Facing an opponent he truly dislikes isn’t something new to top UFC light heavyweight contender Rashad Evans.
Two years ago, he took on -- and defeated -- Quinton Jackson. After his unanimous decision win at UFC 114, it was difficult to imagine Evans ever disliking an opponent more. But Saturday at UFC 145 in Atlanta, Evans will face a guy he seems to despise far more than Jackson -- 205-pound champion Jon Jones. And the feeling is mutual.
A year ago, Evans and Jones were friends and training partners. Today, however, they struggle to look one another in the eye without getting the urge to throw a punch. The disdain between them is powerful and has been on display the past few months leading to Saturday's showdown.
But with the fight only a few days away, Evans is done being angry with Jones. Sure, he'll articulate his dislike for Jones if asked, but he will do so without going off the handle.
It’s time to fight, and Evans refuses to let anything prevent him from being his best at UFC 145. So the former light heavyweight titleholder has put his emotions in check.
“When it comes to having a big fight and the buildup leading to it, emotions are involved,” Evans told ESPN.com. “You have to be able to divorce yourself from your feelings.
“What it comes down to is making it just another fight. Sometimes when guys have so much dislike for one another, it becomes hard to do.
“But at the same time, if you treat it professionally you will be able to do it.”
By taking his emotions out of the equation, Evans is fully prepared to execute his fight plan. And it’s no secret that a big part of that plan involves closing the gap between himself and the rangy Jones.
At 6-foot-4, Jones will tower over the 5-11 Evans. But a five-inch height disparity isn’t much of an issue for Evans; he’s had to look up to just about all of his Octagon foes.
What makes Jones more complicated than others is his 84.5-inch reach. It’s the longest in UFC history.
Evans knows that getting under Jones’ long limbs will be a key factor in leaving the cage victorious Saturday night. And he believes he possesses the technique to accomplish that goal.
“Boxing is my fundamental striking base,” said Evans, who will carry a 17-1-1 pro record and a four-fight win streak into the bout. “I’m a boxer in training. It’s definitely something I will look to implement in my strategy.
“It’s what I do; it’s what I’m comfortable with.”
But boxing won’t be the only technique Evans plans to utilize. Every weapon in his arsenal will be on display against Jones. He's also incorporated a few wrinkles into his offense and defense that might give Jones pause.
“It goes without saying that I am going to do what I can to upset the opposition, something a little bit unexpected,” Evans said. “If I do everything that is expected, I probably won’t win. I’ve got to mix it up.”
This will be Jones’ first time competing in such an emotionally charged bout. Jackson tried unsuccessfully to throw him off; they didn’t have enough history.
But the timing of a fight with Evans couldn’t have come at a better time for the 24-year-old champion.
“Then you’ve got Ryan Bader, a legend in [Mauricio] Shogun [Rua], another guy who’s probably going to make the Hall of Fame in Rampage, and he turns around and beats a guy most people haven’t been able to figure out in Lyoto Machida.
“They’ve all been good opponents, and Rashad is just the latest in a line of good opponents Jon has faced in the past year or so.
“That he is fighting Rashad now is good because he’s got the confidence and a good mental base that has come along with experience.”
Jones (15-1) will be making the third defense of his light heavyweight belt.