In the first part of the interview Rashad Evans talked about the situation surrounding his withdraw from a scheduled title fight against UFC light heavyweight champion Maurico "Shogun" Rua. Due to a freak accident Evans was forced to pull out of the bout making way for his close friend and teammate Jon Jones to step in for his chance at UFC 128. In the second part of his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview Evans talked about career defining moments and what he feels is keeping him from being recognized as one of the pound for pound best. in the sport.
"The thing that keeps me from showing people how well rounded my skills are comes down to the fact that when I get in there I don't always execute everything I'm capable of," Evans explained. "A lot of people when they roll around and grapple with me for the first time are shocked because they weren't aware that I knew how to grapple like that. Or not even think that I'm that decent at it where I'm pretty good at rolling. Some people don't realize where my striking is at but I can stand up and strike with the best of them. The thing about the game of mixed martial arts is that you have to really be comfortable to get in there and let it all blend together. It's just a mental thing and turning that cage into your playground. When you go out there to fight you have to make it your playground and I can admit there have been times when I haven't done that. You have to go out there and enjoy yourself to the point where you can whatever you want because you have the freedom of knowing no matter how the skill comes across I'll be able to recover. I'm still missing that little piece before I can really transform myself into the fighter that I know I can be. That's the motivation and that's what pushes me to keep on going is the simple fact that nobody has really seen me fight yet."
On the grand scale of a fighter's career Evans is now at his prime. At 31 years old the former champion knows that the road ahead may hold the most important fights of his career and when it comes to putting together the total package, Evans referenced a fighter often regarded as the greatest pound for pound fighter in the world.
"You see guys like Anderson Silva who compete in almost in a zen-like state and they are out there having fun and playing around," Evans stated. "Sometimes the technique the pull off isn't perfect but that isn't what they are aiming for. They just shoot the technique out but they are so comfortable enough that if it doesn't come off perfect that they the tools to react. Sometimes when you get out there you get to a point where you are very consistent and you know what works but then you get caught in a rut where you are staying with what's consistent and what works. That's very effective and you do win but its' not the truest expression. Sometimes you walk out of a fight and you think to yourself "damn...I didn't really let it all out," and that's because you didn't express your skills in a manner that you know you could have."
When Evans entered the UFC he did so as a solid wrestler with obvious athletic ability. As he began to make the climb towards the top of the division other aspects of his game began to develop and often to devastating results for an unfortunate opponent. A large part of that progression came as a result of the training Evans received from Coach Mike Winkeljohn as he helped Evans harness natural talent into speed, precision and power.
"Mike Winkeljohn is one of my best striking coaches and he is the one that is responsible for me getting those knockouts when they happened. He's the guy that helped me learn those things and he helped to instill the confidence in me that I can stand and bang," Evans described.
In a recent interview with Mike Winkeljohn he described Rashad Evans's striking game as one of the most underrated in all of mixed martial arts. Coach Wink went on to say that Evans possesses tremendous knockout power in his hands but it is ultimately his speed and footwork that make him extremely dangerous. In that interview Winkeljohn was asked what he hoped to leave on the sport when his career was all said and done and rather than talk about technique, he described a moment when he assured Evans that the powerful overhand right they had been working on was going to put UFC legend Chuck Liddell to sleep.
"That was exactly it," Evans answered when asked about Winkeljohn's take on the story. "I get nervous before a fight. I'm not one of those guys who tries to act super tough before a fight...I just get nervous. I try to not let the nerves get the best of me and before the Liddell fight I was talking to Coach Winkeljohn and I said, "Coach, what's the game plan tomorrow? What's the game plan tomorrow?" He started telling me about it and that calmed me down. Then we were warming up hitting mitts and he told me that I was going to hit him with the overhand right, knock him out and it was going to end so fast that they weren't going to let him in the cage. He kept telling me that was the one I was going to put him to sleep with. When we were hitting mitts I was just cracking the overhand right and it was coming off so smooth and nice. Then it actually happened and I couldn't believe it. That was the second time we have done that. The first time was the Sean Salmon fight. He told me that I was going to catch Sean with the kick and he made me throw the kick all of the time...over and over again. I tried telling Coach that I was a wrestler and I wasn't going to be throwing kicks and that I didn't want to kick. But he made me throw it over and over again and when I got in the fight that was the only thing I could see, even when it wasn't there. So I couldn't stop throwing it and then I finally got the timing right and knocked him out with it."
After Evans left "The Iceman" laying flat on the canvas he jumped on the fast track to title contention. With that being said the upper tier of the UFC light heavyweight division is tremendously diverse so it remained a priority to continue to push and develop his skills. With having an outstanding wrestling base it would seem likely that Evans could rest on his foundation but as wrestling continues to evolve with the sport, it becomes a necessity to remain on the cutting edge.
"For sure," Evans answered when asked about the evolution of wrestling in MMA. "Look at the guys in England and take Michael Bisping for example. Bisping has some good takedowns now. The level is changing now and everybody knows they have to step it up. Back in the day everybody was doing Jiu-Jitsu, so guys were getting their backs taken and being tapped in armbars so everybody started to learn more and more Jiu-Jitsu. Then it turned to the standing and banging so then everybody's stand up got descent so then the focus turned to takedowns and who could control the pace of the fight. Now everybody is learning wrestling to the point where they can fight off the takedown or get back up to their feet so now the next stage is coming through and the next stage is transitional fighting. That is where fighters are not committing so much to one takedown, letting them go, throwing some punches and getting right back on the takedown. It's very fast and the transition makes all of the difference. You're not going to see too much of the old grab them and hold them until you get the takedown because guys are too good for that nowadays."
Evans continued, "One of the hardest things is making that transition and transitioning from throwing a punch to getting the takedown when a guy knows that you are going to try to take him down is one of the hardest things in the world to do. Now it's to the point where it's very difficult to take a fighter down and keep him there because fighters have trained so much wrestling that they are very good at getting up. It turns into a constant struggle where you can expend a lot of energy working for the takedown and if you waste too much energy on that one takedown, you aren't going to be able to keep them there so it's a bad decision. It's a lot harder than what it looks. Rampage has probably the best hips out of anybody I've ever wrestled when he gets in the cage. He has very, very strong hips and it was hard as hell to take him down but I figured out how to do it. When I fight him again for the last time or whenever we fight again I'll tell you how I do it so everybody will know how to take him down but it's not easy because his level of takedown defense is pretty good because Rampage is a wrestler."