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Rashad Evans was set to face Maurico "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128 but a recent injury suffered while training has literally turned Evan's world on its side. Where before he was set to fight for the title, he not only had to step aside but now it appears there is no clear path for him to travel.
Amidst talk of a possible divisional change should Evans' teammate Jon Jones beat Rua later this month, I recently sat down with the former light heavyweight champion and in Part one of his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview Evans shed light on the purposed rematch with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and talked about the situation surrounding UFC 128.
"The thing is this," Evans began. "Say for instance I would have taken a fight then I would have gotten injured training for a fight that wasn't a title bout. Everybody would have said I was stupid for not waiting. I got hurt in a freak accident while I was training for the title bout so it's just something that happened. It probably couldn't have happened another one in a million times but it happened to me and with no time to spare. I've been getting a lot criticism and people want to knock you when you're down. People like to tell what you have should've and shouldn't have done. Or they will say that I wasted the most valuable years of my fighting career because I didn't take a fight in the interim. Let me set a few things straight...first and foremost I was not afraid to fight. I would have fought but I wanted it to be for something. Dana White and the UFC didn't want to do an interim belt so therefore I waited. What was my guarantee and what would I really have been fighting for? I can tell you what I do fight for and that's to be the champion and what would a win against somebody else have gotten me when I had already earned the number one contender spot?"
Evans continued, "When you are in this business you have to understand that two of the biggest parts are navigating your career and taking fights that will allow you to get to the places you want to reach in this game. Every guy on the UFC roster is a tough guy. Everybody who steps into the octagon is a tough guy. But what separates tough guys into different levels? It comes down to how smart you are and the choices that you make. It's about where you choose to set up at. It's a fraction or a hair of a difference between some of the guys who are at the top and the ones who are left wanting to be at the top. There is not much of a difference and sometimes it just comes down to the decisions and choices that you make and sometimes you have to make choices that are not the most popular. Sometimes you have to be willing to take the fighting out of the entire situation and analyze things from a business perspective."
"I'm aiming for that top spot and if the UFC didn't want to make it worth something then I decided to wait because that is what I'm fighting for," Evans stated. "If they would have given me a fight while Shogun was hurt and put an interim on the line then I would have taken it because winning that interim still guarantees me a fight when he gets healthy. But that's not something they decided to do so I waited. Then you have people saying I was scared to fight....man I'm a fighter, that's what I do. There is something that takes over when I get in there and to be honest I'm not even sure what it is but once I step in the octagon there is no such thing as fear once I get in there and start fighting. Plus I don't think there is anybody out there that can whoop me so what am I afraid of? I've fought some of the best guys in my time and era. I train with the best guys in my time and era so there is nothing that anyone is going to do inside of that cage that I have not seen before. There are no magic powers that anyone possesses that I have not experienced already. I roll with the best grapplers in the world. I've rolled with Roger Gracie and the Gracie family. I train with Georges St. Pierre. I train with Nate Marquardt, Keith Jardine, and some of the best fighters in my era so there isn't anything that I am afraid of."
The injury that forced Evans to step aside and allow close friend and teammate Jon Jones has created a unique dilemma for the former champion. Should Jones defeat Rua, Evans would be put in a situation to face Jones...an option he has already publically refused. Then again there is there is the alternative where Rua defeats Jones but even if that does turn out to be the case, Evans is already several steps ahead determining his course of action.
"I think I'm next in line but here is the reality of the situation," Evans explained. "I've put myself in a place where when I do fight again I will have been out a little over a year. So now the question is do I go in there and fight for the title because that was where I was at before I got hurt or do I take at least one non-title fight to make sure that I'm sharp and on point when I get my title shot? That's the situation I'm in. Before I got hurt I was the number one contender and ready to go but now I'll be out over a year and if that's something that I need to prove again I will. Because there is no sense in saying you are the number one contender when you really aren't at that level at the time. I would rather take a fight to get back and make sure I'm sharp. It's all about being the best and going out there and proving you are the best. I don't have a problem with that. I like to test myself. I never want to go out there and try to fool myself into believing something that I'm really not. If I'm not the best then I'm not the best and I want to know that."
As stated above, Evans has been quick to extinguish any possible talk of a bout with Jones should he find success against Rua at UFC 128. Shortly after the official announcement was made Evans answered the instant curiosity of the MMA media by saying he would consider a possible drop down to middleweight or a step up into the land of behemoths that is the UFC heavyweight division.
"Honestly I'll have to see how it all plays out," Evans replied when asked about a possible divisional change. "I did make that comment and I it was something that I have been thinking about but I don't really know to be honest because I've never been the biggest light heavyweight. I'm kind of on the smaller end of things. I'm 5'11 and I walk around at 225 lb. so I'm not really that big. If I go to 185 lb. I probably wouldn't still be all that big and it would be difficult to make the weight and if I jumped up to heavyweight then I would be a munchkin. It would be fun to do because any fights taken in those divisions I could go into without any care and they would just be fun fights to do but at the same time I feel that light heavyweight is my home. I've been in this division and beat people that I wasn't expected to beat. I'm here because I'm scrappy as hell and resilient by nature but I did it all at light heavyweight. I feel that this is my home. I don't want to switch weight classes and lose my mojo. With all due respect I don't want to be like Brandon Vera. Like I said with all due respect and it's nothing against Brandon Vera but I don't want to lose that mojo."
With the title fight cancelled talk arose of a potential rematch between former champions as Quinton "Rampage" Jackson's bout with Thiago Silva also hit the skids. The fight seemed close to being finalized but then the UFC suddenly announced that Rampage would be facing TUF alum Matt Hamill and this once again left Evans on the outside looking in.
"My manager talked to the UFC about it and the fight seemed as if it was close to happening but everybody at the UFC did not agree with us fighting again," Evans replied when asked about the rematch with Rampage. "They didn't agree with it and didn't want to do it so it didn't happen. They thought Matt Hamill deserved it and thought he needed to get a chance so they decided to put him in there but you know I don't fault the UFC. They have a business and they know what they need to do and it's just the nature of the beast."
Evans continued, "In another aspect I looked at it before the injury and with Shogun coming back we would both have a little bit of ring rust but now I'm looking at a situation where whatever opponent I'm going to face most likely will be coming off a fight in the last few months or so. One thing about being a fighter is that you never forget how to fight. I'm not going to go in there and forget what it is I'm supposed to do. I'm training with guys that are still actively fighting and are actively competing all of the time so it's not like I'm going to be too far off base. Right now I'm just rehabbing my knee and getting it better. Just trying to get the knee healed is a full focusing job in itself. I was in great shape and I wanted to fight but I'm trying to fight that urge in wanting to come back too soon so right now I need to take my time and let it get better."