by Jeff Cain – MMAWeekly.com
Former UFC light heavyweight titleholders Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and “Sugar” Rashad Evans stand in each other’s way of getting a title shot against champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua when they step into the Octagon at UFC 114 on May 29, but for Evans it’s just another fight.
The UFC had offered each the match up before and they both turned it down for their own reasons, mostly timing.
A bout was scheduled to follow their opposing coaching roles on “The Ultimate Fighter 10: Heavyweights” headlining UFC 107 in Jackson’s hometown of Memphis in December of 2009, but Jackson pulled out of the fight to film the movie version of the 80’s television series “The A-Team.”
The decision to pull out of the fight left Jackson on the outside looking in with the Las Vegas-based promotion who sunk a lot of time and effort, not to mention money, into promoting the event.
Upon criticism from UFC president Dana White for pulling out of the UFC 107 main event, Jackson announced his retirement from the sport, but later decided to fulfill his contractual obligations with the UFC and return to combat, but there was a time when Evans didn’t think the two would ever fight.
“Things got kind of heated between him and Dana (White), and sometimes if you offend the bosses too much you may never come back no matter what you bring to the table,” Evans told MMAWeekly content partner TapouT Radio. “I was hoping that the situation didn’t go there, but I was thinking it was starting to go there. Luckily it didn’t. Luckily he decided that he wanted to come back and have a piece.”
Jackson hasn’t competed in over a year, defeating Evans’ teammate Keith Jardine at UFC 96 in March of 2009, but Evans isn’t expecting ring rust to be a factor in the fight.
“I‘m not going to be underestimating him. You know what I‘m saying? I think I‘m probably going to be fighting the best Quinton,” Evans commented to the media in a pre-fight conference call.
From the beginning, Evans has said that Jackson isn’t fast enough to defeat him, and believes his speed will be a deciding factor at UFC 114.
“I plan to go in there and use all of my tools, and hopefully that day my speed is, I’m on top of things. Like I’m super-fast that day and I believe I will be,” said the 30-year old athlete. “I’ve been training really good. I’ve had some really good training partners. I’ve been bringing in some great people for this camp.”
Evans brought in Strikeforce light heavyweight titleholder “King” Mo Lawal to help him prepare to face Jackson.
“Me and Mo have been cool since college, but you know one thing he does – he does a good Rampage. And at the same time he helped me with my takedown,” said Evans. “He’s got the best takedowns in the game. He’s got the best wrestling, so I’ve been working with him.”
The Greg Jackson trained fighter also stepped up his cardiovascular training for this fight.
“I did a lot more because I kind of got tired in my last fight,” said the Michigan resident. “I wanted to make sure I was in good shape the whole time because I wanted to make sure I could go and do my game plan. If I want to take him down 100 times, I can take him down 100 times and not get tired.”
White has called Jackson vs. Evans the biggest grudge match in UFC history and the two admittedly dislike each other. They’ve been jawing back and forth since Jackson’s UFC 96 win over Jardine, throughout “The Ultimate Fighter 10,” and they’ll be throwing verbal jabs in the other’s direction all the way up until the rivalry’s conclusion at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 29.
“He always says ‘Rashad, you talk too much. You talk too much.’ Let’s be honest, we’re both talking a lot. We’re both talking trash a lot and it’s a little bit fun,” said Jackson about the pre-fight banter. “We’ve both got a little big mouth. It’s part of the game, but don’t talk about me talking trash while you’re talking trash too.”
Emotions are riding high heading into this one, but Evans says it’s not going to affect his approach.
“I do want to go out dangerous and just start throwing punches at him and just seeing where they land, but at the same time I know there’s a strategy involved so I’ve got to stick to the strategy,” said Evans.
And while the two dislike each other personally, there’s always going to be a mutual respect for one another as fighters.
“You always got to respect somebody you fight. When you go in there and you fight you give it all you got you kind of exchange something with that person you fight. You kind of leave your spirit on them a little bit and that’s something you can always respect,” stated Evans.
“I don’t like him and I’ll never like him. You know what I’m saying? I’m sure we’ll probably, if he whoops me or I whoop him, I’m sure we’ll probably fight again and we’ll probably pick up right were we left off. But for the most part after the fight’s over, we’ll probably be cool for a minute.”
“The fight is going to take care of itself,” he added. “It’s just another fight.”