The story has been told time and time again. Once close friends and training partners, now bitter enemies and opponents, Jones and Evans are headed on a collision course for one of the biggest fights in UFC history.
Evans has said in numerous interviews that he’s in Jones’ head, and that he’s mentally stronger than his former teammate. Jones has fired back with much of the same ideology at Evans.
The talk will all come to a close on April 21 at UFC 145 in Atlanta, but has the talk and the mind games already been overblown as the two fighters head into the bout?
“I believe so yeah,” UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones answered when asked that very question on MMAWeekly Radio. “I think Rashad’s the one playing into it more than some of the fans. Like he’s always attacking my personality, Jon’s fake, Jon’s cocky, and I’m not really here to judge who Rashad is as a person. I could really care less who Rashad is as a person.
“Ultimately I’m here not to make new friends, but to provide for my family, so that’s why I’m here. I actually like the fact that he’s so focused on my character and things cause I’m sitting here focusing on tactics, focusing on the love of martial arts, not the hatred for Rashad Evans.”
One of the things that Evans has focused on during his verbal barrage towards Jones are the infamous training sessions the two fighters had together when both working under famed coach Greg Jackson.
Evans says time and time again that he got the best of Jones, and it’s led him to believe that he’s the fighter that will bring the champion’s reign to an end. For his part, however, Jones doesn’t dispute that there were times when Evans may have been the better fighter, but those days are past.
“It doesn’t matter that we trained together, absolutely not,” said Jones. “I think I benefited a lot training with him, I think he has some benefits training with me, but I think it’s funny everyone’s saying ‘Rashad’s going to be the guy because he has Jon’s number and he knows the way to beat Jon.’ I don’t think people really give me credit for my intelligence, or if they think I’m a great athlete who gets lucky, I don’t know what their thinking is.”
Jones is humble enough to admit that there were days when Evans was a bear in the training room, and probably tagged him with more shots than he fired back, or maybe landed more takedowns, but does that mean almost two years later that he’s still the superior fighter?
Not in the least.
“I’m a very intelligent guy, and everything that Rashad thinks he remembers, I remember so much, and I’m going to use everything that I remember. I feel equally if not more empowered that I used to train with Rashad. I’ll admit in 2010 he was a little bit better of a fighter than me, stronger. If you watch my fights, I was so skinny when I first got to the UFC, I didn’t really have to cut weight. So he was a little better than me, stronger than me, in 2010 when he talks about the time he actually held me down,” Jones admitted.
“Fact is in 2011 when I was training for the Ryan Bader fight it was a complete different story. Something switched in 2011 in me and I’ve been finishing fights ever since. I think he’s going to realize, I’m not the 2010 little kid. It’s 2012 now and I’m an adult, and I’m the one that believes whole heartedly, and trains a lot different than I trained in 2010.”
There are plenty of facts to back up Jones’ claims. While Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko would probably tell Evans that Jones found his “man” strength in 2010 (Jones finished both by first-round TKO in 2010), it’s in 2011 where he found his stride and became one of the most dominant fighters in the game.
After submitting Ryan Bader to kick off the year, Jones stepped in on short notice for Evans and proceeded to dismantle Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to win the UFC light heavyweight title.
Several months later Jones made his first title defense and in equally impressive fashion made short work of former champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, before taking yet another fight in December, when he choked out another past champion in Lyoto Machida.
Jon Jones’ 2011 may not have only been a great year, but maybe the greatest year in all of MMA history. And that’s the animal that Rashad Evans now has to contend with at UFC 145.
But for all the back biting, harsh words, and sore feelings, Jones still refuses to say that he harbors any ill will towards Evans. When the fight is over on April 21, Jones is more than willing to shake Evans’ hand and put everything in the past because beyond anything that’s been said leading into this fight that seemed personal, for him, it’s all about business.
“100 percent. That’s why I try not to attack Rashad’s character too much. I’ve been kind of on the defense for the most part. I have nothing against Rashad,” said Jones.
“I’m a guy who’s trying to provide for his kids. This is my job. At the end of the day, it’s how I pay the bills. I have no hatred for him whatsoever. I’m going to go out there, win this fight, and keep moving forward with my life.”
Listen to Jon Jones’ full interview from MMAWeekly Radio below: