by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
Perhaps it goes with the territory for a psychology major, but Rashad Evans thinks deeply about his upcoming title fight with Forrest Griffin at UFC 92.
A little over three weeks away from the big night, he wants to make sure he looks at his shot through the right lens.
“It’s an opportunity that I have and I plan on seizing that opportunity, but if I don’t, this is by no means a make or break situation,” Evans says.
As the former Michigan State wrestler approaches a situation of ever increasing pressure, his goal is to let go of its outcome. It’s the kind of paradox he loves to tackle.
“You have to be able to pay a lot of attention to, and be very cerebral about, what you do and the kind of person you are,” he continues. “You really have to be intuitive to yourself.”
The UFC’s light heavyweight belt is arguably the pinnacle of the sport, and with its pursuit comes a tremendous amount of sacrifice. Most fighters never get the chance. With a September knockout victory over perennial favorite Chuck Liddell, Evans brings a career of exceeded expectations to his contendership, and that’s what makes him a dangerous opponent for current champ Griffin.
At 29, Evans knows well of the journey’s costs. Apart from his brethren at Jackson’s MMA, he has isolated himself in preparation for the fight. He trained through the Thanksgiving holiday without his family and will miss them again when Christmas rolls around. He’s accepted the price, begrudgingly, to win the title.
“Now I’m gonna have to try to ruin somebody else’s holiday,” Evans says.
He does plan to catch up with his wife and two daughters, but after the year-end card.
Griffin doesn’t have the highlight reel of Evans, nor does he lay claim to the best technique in any area of the sport’s disciplines. What he has in abundance is toughness and heart, traits that brought him the first UFC belt of “The Ultimate Fighter” alums.
“His greatest attribute is my greatest attribute: he finds a way to get it done,” Evans comments.
Knowing Griffin won’t quit, Evans says the fight is as much about his breaking point as the champion’s.
“My theme for this fight is just going out there to beat myself,” he says. “And I do that every single day in practice. I go out there and try to defeat myself. Because if I know if I can’t beat myself, there’s no way Forrest Griffin can defeat me.”
The usual cadre of training partners are assembled for his camp in Albuquerque, N.M.: Keith Jardine, Joey Villasenor, Nate Marquardt. Some notable additions, like Georges St. Pierre, Elliot Marshal, and Brian Stann, have arrived recently. Evans is deep into high intensity sessions, making the last push before he gives his body a break in the final week before the fight.
If Griffin’s past performances are any indicator, their meeting will be five rounds of high intensity.
“I see the fight coming out fast and furious,” Evans says. “We’re going to be throwing really fast, right away. And then I see it coming to a period, like in the middle, where we’re kind of seeing who’s really going to break. Then somebody’s going to give in, just a little bit. And then the other person is going to jump on them.”
Evans feels a victory might ease a negative perception about him that’s traced back to his appearance on the second season of “TUF.” Despite several spectacular victories, he hasn’t gained traction with casual fans in the same way that, for instance, Griffin has managed to do post-reality show.
“Well, people don’t know how to feel about me,” he explains. “In one aspect, they kind of hate me, because they kind of still see me as the character on the show, that it was portrayed that I’m a ‘showboater’ since that one statement that Matt Hughes made. Then they’re like, he’s not so good because he lays and prays; he barely wins. I can kinda see some of their criticism, and shrug it off, and continue to do my thing.
“But I gotta tell ya, I’m there on those (Internet) forums. The forums are brutal. My wife she goes on there sometimes, and she’ll be like ‘oh my god, I can’t believe they called me a loudmouthed bitch,’ and I’m like, ‘baby, you can’t be reading that stuff, that stuff will drive you crazy.’ I had people that hated me after the Liddell fight, people writing racist, racist (expletive). ‘You (expletive) monkey nigger, you…’ all kinds of stuff, man. People were upset that I beat Chuck.”
And therein lies another paradox. While Griffin isn’t the MMA institution Liddell is, he’s well liked. Well-liked fighters – not to mention heels – stay employed. At this point, Evans is neither. It’s not only in his best interest as a fighter to perform well and defeat Griffin; it also ensures his livelihood. This is the paradox nobody likes: when the job you love becomes essential to your survival.
“This game, especially the UFC, you’re always one win or one loss away from (expletive) being out of there,” Evans says. “And this is how I make my money. As long as I keep winning, they can’t really kick me out. But if I start losing, you better believe they’re going to get rid of me, you know?”
It’s all part of Evans’ balancing act between fighting, business, and life. He says he doesn’t have it all figured out. Like most people, he’s doing the best he can, under admittedly stressful circumstances. One thing he’s certain of, though, is when Dec. 27 comes, his mind and body will align.
“It’s just a realization that I can’t control the outcome of anything. I can’t control what he’s going to do,” he says. “I can’t control his technique or stop his technique. The only thing I can do is give everything I have. I have a lot inside. I know I can break him. I know if I go in there and put on the fight of my life, I can walk away, and know I’m going to win that fight.”
And whether Griffin makes him or breaks him, it’s an opportunity he’s going to take.