The concern about Rashad Evans is understandable.
From an outside perspective, Evans has never recovered from that five-round loss to Jon Jones in April 2012. He was absent from the cage for 10 months after that, and then looked like a shell of his former self in a decision loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Evans looked hesitant in that fight -- unsure of himself. Come to think of it, he even looked a little sad.
It might lead us all into thinking that competitively speaking, with the words “UFC champ” already on his résumé and money in the bank, we’ve seen the best of Evans. He gave it a good try against Jones at UFC 145, but that was the beginning of the end.
If the former light heavyweight champion is going through the motions now, or even if he’s just trying to relight a competitive flame on a burned-down wick, it’s going to show against Dan Henderson at UFC 161 this weekend.
Talk to those around Evans (17-3-1) though, and conversation doesn’t revolve around rekindling his love for the sport or rebuilding his confidence.
The Blackzilians actually can’t wait for Henderson on Saturday, the start of a title run and, you had better believe it, Jones again.
Glenn Robinson, Evans’ manager: It’s crazy to watch. People ask, 'Rashad, are you all right, are you sure you’re OK?' Like he’s got a sickness or something. He just lost a fight and people are treating him like a kid who lost football tryouts or something. Listening to these people talk, I thought they were going to take him for ice cream.
Tyrone Spong, teammate: For me, he’s the same guy he’s always been. He’s very hungry. I know what it is to be criticized, but sometimes I’m like, come on. Don’t talk stupid. Give the guy a break here. It’s two losses -- and it’s not like he got his a-- whupped [in the Nogueira fight]. He had less of a night. That’s the whole story.
Robinson: There was a point over the last couple of years where he’d been through a rough time. It’s one thing for you to know you’re getting divorced (Evans finalized his divorce in 2012), it’s another thing when it becomes official. He was with his ex-wife from the time he was really just a kid. That was all going on leading up to his last fight. Every one of us has bad times in life and that was Rashad’s bad time. That doesn’t mean he’s changed as a fighter or a person. He had a fight that didn’t go his way. That doesn’t mean he’s done.
Spong: People don’t know the real Rashad. They see him as a character -- the UFC fighter. What comes first is that we are all human beings with the same emotions as every other person. Not every camp is the same. We all go through different things emotionally and physically. Every camp is different, so every fight is different.
Kenny Monday, Blackzilians wrestling coach: From the first day I joined the camp (Monday joined the team in April), he’s been great. My message right away was, 'How do you want your career to be defined?' I asked about the possibility of being a champion and getting back to the top and he said, 'I want to be defined as one of the best in the sport.' He didn’t have to say anything else. I said, 'Let’s get to work.'
Robinson: I’ll tell you exactly what happened in the Jones fight. That training camp was a circus. I mean, I love Coach [Mike] Van Arsdale, but he ran that camp like he would have if he was fighting, not Rashad (Van Arsdale parted ways with the Blackzilians in mid-2012). Rashad had, at one point, five different striking coaches.
Spong: That Jones fight -- even during that camp a lot of stuff happened. It didn’t go as planned. He still went out there and fought his a-- off. He has no problem talking about it. If he looks back at it, things didn’t go as planned in the camp and he couldn’t do everything he wanted, but other than you can’t regret anything. He still went out there and gave Jon Jones a hell of a fight.
Robinson: It’s just not true [his confidence suffered after the Jones fight]. Rashad’s confidence never wavers. He had a lot on his mind after that, but he never lost confidence on who he was. When you have a bad day as an MMA fighter, you’re washed up and this and that but let me tell you -- Rashad completely destroyed the tackling dummy in the gym for this fight. His confidence level is just fine and he’ll show that.
Monday: I’ve been around the sport a long time and I can see it when a fighter is done. I can see it in their eyes -- see the passion is not quite there. They train, but they don’t have that edge. I still see that hunger of wanting to win in practice. When guys stop trying to win in practice, that’s when you see them looking for the exit door. Rashad still gets pissed off in practice.
Robinson: The most important thing for Rashad was he needed to enjoy fighting again, and he does. He’s in great shape. He and Tyrone were in my house watching Thiago [Silva] fight and they are flexing their arms to see who has bigger biceps. Rashad’s body is ripped. His legs are huge -- you can see the muscle in them. That came from hard work and you can’t put that hard work into something unless you enjoy it. That’s the biggest change in the last year.
Roberto Flamingo, Blackzilians striking coach: We expected a better fight against Nogueira. It didn’t go as it had to go. That night, Alistair was fighting right before so I walked him to the Octagon and wasn’t there to warm up Rashad. The preparation half an hour before the fight wasn’t where it needed to be. He has to prepare good before he goes to the Octagon. He couldn’t find his range.
Spong: It all felt good going into that fight. He was strong in everything. He just missed his rhythm and he couldn’t get into the fight. He was off the whole time. It was frustrating for me as it was for him.
Monday: After the Jones fight, he was doing more commentary and after the emotional drain from that fight I think he may have thought about wrapping it up. I don’t know, I wasn’t here. After that second loss though, I think he said, 'Nah, this is not how I want to go out.' We’ve talked about leaving a legacy of greatness. He knows in order to set that up, he needs this fight.
Spong: It’s your opinion if you don’t think he can beat Jon Jones, but I think it’s stupid. Look at Jon’s fights in the 205-pound division. When he defends his belt, he’s finished everyone easy but Rashad. Rashad is the only one to give him a fight. I know for sure if he had a proper camp he is the one to beat Jon Jones.
Robinson: The bottom line is who of all these great champions, some of them are in the title hunt right now, can say they went five rounds with Jon Jones? I asked him if he wants that fight again and Rashad told me, 'I’d love to get the belt again, but right now I just want to fight.' He’s not going to pressure himself into the belt. If he does the right job, the belt will come.
Monday: We talked about Jon Jones one time, about his mindset going into the fight and if he wanted him again. Absolutely [he wants him again]. If you don’t want that fight, you know, then I think you are done. The guy is the best out there. Who wouldn’t want that fight? I want to fight him.
Robinson: He trained harder for this fight than the [second] Tito [Ortiz] fight. Way harder. Rashad excels under pressure. In the Tito fight he had to prove to the world he deserved the title shot. He went into the Phil Davis fight with three cracked ribs. He really put 100 percent into this camp. Betting against Rashad because of what happened in the past is a foolish move. Rashad will be dangerous on Monday. Today, people are concerned -- on Monday, Rashad will be dangerous.