As in, the difference between "present" and "past."
Jackson has long been big on loyalty. As the ultimate “there's-no-I-in-team” guy, he’s vocal about his stance that members of his Albuquerque-based camp shouldn’t fight one another and that he’ll recuse himself from the situation when they do, as in the case of Carlos Condit’s eventual welterweight unification bout with Georges St. Pierre.
But if choosing to be by Jones’ side when he meets up with his nemesis on April 21 violates those principles, it’s only in the most abstract way.
Evans, after all, isn’t a member of Team Jackson anymore. Since splitting from the squad in March, he hasn’t had a ton of nice things to say about it, either, publicly criticizing Jackson for recruiting Jones and telling the media he felt “stabbed in the back” when Jones pulled an about-face on the idea of meeting him in the Octagon.
Regardless of what you think about Evans’ reasons for leaving the team, he’s gone now, while Jones remains a member in good standing. In fact, it's pretty easy to argue that working Jones' corner for this fight doesn't undermine Jackson's loyalty to the fighters he trains but rather reinforces it.
If Team Jackson is lucky, it also will give Jones an edge on fight night.
Jackson, of course, was the principal architect behind Evans’ rise from underdog “Ultimate Fighter” winner to undefeated 205-pound champion. During that crucial time in his development when Evans went from eking out a split decision over the likes of Brad Imes in 2005 to -- three years later -- knocking out legends like Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin and cementing his status as one of the sport's best known figures, Jackson was the shepherd.
Is it possible for Evans to completely distance himself -- both mentally and physically -- from that years-long relationship in just 13 months of training elsewhere? It hardly seems so.
Granted, no fighter in his right mind would ever concede that his opponent has a psychological advantage leading up to a big bout, but what human being wouldn’t feel that way given the circumstances? What man wouldn’t look across the cage at a former training partner, his former mentor and chief strategist and not feel at least a tremor of doubt?
It’s often said that the sports world gives coaches too much credit. Maybe that’s true. Maybe Jackson -- one of the sport’s most likable figures -- will have little or nothing to do with what happens in the cage that night. Perhaps there will be so little resemblance between the Rashad Evans he once knew and the Evans who shows up to fight in Atlanta that Jackson will be a nonfactor. Perhaps it will even be Evans who has the mental advantage, after rumors indicate he routinely gave Jones all he could handle in the gym back in the days before their relationship fell apart.
Then again, maybe Jackson will play a roll.
If this fight comes down to game planning and tactics -- as it did earlier this month when Condit outpointed Nick Diaz -- it's possible his knowledge and previous work with Evans might have something to do with who is the UFC's 205-pound champion in future tense.