As a former Ultimate Fighter champion, UFC world champion and perennial star in the Octagon, when Rashad Evans speaks, his fellow fighters should listen. And while “Suga,” who headlines Saturday’s UFC on FOX event in Tampa against Glover Teixeira, is still in the thick of the title hunt in the light heavyweight division, he does have some seasoned veteran advice for the young guns of the sport.
“This is a moment in time,” Evans said. “This is high school. And it’s gonna be over. So you’ve got to learn to live the rest of your life. And the rest of your life may not be as glorious as it is right now, so what are you going to do with this moment that you have right now?”
Those are words of wisdom from a 36-year-old man who has paid his dues in fighting and in life. He used to be the kid who thought he was bulletproof, the one trash talking to sell fights, and someone who thought life at the top would last forever. The thing that separates him from the pack though is that he realized that it wouldn’t. Sometimes that’s a harsh lesson to learn.
“More than anything, I really internalize a lot of mistakes that I made and I really messed some things up along the way,” he said. “Going through a divorce and having some of my closest people around me just not turn out the way I thought they would, and having the ups and downs of a career and being hot one minute and not being so hot the next, it really helped me see the bigger picture in all this. And it’s not about how many people want to take pictures with you or how many people kiss your ass or tell you what you want to hear. It’s about getting through and seeing the people who are there for you and really care about you, and who really are going to make you challenge yourself and become a better person altogether.
“If I allow a man to tell me who I am, then I’m allowing that same man to tell me who I’m not,” Evans continues. “And I don’t want to be who I am based on how someone is feeling one minute to the next. At one time in my life, I allowed it to happen and it really affected where I was at in my life and I don’t want that again. I still make some mistakes, but at the end of the day, I just hold myself accountable, and I’ve got people around me to hold me accountable.”
If Evans sounds like a man at peace, that would be accurate. But can a peaceful man still put his hands up to go to war in an eight-sided cage? Evans believes he can, and despite a loss to Ryan Bader in his most recent bout last October, he is thankful for the two years prior to that defeat, ones in which he was finally able to take the break needed to have the body of a 36-year-old again, and not that of a 56-year-old.
“It really helped me hit the reset button,” he said of the time off in which he not only healed up a knee injury, but also rested up his shoulder, ribs and lower back, all of which had been taking a pounding for decades of organized sports. “It was the accumulation of competing since I’ve been 10 years old – football, wrestling, MMA. So I was sitting out and allowing my body to heal.”
The Bader fight wasn’t representative of how Evans felt physically after the layoff, but more an indication of ring rust, as his potent right hand was just missing the mark, when he threw it at all. But a quick turnaround after that bout has him excited again and eager to show that he still has some gas left in the tank.
Of course, nothing is as cut and dried as that. So while Evans was originally going to face Mauricio “Shogun” Rua this Saturday, an injury to the Brazilian prompted a call to an arguable tougher opponent in Glover Teixeira, and then when the original headliner of Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov was scrapped, the bout was moved from three to five rounds. All in a day’s work for the New York native.
“I don’t look at it as a bad thing,” he said. “I look at it more as a test to see how ready I am. And no matter who I fight, it’s not about the guy who I step into the Octagon with. It’s all about what I want to do and what I’m gonna do. And that’s where my mindset is at. When you sign that contract, you better be willing to fight. That’s the bottom line. You don’t know how long it’s gonna be. It could be one second, it could be 25 minutes. You’ve just got to be ready to fight and that’s what I’ve come to do.”
Evans laughs, knowing that these days, no matter who he fights, it’s not going to be a walk in the park. Those days are long gone.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” he said. “Guys are getting better, the weight class has changed and there’s a new arrangement of top guys. So it’s a matter of am I willing to match that toughness? Am I willing to match that intensity? And I am. And I’m not afraid. And what will be will be, but I’m not gonna be afraid to do it.”
“Since I’ve had this opportunity to come back, this has all just been a test to see where I want to end my career, what I want to do, how much I still got left in me,” Evans said. “And I still want to make a run. So going out and just getting by, half putting my foot in and not being committed, I don’t want to go out like that. If I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go, and I want to fight and fight the best. It doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter how long. I trained, I’m ready, and I’m willing to test it. I believe.”