This past Saturday at UFC 128 was supposed to be the culmination of two years of hard work for former champion Rashad Evans. He was set to face Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in a light heavyweight title bout that would give Evans the opportunity to finally reclaim the belt he once lost but instead of a moment of potential greatness, instead Evans has found himself in the midst of a bitter dispute. Several weeks from the fight Evans suffered an injury that forced him to withdraw and in his place the UFC tapped his teammate Jon Jones.
This created the potential confrontation between Evans and Jones, and while both men have publically stated this wasn't something they would take part in, after Jon Jones became the youngest light heavyweight champion in the history of the UFC, Evans was sitting right there in the number one contender's position. Now the reality of their matchup has forced a wedge between two men who were once considered close friends and training partners but Evans's frustration is not aimed at Jones alone. I caught up with Evans on the day after he agreed to face Jones later for the light heavyweight title and in his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview, Evans spoke his mind. While Evans discussed the details of the situation between himself and Jon Jones, he perhaps showed more anger towards former Coach Greg Jackson's public declaration that he will take no part in the matchup.
"You can't say you are not going to have anything to do with it when you are a big part of the reason why the situation originated," Evans fired. "That's like spilling a glass of milk and then walking away and saying that you don't want to have anything to do with it. You f**kn spilled the milk...so you're at least going to help clean it up right? When Jon Jones came to the gym over a year ago Greg Jackson came to me and said, "listen, what do you feel about having this kid on the team?" I told him straight up that I didn't like it. I told him that the kid was talented and that the sky was the limit with him but that was the type of guy I wanted to fight not train with. Greg came back saying, "No, no, no this will be just like you and Keith where he will be just like a brother." I still told him that I didn't want to do that. Then Greg said if that situation ever did arise between Jones and I that he would have to turn the fight down because that's how it works. He would have to turn down the fight with me so that way I wouldn't be put in a position where I looked like a punk. That's how it works in the Greg Jackson system. After a while Greg was so high on this kid coming in and I met Jon Jones and he was a very nice and very sweet kid, so eventually I said f**k it, let' s bring him in. After he got there and I trained with him and tried him out a little bit, something didn't feel right so I moved my camp up to Denver to train at Grudge for awhile. That is where I spent the majority of my time over the past two fights."
Evans continued, "For my last two fights I have trained with Greg Jackson five times. During my time at Grudge I wasn't really dealing with Greg too much but were maintaining a great relationship and friendship so after my last fight I decided I was going to head back to Albuquerque to train with Greg and everything felt good there. My training went great. Jon and I were clicking on another level almost like I did with my first training partner. It was starting to get to the point where it was like what Keith and I have where we feel like brothers. We would share ideas and I wasn't holding back on him and I felt that he wasn't holding back on me and I knew that because there were days where Jon would have some rough days in the gym. We worked a rough pace and if you are competing at this level and you train with someone everyday you can tell when they are struggling. I did my best to help and I really felt that our friendship was on another level...but that wasn't the case. When the first opportunity came and he said that he would fight me if Dana said so, that to me stung more than anything. He said that he didn't want to lose his job and look man, the UFC isn't going to fire anyone because they are turning down fights. If anything it would mess up future opportunities for them and they weren't going to come to him and say, "if you don't fight Rashad you are kicked out of the UFC." That wasn't going to happen. I was always considerate and respectful to our system because if I had the belt then I would want you to do the same for me. Then he comes across on national TV and says that he will fight Rashad if Dana White tells me to and I felt so f**cking utterly disrespected."
The possibility of their matchup was something both men had denounced in previous interviews and after Evans stepped aside and Jones replaced him to face Rua, Evans continued to hold his ground that he would not face Jones in the octagon. Greg Jackson weighed in as well and there was possible talk of Evans moving to either heavyweight or middleweight were Jones to win the title but in the build up to the bout against Rua, Jones changed his tune and the tension began.
"I mean it's one thing to say something in an interview but the least you could have picked up the phone and been like, "man I did an interview today and they kind of put me on the spot with a rough question and I answered it this way." At least give me the heads up so that way I know and not look at it if he's Judas or something. You know who Judas is? That interview was some backstabbing s**t but now it's like whatever because now I know the game he is playing. Then for Greg to sit back and say he doesn't want to have anything to do with it....why not? You f**kn created the situation. Be his coach and be in his corner. That's what you want so do it. I don't care if coaches against me. It doesn't even matter."
Evans continued, "Over a year ago Jon Jones was like, "please let me be on the team and I'm so excited to be on your team and I'd never fight you." He was a kid that was excited to just be a part of the team because it was going to change his career. Now the question is would Jon Jones be an animal had he not trained with Greg Jackson? Yes he would've. The learning rate may not have been as fast because training with Greg allowed Jon access to train with the best in the world. Jon is hands down f**kn phenomenal. The kid is amazing and there is no doubt about that. There is no shame in my game for saying because the kid is very good but his skills excelled much quicker because of Jackson's. But if Jon Jones down the road goes somewhere else for a camp and then has a great fight and an opportunity arises do you really think he's going to go back to Greg Jackson? No. So then Greg lost on two fronts and for what? He's already in different ways told me that this kid is going to be the one that takes Greg Jackson's legacy to the next level. He's already sent that message to me so if you are going to send that message then stand behind it. It doesn't matter to me. I know Greg Jackson's system and I know Greg Jackson's game plan. Sure Greg Jackson is a great coach and he has been one of my great friends but let me tell you something...there is no end all be all in this game of mixed martial arts. It's a bag of mixed nuts. People are touting Jon around like he's Neo from the Matrix. That's all good and dandy but be there for the kid when the kid falls. Be there to pick him back up rather than turn their back on him like they did to Machida. Lyoto loses and all of a sudden he sucks. No he doesn't f**kn suck it's just the way the game goes. Nobody is supreme in this game and that is what makes mixed martial arts what it is today. Nobody is the absolute best. Anybody can get beat by anybody on any given day."
With the wounds still fresh and all parties involved still processing all that has happened over the course of the past several weeks, there is no telling what will remain of the once rock solid relationships between Evans and his coaches. Now that the matchup has been made and the lines have been drawn in the sand it is the start of a new chapter for Rashad Evans and despite so much uncertainty ahead, Evans does know one thing...a fire has been lit inside of him.
"I have a lot of motivation," Evans stated. "I feel disrespected on many levels and the worst part is that it comes from people who I felt were like family. I would have done anything for Greg Jackson, and I would still do anything for Greg Jackson but I felt disrespected beyond belief. I feel disrespected by Jon because when I think about when we trained or when we were chilling, was the s**t even real? Or was he just trying to be a master manipulator and try to manipulate the situation so he could get what he wanted out of it? I don't know and that is a question that I have in my mind but when I get down to it...that doesn't even matter because we are going to get in there and we are going to fight. People want to say "oh my God Jon is this and that" but Jon Jones is Jon Jones to me. He's another fighter I have to face. I've seen them all and I've trained with the best. I've seen all the shades of greatness and how this one was supposed to do this and this one was supposed to do that. It's all the same and it doesn't even matter."
Where once Evans thrived as a member of a team he now feels that his future may be best served as a man apart. The former champion does not know exactly what his long term plans will be as far as training is concerned but Evans is positive that he needs to keep his own best interest in mind from here on out.
"In all honesty I'm going to create my own camp from here on out because I'm not going to get bit again," Evans replied when asked about future affiliations. "The one thing I'm finding out over the course of this situation is that this is a business. It's no longer what it used to be or how it was when I got into the sport or when Greg Jackson got into the sport. Before it was much more of a brotherly connection, wanting to see your teammates do well and to get in there because you really loved training together. There was a much better connection but now it's business and it's about money and has turned into a lot of things it has never been about for me. Now that it's become that way to me in some respect I'm going to do my own thing. I don't need to have a team around me and I'll bring in what I need. I still maintain great relationships and I'll work with Keith Jardine, Nate Marquardt, Georges St. Pierre....all of my teammates all of my brothers. I'll still work with all of them but I'm not going to be a team guy anymore."
The team of trainers and coaches under the umbrella of Greg Jackson are some of the best in the business and while Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn operate out of New Mexico, the teams at Grudge and Montreal's Tri-Star are considered as affiliations. In the midst of the fallout Evans has declared he has no concern for what remains on the other side of the fence in Albuquerque but shared that he does have an ace in the hole in a long time coach that will remain by his side.
"I have a secret weapon in all of this," Evans shared. "One of my coaches who has done all of his work behind the scenes and without recognition is Mike Van Arsdale. He is one of the best coaches I've ever had in my life and he doesn't get any credit for what he has done. As long as I have Mike Van Arsdale I don't care where I have to train or who I have to fight because I know Mike is going to get me ready. For my last few fights it's been Mike Van Arsdale and Trevor Whittman. I'm still going to work with Trevor as well but Mike Van Arsdale has really been that dude to me. He's been that dude the entire time and without Mike it don't matter. Jones can have whoever he wants. Take Mike Winkeljohn. Take Greg Jackson. He can have whoever he wants and take the entire team. Like I said it doesn't matter anymore and it is what it is. In fact it will probably be better for Jon if he stays there and keeps getting coached by them because if he goes somewhere else they are just going to use him. He could get caught up at the other end of the spectrum and things could turn out not too good for him. Who knows? He should stay where he's at, I'll go where I'm at and then we'll fight like we've done so many times already in practice."
Regardless of what feelings and emotions may rise and fall throughout the dissolution, the hard fact remains that Evans will face the newly crowned Jon Jones inside of the octagon. While the entire situation has created tension, the part of Evan's heart that once cared still managed to show through.
"Jon needs to take a little bit of time off and he needs time to rest and enjoy the fruits of his labor a little bit. The kid is on a tear right now and I think he needs to relax and let it all soak in a little bit. I don't think they should fight him like that and at least give him a month or two off so he can recoup and get his mind to place where he will want to fight again."
Evans continued, "I'm burned but I still care about the kid. He's a great fighter and has the possibility to be one of the best ever but you have to make it past tomorrow. That's the thing of about it because the world is full of people who have tremendous potential. Just because he's done great things so far that doesn't mean that he will always do great things. Now I wish that he does...I wish that for him but he has a long road ahead of him. It's an awkward and tough situation facing somebody that I used to train with, was cool with and was part of the family that is for sure but I guess things happen just the way they are supposed to happen."
Evans showed throughout the interview that his facing Jones has opened up a complex situation filled with both betrayal and newly found motivations. With that being said Evans finished the interview with a strong message to Jones.
"I stay thirsty baby and I'm not going to let my little brother spank my ass that's for sure."