Former friends, training partners meet in Saturday’s main event
Evans has been talking about this fight for more than a year, and really he's been thinking about it a lot longer than that.
The fight, of course, Saturday at UFC 145, is Evans against Jon Jones. The former friend. The former training partner. The "fighter of the future." The UFC light heavyweight champion. Evans finally gets another shot at the 205-pound title he once held – and it comes against the one man, the one team, he wants to beat more than anything.
You'd have to be an MMA fan living in a cave the last year to not know how we got here. But as a refresher, Evans was a longtime superstar at the Greg Jackson-Mike Winkeljohn camp in Albuquerque, N.M. Jones joined the team and was a regular training partner of Evans. The two became "brothers" who apparently agreed they'd never fight each other. Evans got a title shot against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, then got hurt. Jones got the shot in his place, and before he even got in the cage with the champ said if the UFC wanted him to fight Evans, then he'd have to do it – an interview Jones now says was taken out of context because most people have never heard it in full. But no matter. Just like that, it was on.
Jones won in March 2011, and Evans left Team Jackson and helped start a new team in Florida. And then through a series of injuries on both sides, he's been waiting for his shot at "Bones" for a year with nothing but words – lots and lots of words – to set this whole thing up. Until Saturday, that is.
"I'm really excited to get a title shot, considering the fact it's eluded me for more than a year," Evans told HeavyMMA last week. "But I'm even more excited to get this fight talk out of the way, this beef all sorted out. There's just too much talking, and it's to the point I'm tired of answering questions and I'm sure he's tired of answering questions. Now it's time to just get in there and do it."
Evans is no stranger to feuds. On Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter," he coached opposite Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and had plenty of words with who then was his biggest rival. But the Jackson rivalry, Evans said, has nothing on this thing with Jones.
"The thing that I realized is that with me and Rampage, it was just a lot of words," Evans said. "But now, it's a lot of words with a lot of feelings attached to it. So it's that much more personal."
Evans has been plenty outspoken in saying the Jones the MMA public sees is a facade. He has taken that public in several outlets leading up to the fight, even speaking out about how the way Jones enters the Octagon is a clear mimic of Evans' longtime cage entrance, walking in crouching on his hands. "I was like, 'Damn, man – can't I just have my own little style? My own little flavor?'" Evans recalled.
But the former champ said even before all this blew up, things like that with Jones were part of a bigger pattern he recognized early on.
"Jon has always been that way. He's always been a little fake," Evans said. "It just took this situation to have it come out a little bit more. But he's always been a little bit shady. He would do shady stuff all the time. But I kind of (then) just decided whatever, and I put it on the fact that he was young.
"I have gotten him a little flustered. Jon is very conscious about how he comes across and he tries to have this image in front of the fans and the people to come off a certain way. … For me to get him to actually speak his mind on how he really feels is a milestone because you're starting to see the cracks in his mask. And pretty soon, once the cracks start coming, the mask is going to shatter and you're going to get to actually see who Jon Jones really is. Because no one knows who Jon Jones is. Jon Jones hasn't shown up yet. When y'all see Jon Jones, you all will say, 'Dammit … Rashad was right.' "
Evans believes a win over Jones Saturday – which by Vegas standards would be a fairly monumental upset with Jones as a 5-to-1 favorite – could be the first big crack in that mask. But even outside the war of words, Evans believes he has ways to put cracks in Jones' fighting armor, as well.
Since the feud started, Evans has said repeatedly that training with Jones and knowing how the Jackson camp works will give him an edge in the fight that Jones' previous opponents haven't had. Jones has spent all of 12 seconds of his career on his back, and putting him there might be Evans' quickest path to getting his hand raised.
"There's no doubt in my mind I can take him down," Evans said. "No doubt in my mind. He knows it, and I know it. So I don't think it's going to be any momentum boost (for me) because I know it's going to happen. I wouldn't say (putting Jones on his back) is the most important thing to do, but I think it would kind of get in his head a little. I'm willing to take the fight wherever he wants to take it. I'm comfortable wherever this fight goes. He's unorthodox. But I understand his setups. I understand what he's going to do. I understand his trickery and his mindset."
And if Evans can play things out the way he believes he understands them on Saturday, winning the light heavyweight title again will feel plenty better than when he won it the first time in December 2009.
"It's going to feel amazing," Evans said. "It's going to be the best feeling in the world. I might break down and start crying or something."