Exactly 24 hours after finding out he had been pulled from UFC 205, “Suga” Rashad Evans emerged from his hotel room around five o’clock on Wednesday night for the first time. The former light heavyweight champion had been holed up in the room all day, with his friend Tyrone Spong, a professional boxer, keeping him company. The two sat side by side, on their phones, in silence for most of the day.
“I didn’t really wanna talk to anybody,” he told me, in his first one-on-one, in person interview since receiving the news. “Today was my day to kinda lick my wounds and feel sorry for myself, but I’m over that now. When you have a lot on your mind, the best thing to do is to just kinda let it settle for a little bit.”
UFC 205 was going to be a monumental homecoming for Evans, a Niagara Falls native who became one of just a few lucky fighters to get onto the first card at Madison Square Garden in nearly twenty years. He had been training since August, an average of four to six hours a day. He also underwent a massive weight cut to prepare himself for his middleweight debut this weekend.
“Everybody, they felt really bad for me cause they know how hard I worked for it, so they wanted to say some encouraging words but sometimes it can be overwhelming,” he said. So I just tuned everything out.”
Shortly after announcing that Evans had been pulled from the card on Tuesday, UFC President Dana White tweeted a picture of Evans’ tight, cut, lean, 195 pound physique captioning the photo “Holy Sh**.”
“I kinda wanted to hide that picture though, “ Evans laughed. “I kinda wanted to not allow Tim to see what he was getting into,” said Evans who promised he had something “special” planned for Kennedy, namely, “an a** whooping.”
Evans was on a plane en route to NY when he received a denial letter from the New York State Athletic Commission. He wasn’t cleared to fight because his medicals didn’t pass muster, due to an irregularity discovered on his MRI back in October. Even though Evans took followup tests, the commission wasn’t satisfied that he was fit to fight.
Within minutes of reading the letter, he says the news was everywhere. On ESPN, Dana White announced that his fight had been pulled from the card, just days before one of the biggest events in the history of the sport. His opponent, Tim Kennedy hopped on Twitter to challenge others to step up to the plate last minute, but the UFC eventually announced that Kennedy wouldn’t be fighting at UFC 205 either.
“I did feel bad for him just because it’s disappointing,” he said. “It goes with the whole mental process of getting ready for a fight. When you are mentally preparing and getting ready for something and it doesn’t happen it’s such a let down. A lot of mental preparation goes into seeing yourself in the octagon performing, seeing your opponent standing in front of you… playing out all of these different scenarios in your mind and using that mental picture for months as motivation to train, so yea of course my heart went out to him, cause I know what he felt there.”
Evans’ irregularity sparked immediate concern from fight fans and colleagues over his health. While he won’t reveal what it is, because he doesn’t want people to blow it out of proportion, he says it is nothing new.
“I’m healthy,” he said. “I don’t want it to be a thing where it’s like ‘oh he has this issue’…you never know how people are gonna take things, especially when everything is so politically correct nowadays.”
He did reveal, however, that the medical irregularity is a finding that he has fought with throughout his entire career. He says it’s stayed the same for a long time and “it’s not gonna go away.”
“The way it was explained to me, the irregularity that I have with my MRI, a lot of people have that, who are not professional fighters,” he said. “It’s just an irregularity, it could happen to anyone. I’ve talked to specialists and they say there’s really no reason why they should’ve not had me fight, especially with all the follow-up and everything else.”
Evans says commissions across the country have approved his medicals in the past, despite the irregularity. “We did everything on our side, the UFC did everything to make sure that I was answering all the questions and doing all the things that I needed to,” he said. “[NYSAC] they just weren’t satisfied with it.”
Evans says the decision was discretionary and believes NYSAC is being overcautious because of the high profile nature of the event. The commission has gone so far as to ban the use of ibuprofen, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug commonly used by fighters in other jurisdictions to relieve minor aches and pains from training.
“It’s a discretionary thing. Every commission has a right to allow certain things and not allow certain things,” he said. “This is their first MMA fight. They are precautious and they didn’t wanna take a chance.…Of course they could’ve rendered their decision before I got on the plane.”
The decision by the commission essentially means that Evans will never be allowed to fight in his home state, according to him, “unless they reevaluate my situation.” He says there is nothing he can do to treat the medical issue and there are no preventative steps he can take to stop it from getting worse in the future, though it has remained stable for most of his life. He says he one thousand percent believes that other fighters have the same irregularity.
“It’s not the end of the world,” he said, “I’m gonna be able to fight again, so it’s a disappointment but in life there are disappointments. There’s no way to get through life without disappointments. It just happened at a time when I wasn’t really expecting it, such as all disappointments.”
The UFC has already announced that the Evans/Kennedy bout has been rescheduled for December 10th in Toronto. Late Wednesday evening, Evans put on his finest cranberry colored suit and a renewed smile and greeted fans at a taping of UFC on Fox at the Pennsy food court at the base of Madison Square Garden. He has the option to return to Florida but plans to stay through the weekend.
“I’m gonna stick around,” he said. “I’m gonna corner Michael Johnson. I’m gonna have fun with everybody. I’ll get a chance to fight December 10th. I’m going to support the friends that I have on this card, take pictures with fans and make it a great experience for them.”
After 24 hours of licking his wounds, he’s ready to “make the best of the situation.”
“I didn’t get to fight here,” he said. “But this moment and what it means to fight in New York is bigger than me and it didn’t work out for me but everything’s not for me. One day something will be for me and it’ll be great, but this wasn’t for me.”