The saga surrounding Rashad Evans’ exit from Team Jackson following Jon Jones’ victory at UFC 128 continues to unfold. Like an onion, there are many layers to this story.
Evans has sounded perturbed and angry when speaking about his now former team, calling his former teammate and now light heavyweight champion “Judas Jones.” It sounds strange that what was once a great camaraderie would turn into spite so quickly.
While Evans maintains that he just recently left Team Jackson, his former striking coach, Mike Winkeljohn, says that the former UFC light heavyweight champion hasn’t worked full time in New Mexico for over a year, but he’ll always be part of the family.
“Some of that’s true, but not all of it. There’s two sides to every story. What I saw was, I had an eye injury and came back, and Rashad had been doing ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ show after he lost to (Lyoto) Machida, and I wasn’t involved in that show at all. I told Rashad I’m going to stay and train fighters, and if you need me let me know,” Winkeljohn explained in an interview with MMAWeekly Radio.
“He lost to Machida and he was a little down, and I think I made a mistake in that I didn’t console him enough cause I didn’t know Rashad worked that way. Back when I was fighting, the last thing I wanted was someone to come console me after I fought. I said stay away, but it might have been the way we talked the next day. After that, I lost contact with the guy, so he shows up (at the gym) and says, ‘I don’t know, I’m not real comfortable with Jon Jones being here,’ and I said, ‘well, I just got back, I just lost my eye in the accident,’ and I said, ‘have you talked to Greg (Jackson) about it,’ and he says, ‘yeah, I don’t know, we’ll see how it goes.’ So I know they had talked about it, but I don’t think anyone actually made a positive (statement) like ‘Greg, I don’t want him here.’
At that point, Jones joined the camp and began working with the team. Evans, however, apparently had other ideas about working with him and pulled up stakes and started training primarily at the Grudge Training Center in Denver along with head coach Trevor Wittman.
“All I know is how it unfolded in my eyes as all of a sudden Rashad Evans goes to Denver. He says he wanted to work on his wrestling and they have some great wrestlers up there. I never told him to go away from his wrestling, I was just trying to turn him into the best striker in the light heavyweight division, and I wasn’t involved in his next few camps,” Winkeljohn said.
“Greg would go up there and work the corner, I’m not sure how much he actually worked with him in the meantime. So in my eyes, Rashad kind of left the camp, well he kind of left me at least.”
Was it the Machida loss that somehow affected Rashad Evans’ trust in the camp at Team Jackson? His former coach isn’t quite sure, but something seemed to change after that title fight.
“He’s got a lot of people in his ear, he lost the fight (to Machida), and I think he lost the fight before he ever got in there,” Winkeljohn stated. “Bless his heart, everybody has those days. Rashad Evans is so much better than when he fought Machida, but he had that day where he hit that funk. He didn’t do anything in the game plan that Greg and I had put together for him, and he was just looking for something else.”
Evans moved to Colorado and even got an apartment in Denver while he was training at Grudge. During that time, Jones became more and more entrenched at Jackson’s in Albuquerque and again Winkeljohn reached out to his former pupil to let him know what was going on.
He got a chilly response from Evans.
“In the meantime, I texted him and said what do you want me to do? Do you want me to teach Jon Jones? I called him. He didn’t answer my phone calls,” Winkeljohn said. “So I’m honestly going to still train this kid. He’s a great kid. Jon Jones didn’t do anything wrong. He comes to camp and just learns and tries hard and studies.”
Since the announcement that Jones and Evans would face off next for the UFC light heavyweight title, coach Greg Jackson has stated he would not coach one of his fighters to face the other. Winkeljohn, however, isn’t as diplomatic in the situation.
“I’m a little bit different than Greg. I’m going to work with Jon Jones,” Winkeljohn confirmed. “If Jon Jones wants me there, I’m going to continue to work with him. It’s going to be very hard coaching against Rashad Evans, but that’s kind of how I looked at it.”
Where it all went wrong with Evans and Team Jackson, Winkeljohn still isn’t completely sure. He’s had limited contact with the former light heavyweight champion, but much like Jackson, he still thinks of Evans as a friend and teammate even if he doesn’t consider their gym home anymore.
“Maybe Rashad Evans left for a lot of different reasons, maybe Jon Jones is part of it, but I also think he left because he was looking for something else. He was maybe not as comfortable with Greg and I after losing to Machida, but all I know is here we are and we have two of the greatest fighters ever that are going to fight each other, and it’s unfortunate, I’d rather not see them fight each other except they have to fight each other,” Winkeljohn said.
“I don’t want the public or anyone to think I’m picking Jon Jones over Rashad. I didn’t do that. If I was still working with Rashad, I would back out.”
But because Evans is choosing not to work with Winkeljohn and Jon Jones is, the decision has already been made.
“I’m not sure I should be out of a job because I used to train somebody, and he decided not to use me anymore,” Winkeljohn stated about Evans.
Winkeljohn and Jackson run their gym together in New Mexico where they train a list of top contenders. The head striking coach at the team says that he will speak to Jackson about the fight between Jones and Evans, but if he chooses not to coach against his former pupil, that’s his decision to make.
“Behind the scenes, Greg does listen to a lot of what I say, but ultimately Greg’s philosophy has always been about friends and team, and that’s where his head’s at. He feels that Rashad and Jon Jones are both his students,” said Winkeljohn.
Much like Jackson, Winkeljohn doesn’t wish ill towards Evans. Far from it actually. He believes Evans will present the toughest test that Jon Jones has faced in the UFC, and it will take a lot of mental toughness for him to prepare to face his former student.
“It’s going to be hard coaching against him,” said Winkeljohn.
It appears that at least one of Jones’ coaches is sticking by his side when he prepares for the eventual showdown against Evans, due later this year in the Octagon.