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Wednesday, April 4, 2012
UFC 145 has Jones, Evans feeling 'weird'

By Franklin McNeil

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and top contender Rashad Evans have a routine they follow while preparing for each fight.

That pattern hasn’t changed as the two get ready for their highly anticipated title bout April 21 in Atlanta.

Both fighters are approaching this showdown like any other. Each is training diligently, studying the other’s recent fights carefully and fine-tuning certain techniques in his arsenal.

But Jones and Evans aren’t kidding themselves. This fight is different.

The history these two have with one another as friends and sparring partners can’t be ignored. Each fighter has made adjustments to his game since their days training together at Greg Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, N.M. But most of the prefight tendencies that led them to this showdown remain.

Jones and Evans are very familiar with one another in a way that few opponents can imagine. They spent a lot of time together at Jackson’s helping one another prepare for fights.

Evans would take on the role of Jones’ opponent during training camp and vice versa. If Evans had a concern about an opponent’s style, Jones would work diligently to alleviate that concern -- and vice versa.

Each knows how the other prepares mentally before a fight, how much time the other devotes to hard training before a fight, how the other feels on the mat.

No previous opponent knew the physical strength Jones possessed, Evans does. None of Evans’ previous opponents could know how quickly he transitions from the standup to his takedown, Jones knows.

But most important, for all the harsh words Jones and Evans have directed at each other leading into their title tilt, deep down they remain brothers.

No matter how angry brothers get with one another, they will always maintain a soft spot. It’s what makes this fight different than any Jones and Evans have ever experienced.

The ability to execute one’s fight plan will be a key element in determining the winner. But unlike in most fights, emotions could have the greatest impact during the UFC 145 main event. Jones and Evans will be tested mentally and emotionally inside the Octagon like never before.

“I think every fight is my biggest test, and this one is no different,” Jones told ESPN.com. “My opponent brings lots of things to the table that past opponents didn’t.

“There’s also an obvious mental aspect to this fight for both of us. I won’t lie; it will be a little weird looking at him at first across the Octagon. But once the fight starts, all of that will go away.”

Evans, a former UFC 205-pound champion, echoed Jones’ sentiment regarding the impact personal feelings will have on this bout. But he believes the impact won’t be as great as some suspect.

“It will feel a little weird, but so much time has passed between us having a friendship and being training partners that it won’t matter,” Evans told ESPN.com.

Once Jones and Evans begin laying hands on one another their personal feelings will gradually diminish. The fighter who is able to put his feelings aside fastest will have a huge advantage.

Jones expects he will be that fighter. Retaining the title isn’t what motivates him most.

“If I want to create a legacy in the UFC and this sport, these are the fights I have to win,” Jones said.