Coach Mike Winkeljohn Explains Rashad Evans’ Exit, Says He Will Coach Jon Jones

March 24, 2011
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Jon Jones and Rashad Evans

Jon Jones and Rashad Evans

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.

Damon Martin is the lead staff writer and radio host for
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  • BigGuy

    Is everyone convinced yet that Rashad Evans is a complete BITCH? He knows he can’t beat Jones, and he is scared. I can’t say that I blame him, because Jones is going to run right thru Retard, oops, Rashad.

    He lost the Machida fight because Machida is better than he is, not because he didn’t follow a specific game plan! Get real! Rashad beat an old, declining Liddell, and then went on to barely beat an overworked (movie promotions, etc.), and drained Rampage Jackson. And by the way, the argument could be made that he didn’t even beat Rampage.

    And let’s stop comparing him to the greats just because he was the champ for a day. Everyone knows that a real champ defends his title at least ONCE! Rashad couldn’t even do that.

    Enough with Rashad Evans already. Send his ass packing!!!

  • BlackDog2009

    Are you kidding me? Rashad has a right to feel slighted. He gave Jones his friendship and probably gave him tips and strategies… but deep down Rashad saw this coming.

    Jackson and the striking guy both dropped the ball and should have seen this coming too. And JOnes is kind of a traitor because he should not have caved in so easily to fight Rashad.

    With all that aside. Rashad destroyed Chuck Liddell legitimately, stop making it sound like Liddell was over the hill back then. Rashad is 15-1 and he is a warrior and a former LHW champion. He deserves respect, not some keyboard warriro like you calling him names.

    • leugim41004

      caved in so easily to fight Rashad? Did you read the interview where rashad said he was the one that accepted the fight? What likely happen was Rashad felt it would be too much of a process to cut to middle weight and possibaly step on his friend Nate Marquardt toes, so he told everyone he staying at LHW. Should Jon Jones really hold back on his career so Rashad can be champ that would be selffish of Rashad to tell the kid he cant stride to reach his goals and dreams since Rashad has. Alot of what Rashad said sound like excuses to turn his back on his camp and take a title shot because from the way everyone else is coming off it seem like they are puzzled and shock and cant understand why Rashad is acting the way his is, so something tells me Rashads is the one that did a 360 and he is the one talking smack, history will tell you that the one who started slinging is usuasly the one looking for an excuse for their behavior

  • leugim41004

    (correction) history will tell you that the one who started slinging mud is usuasly the one looking for an excuse for their behavior

  • XIRandomHeroIX

    Rashad sucks and he is a massive crybaby. He may have had a better shot at beating Machida if he wasnt so busy running his mouth at the same time Machida was throwing a punch into his face. The fight with Rampage would have went alot differently too if Rampage had his head in the game instead of up his ass. Rashad will have his face smashed by some violent elbows courtesy of Jon ‘Bones’ Jones.

  • BigGuy

    Unlike “BlackDog2009”, I am actually a martial arts fighter. I have a pretty good idea of what it takes to be a fighter. Just because I don’t use my martial arts as a career doesn’t mean I am just a “keyboard warrior” as he claims. 15 years of experience qualifies me for something.

    Now, onto the intelligent comments above.
    I agree that Jones needs to move on with his career…Friends or not. I wouldn’t hold myself back for a training partner, so why should he? Rashad is just being Rashad. Always running off at the mouth, and always thinking he is better than everyone else. He isn’t worthy of being listed in the top 5…Period!

    Jones will smash in his face, and I will have a great time watching it all unfold!

  • Rashad is a total b1tch. I never liked him from the TUF (both coach and contestant) because he was, as Rampage puts it, cocky.

    I did however have respect for his MMA skills and even his cerebralness, but after this whole thing he sounds like a scared little pissbrat.