ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 16: Fighters Jon Jones (L) and Rashad Evans pose after a press conference promoting UFC 145: Jones v Evans at Philips Arena on February 16, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
After reading a recent interview with Jackson's MMA head striking coach, Mike Winkeljohn, I still had some questions. There are so many rocks left unturned in the continuing saga of the clash of the number one and number two UFC light heavyweights, that I seriously doubt anyone will ever fully get to the bottom of it. Regardless of that fact, I went ahead and let my fingers do the dialing, and secured my own interview with Coach Wink.
Stephie Daniels: You were quoted as saying that Rashad Evans was welcome back any time, but that you would prefer to work with Jones for the duration of his career. If Rashad pulls off the win, would your stance on career long coaching change?
Mike Winkeljohn: You know, it all depends on how they handle the fight afterwards. If Rashad was to beat Jon, and he was respectful and courteous after the fight, then yeah, I'd have no problem, and I'd help Rashad in the future. I've always cared for Rashad, and I think I helped turn his striking around quite a bit, and I'd like the opportunity to go forward with that some more, but honestly, Jon Jones is my guy right now. I've been working with him all along, and he's come a long way. I figure I'll stay with Jon until the end of his career, but if Rashad wanted to come back, win or lose, I'd be more than happy to work with him.
Stephie Daniels: What is your overall opinion of this very personal feud that Jon and Rashad have engaged in?
Mike Winkeljohn: My personal opinion is that Rashad is lost. He's in a place where he's not sure what he wants to do. I honestly think Jon has Rashad's number right now, and Rashad is using this feud to distract from the fact that he is worried about the fight.
Stephie Daniels: Daniel Cormier recently commended Jon for finally settling into a comfort zone and properly using his height/reach advantage. How do you see Jon's transition into a more well rounded fighter that uses all the advantages he is equipped with?
Mike Winkeljohn: I agree with that. With Machida, he was a little tentative, and had not fought a left hander, so he was a little uncomfortable, but very comfortable when he fought Rampage. If Jon fights long, he's pretty much unbeatable.
Stephie Daniels: Rashad being the smaller guy still has it's advantages. He's very quick and can stick and move or get inside the pocket. Is this something that might present a real concern to Jon?
Mike Winkeljohn: I wouldn't say it's easy for him to get in and get out. Rashad is very explosive. He can get in and he can move off at angles, but we kind of know what he's going to have to do to get there. There's no doubt he's going to be in tight. We expect to get taken down and maybe have to get up, and maybe even take some damage. With that being said, I have confidence that Jon can keep him at length, if he decides to, and make Rashad have to guess at what to do then.
Stephie Daniels: What are your thoughts on the Blackzilians camp as a whole?
Mike Winkeljohn: They seem to have some talented people down there. I'm not sure what their winning percentage is. I guess I don't pay attention to that. It's kind of a weird thing that they did. Rashad went down there, and people that are disgruntled with us have gone down there, but for the most part, we're just going to work every day and doing our thing, and if we've got to fight against them, then we've got no problem with that.
Stephie Daniels: You recently were quoted as saying that you agree with the odds going into this fight (Jones is currently at -500). Do you really feel that Rashad is so outmatched?
Mike Winkeljohn: Oh, I do believe so. I saw the last time Jon and Rashad sparred, and I feel that Jon has improved, many times, since then. Rashad has changed his game a little since then. He's gotten better at a few things, but I think he has gone backwards on a few other things, and I think we're going to see that in the fight. I do believe that Jon's at a whole different level.
Stephie Daniels: What did you think of Rashad's fight with Phil Davis?
Mike Winkeljohn: It was a great fight. I think as it wore on, after a little bit of time, Phil was real tentative with his stand-up. I think Rashad felt comfortable doing just about what he wanted to. Phil threw some kicks that he didn't mean to hurt Rashad with, and Rashad caught him and took him down, and they were probably the wrong kicks to throw, anyway. Phil was just not there that night. I think it's just one of those things that Phil is a better fighter than we saw that night.
Stephie Daniels: When you convinced Greg to corner Jonny, was it an easy thing, or was it a difficult task?
Mike Winkeljohn: I had been talking to him about it for quite a long time. It wasn't too hard. I think he was going to come to that on his own, anyway. I think Greg tried to take the high road, and he's great for doing that, but at some point in time, he's got to look, because Rashad left. Jon's here every day, helping everybody out. You've got to help your team out. If Rashad hadn't constantly put Greg down...you know, enough is enough.
Stephie Daniels: How long do you think Jon has before he outgrows the light heavyweight division?
Mike Winkeljohn: He's already increased his size quite a bit. He's having to cut a little bit more every camp, I'm noticing. When he first came to me, he was bones, and he had these little chicken legs, but he's starting to get some hamstrings on him. He's got so much more power than he had before, and that's why his striking is getting that much better. I'd like to see him stay at light heavyweight a little bit longer, because I'd like to work on his tools and take him to a whole new level with his striking before he goes to heavyweight. I wouldn't be able to tell you when that's going to happen, but I think maybe three more fights.
Stephie Daniels: How does Jon handle negative fan comments, and does he still get affected by it or feel the sting from them?
Mike Winkeljohn: It does affect him. He doesn't want anybody to not like him, I mean who really wants people to not like them? I think he's finally come to the realization that people that attack him are the weak ones, and they're going to be like that because he just beat the hell out of their favorite fighter, so they have nowhere else to go with it. The ones that speak the loudest are usually the dumb ones that are mad at him for some reason, but those are extreme guys on one side.
Most of the people out there appreciate Jon, like what he does, and appreciate his character. I think Jon can become a legend in this sport.
Stephie Daniels: Do you think now, winding down the last days before the fight, that Jon and Rashad will be able to put this whole mess to bed, once and for all?
Mike Winkeljohn: I think they both want to put it to bed. I think they're both going to be men afterwards.
Follow Mike via his Twitter @MMAcoachwink