Rashad Evans was in New York City this past weekend. Not to fight of course—since MMA isn’t legal yet in the Empire state. He was in town to support his good friend and Blackzilian teammate Tyrone Spong—who would be competing at Glory 9.
Evans would be serving as one of Spong’s cornermen and getting as good a view of the talented kickboxer as he gets at the Jaco Hybrid Training Center on a daily basis.
“Tyrone looked real sharp in camp,” Evans told Bleacher Report at the Hammerstein Ballroom this past Saturday. “He’s adding another level to his skill. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do.”
Spong went on to win the night’s light-heavyweight tournament. One of his victories was a brutal knockout, showcasing a skill set Evans said couldn’t be used at full speed against him in practice.
“I could go 100 percent all I want to, but if he went 100 percent it wouldn’t be too good,” Evans said laughing. “It’s just a different level all together. Somebody like Tyrone, at his level with his hands and his feet, it’s dangerous, it’s lethal. When he spars me, he looks out for me.”
Evans was born in New York and began his wrestling career at Niagara Wheatfield High School. Yet, the closest he’s come to fighting there is when he defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 78: Validation in Newark, NJ.
“New York, there is nothing like it, it’s the center,” Evans says with excitement. “There have been a lot of great fights that happened here. To be able to fight here would be amazing.”
The 33-year-old former champion’s last fight was a split decision win over Dan Henderson in Winnipeg, Canada. It was a fight he needed to win in order to avoid his third-straight loss, which is usually the kiss of death in the UFC.
“When you are fighting on that bubble, it’s no fun,” Evans admitted. “You don’t want to be on that proverbial bubble of losing three fights. Dropping three fights in MMA, it gets hard to bring that momentum back. Being able to bring my momentum back…haven’t had a win or looked good…fighting someone like Dan Henderson, of his caliber and getting a win over someone like him—a legend—it was good.”
When Evans smiled as Bruce Buffer announced him as the winner that night, you could see it was a relief and how much it meant to him. On top of already dealing with a two-fight losing streak, the No.4-ranked light heavyweight has been dealing with a divorce and spending time away from his children.
Revealing that personal information to the media before UFC 161 was also cathartic for him.
“It was definitely important, that’s why I brought it up,” Evans explained. “Most times, people only see one aspect of a fighter. People forget that fighters, celebrities, we’re real people too. We have real problems like everybody else. Just because you admire what we do, it does not mean that we don’t have problems like you.”
Another problem Evans has been facing in recent months is the criticism of his “Blackzilian” fight camp. “We didn’t seem so hot, and we had a lot of hype coming with us, so you have to take the good with the bad,” he said.
Evans was speaking objectively. But, you could hear in his voice the pride that he has in himself and his Blackzilian teammates. “There is another side to it as well,” Evans said as he continued on the topic.
“When you have that much attention, you have to perform at an extremely high level all the time,” he admitted. “If not, then you are going to get that criticism. I think the criticism is what drove us, and what propelled us. I think that what doesn’t break you makes you stronger. And I think that the criticism is something that made us stronger.”
With the win over Henderson at UFC 161, and Vitor Belfort’s recent KO victory over Luke Rockhold, criticism of the Blackzilian camp has already started to subside. Spong winning the Glory 9 light-heavyweight Slam will certainly bring more positive attention toward the heavily-scrutinized camp.
Evans went over a year between victories, losing back-to-back fights for the first time in his career. Some have claimed that the fighter—who was once known for being cocky—has lost his swag.
“I wouldn’t say the swag is gone,” Evans said. “I still feel it and stuff like that. For the most part, I just let the fight happen, and I go with my emotions. I can’t go out there and try to be a certain way. When it happens, it happens. I just go with the flow and whatever I feel, I feel.”
“People say my swag is gone, he lost this, he lost that, but when I was doing it they had nothing but bad things to say about it,” Evans said.
He’s correct. He was criticized while he was a contestant on the second season of The Ultimate Fighter by UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes, along with many others for his in-cage antics and showing other fighters up.
“I try not to worry about what people say. I just do what I feel,” Evans admitted. “If I go out there and feel like it and that’s how I feel and I express myself doing it then that’s great, but I can’t worry too much about what people say because, like I said before, they were saying I show off and I’m too cocky and now I don’t do it and now I lost my swag.”
Evans comes across as a person who is very self-aware. He has a pulse on what works for him and what doesn’t. Being able to admit to his personal issues and avoiding a dangerous third loss in a row may put him back on the track to getting another crack at Jon Jones' belt.
He is still the only fighter to go the distance with the current light-heavyweight champion. Being ranked in the top four of the division, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that another victory could get him back in line for a championship rematch.
What would he do differently the second time?
“Stick to my game plan and, more importantly, go out there and fight using my best attributes,” Evans said. “Sometimes we seem to make a fight much more complicated than it really needs to be. Really what it breaks down to is imposing your will on your opponent. Jon Jones is very talented and he is an extremely difficult opponent to match,” he continued. “You try to match him on every single one of his strengths, you will have your head filled for days and you’re not going to be able to do it. So you just have to go out there and fight your fight. Try to impose your will, and that’s the only way you are going to win a fight.”
Michael Stets is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.