This is a fight week that has stretched on for a year -- which is nothing for a conflict that has always been the case.
Even when Jon Jones and Rashad Evans were training partners in Albuquerque, N.M., one fighter was never going to be "off limits" to the other forever. As UFC president Dana White peevishly reminds everyone, brotherhood has nothing on matchmaking logistics, especially when there’s room at the top for only one. For all the things that Jones and Evans shared in common in those carefree early days at Greg Jackson’s gym in the desert, that they shared a weight class was always the bit of taboo.
Ultimately, they never stood by each other so much as in each other’s way.
That’s why this weekend’s clash carries an air of inevitability to it, as well as a strange feeling of “let’s get this over with.” It’s an uncomfortable fight. And yet the best way out, as has been said, is always through.
That’s how things will be in UFC 145’s main event. All delusions have been shattered in the most public way possible. All the acts of betrayal stored into banks of motivation. The house Evans helped build in Albuquerque is coming after him with the new, young prizefighter, the pupil who looks to surpass the master. His replacement. The guy holding the belt he once owned.
These things cut deep.
In other words, this fight has the kind of cinematic undertones that make busybodies of us all. The Jones/Evans conflict broke down barriers -- within each other and externally. It divided a gym that had, up until then, functioned on Zen-like bonds.
Imagine how awkward it’s been on somebody such as former UFC contender Keith Jardine, who was Evans’ BFF before Jones arrived? Jardine still lives in Albuquerque, that forsaken place where Evans was scorned, and still shares the mats with Jones.
Imagine, too, what it’s been like for Jackson, who is the stuck-between that had his guts twisted at for the last year over this ordeal. This is a fight that opened up the teammate versus teammate debate to the point Mike Winkeljohn and Jackson had a sit-down with their den of fighters to emphasize what must be done in pursuit of the ultimate goal (as in, getting a UFC belt and all the perks that come with one).
From that point on, the word “never” was taken out of the collective vocabulary at Jackson's.
Jackson fighters became realists in the Jones/Evans fallout. In fact, a lot of people did. But none more so than Evans, who set out in search of himself like a modern-day Yojimbo, ending up in Florida with the most intense cast of strays ever assembled in MMA as a "Blackzilian" -- an assemblage of fighters who have gathered at Imperial Athletics in Boca Raton, Fla.
But what MMA fans remember Evans for most is that he was once the type of champion to champion a young cat such as Jones, to help him get his bearings and swagger, and finally to put Jones in a place to make him miserable.
Everyone succeeded on the fool’s errand. That place is the here and now.
And it’s Evans task to reel Jones back in, to kick out the scaffolding he helped build. And it’s Jones' job to be the cruel bearer of news: that Evans' day is done and that this is his time. The top isn’t big enough for the both of them.
Which, of course, it never really was.