LAS VEGAS — Rashad Evans will be looking for a defining win on Saturday night. He’ll also be looking for something not so tangible, something that’s been lost.
“The competitor has been brought back to life, the one who truly just loves to compete,” Evans told reporters on Thursday, two days before his UFC 156 co-main event fight against Antônio Rogério Nogueira at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. “So many times when you’re competing, you kind of fall out of love with it. It becomes like a song and dance, and you kind of get like, ‘Ah, yeah, gotta do this, gotta do that.’ To really love to compete, to really love every aspect of it, is a passion that a lot of people don’t have. I’ve found myself, within the last 11 months or so, just falling in love with competing again.”
That period coincides with a time during which the 33-year-old “Suga Rashad” has settled in with a new team of training partners, the Blackzilians in south Florida, after an acrimonious and very public departure from his longtime home, the Jackson-Winkeljohn gym in Albuquerque. And the change of camps is related, of course, to the former light heavyweight champion’s most recent fight, last April’s loss to the division’s reigning king, teammate-turned-mortal enemy Jon Jones. While this weekend’s fight could have major implications for his career — there’s talk that Rashad could be next in line to face middleweight champion Anderson Silva, and a rematch with Jones is also a possibility — the aspect that most stirs up Evans (17-2-1) is that he and Nogueira (20-5) will simply be competing against each other. Nothing more.
“I felt like last time with Jones I got too distracted by everything else that was going on, the whole back story,” said Evans, referring to the teammates’ split over one man grabbing the belt that the other wanted as well, and their departure from a shared pledge to put team first and never fight each other. “It kind of took away from the fight for me. I thought it did the same thing for him as well. I don’t think he was at his best that day, either.
“It took away what competing is about. It kind of scarred me in a way that made me mot want to compete anymore. I was like, ‘This is not about fighting.’ It’s just about a bunch of b.s. It’s not what I love about fighting. What I love about fighting is the actual fight, the feeling that I get when I walk into the cage and I see the mat and I see all the blood and all the sweat and everything else that everybody laid out. And when they say go, that feeling, that’s what I like about fighting.”