffin at UFC 98 in December of 2008. With his ensuing knockout over Griffin, Evans became the new light heavyweight champ.
Jardine on the other hand was going through a period of inconsistency and because of this talk of him fighting Evans seemed to temper off a bit, but that doesn’t mean that White would forget that both men publicly refused to fight one another. If Jardine had continued on with the success he had after the show had ended both he and Evans would have found themselves in a very difficult position. Jardine had defeated both Griffin and Liddell before Evans did, but lost to Houston Alexander and Wanderlei Silva after those wins. While those losses may have spared the two friends and training partners the headache of either fighting one another or risk losing their position with the UFC it remained in the back of White’s mind and would rear its ugly head the minutes Jones started making a name for himself.
Evans has gone on record as saying that he was not comfortable with Jackson bringing Jones in to the camp. He felt as though it would ultimately lead to the same drama that he and Jardine were forced to deal with. Eventually Evans gave in and agreed to train alongside Jones. It didn’t take long for the two men to develop a strong bond in and outside of the cage. Evans took Jones under his wing and didn’t hold back when it came to helping Jones become the best fighter he could be. Somewhere along the way they made an agreement not to fight one another or allow White to come in between them. Jones seemed to value his relationship with Evans in the same manner Rashad did with Jardine.
After beating Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 114 the UFC announced Evans would go on to face then champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua once the champion had recovered from knee surgery. The bout was to take place at UFC 128. As it turned out, while training for the match-up Evans injured his knee and was forced to pull out of the fight. In a surprise move, White awarded Jones the opportunity to face Rua after he defeated Ryan Bader at UFC 126. The move in itself wasn’t what upset Evans as he knew the UFC needed to find a replacement; it was the fact that Jones spoke out in an interview during the promotion for his fight with Rua and stated he would face Evans if the UFC offered him the fight. Obviously upset with Jones, Evans left Jackson’s camp and moved south to Florida.
Stung by Jones betrayal and for what he perceived to be a lack of support from Jackson, Evans needed to pull himself together quickly and regroup. He and a team of Brazilian fighters who used to train with American Top Team joined forces with some respected fighters to create The Blackzilians and began training under the tutelage of Mike Van Arsdale at Imperial Athletics in Boca Raton. Since he began working there Evans has defeated Ortiz and Phil Davis. These days “Suga” seems to be more at peace, and although he is still hurt by what went down he is forced to deal with the fact that this is a business; that not everyone abides by the same values he does.
In just six short weeks Evans will get the opportunity to punish Jones for stabbing him in the back and in the process he can win back the belt he lost to Lyoto Machida. The veteran has a chance to prove to the young lion that he made a colossal mistake by breaking the pact they made. Evans also gets to show Jackson that he chose to stand behind the wrong fighter. There is much more at stake here than the UFC title. Everything Evans believes in is on the line. Never has a fight been more personal and never before has a fight created such controversy. As if fighting Jones wasn’t difficult enough, Evans also has to fight the naysayers who have criticized him for taking this too personal. None of us know what went on behind closed doors between Jones and Evans, but we will get to see the fallout from it all come April 21.
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC