(Photo courtesy of Spike/TUF) by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
(Photo courtesy of Spike TV/Ultimate Fighter)
Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned
Rashad Evans Returns to the Octagon to Keep Proving He Belongs
Interview by Damon Martin, MMAWeekly
When the Ultimate Fighter season 2 debuted a great many of the fighters were off the radar as far as high expectations to win the whole competition, none maybe more than Rashad Evans, who coming into the show was still relatively unknown to many fans and was one of the smallest heavyweights in the competition. Despite seeming to have the whole world against at times, including very little encouragement from both Matt Hughes and Dana White, Rashad Evans persevered and during the show defeated both heavyweights picked as the top prospects in Mike Whitehead and Keith Jardine. Evans then went on to the finale and defeated Brad Imes to become the first heavyweight winner of the Ultimate Fighter reality show. Now Evans returns to the octagon, this time as part of Greg Jackson’s team alongside former housemate Keith Jardine, Diego Sanchez and Nathan Marquardt, and he will face off against season one’s resident bad boy, Sam Hogar. Rashad Evans sat down with MMAWeekly for this exclusive interview before his official debut for the UFC on Ultimate Fight Night live on Spike TV.
MMAWeekly: Now after talking to Greg Jackson, it’s been confirmed that you are officially a part of his team of fighters. How did that come about and what has it been like training and joining that team?
Rashad Evans: When I was on the show me and Keith were friends, and he was always saying what a great team they had and that I should come train with them. And then after the show was over and we went home, he called me up and said I should come down to train with them in Albuquerque. I finally took him up on his offer in January I think it was and went out there, and everybody was just as cool as Keith was. Greg Jackson was an amazing guy and coach and I’ve been going back ever since.
MMAWeekly: Do you think training with Team Jackson will be the difference maker to getting you to the top of the light heavyweight ranks?
Rashad Evans: I definitely feel that. Greg Jackson, you know, has a ton of knowledge on the sport and my teammates, I’ve got a lot of good teammates like Joey Villasenor, Nate Marquardt, Diego Sanchez, Keith Jardine, we got Big Dan (Christison), we just got a lot of good fighters to train with.
MMAWeekly: How has life changed for you since the Ultimate Fighter show ended?
Rashad Evans: It’s changed a lot. A lot of people recognize me, and it’s hard to realize how people know me just from watching me on TV. Sometime people will be like ‘Hey Rashad’ and I’m like should I know them or should I know their name? And they’re like they know me from the show, and I’m like, oh okay. But its good and I like it.
MMAWeekly: During the show you ended up fighting more than anybody else and despite the fact you kept winning, you still were considered an underdog in pretty much every fight. Did that motivate you even more to go out there and win?
Rashad Evans: It definitely motivated me more. I mean the more I heard the more I thought, these guys don’t know who they’re dealing with. It just made me want to go out there and perform even better. Every time I fought it seemed like somebody was saying they were sure I was going to be done.
MMAWeekly: This is going to be your first official fight in the UFC and you’ve had a bit of a wait to get this fight scheduled. How much are you anticipating finally getting in there and fighting again? Was there any reason why they waited so long for you to debut?
Rashad Evans: I think they just wanted to set up a good card for me and Joe (Stevenson) to fight on. As far as the layoff, I definitely like being in the ring, I really feel at home there, so I feel ready to step into the octagon. I kind of like that, just going in there and taking care of business. I mean for being off for 5 months, I feel okay, I’m ready to pick up where I left off.
MMAWeekly: On the show you fought at heavyweight and obviously did quite alright even though some of the guys were bigger. Now you’ve dropped to light heavyweight. Do you feel like you can be that much more dominant at the lower weight class?
Rashad Evans: I feel like I will. I’ll be able to open up my game a little bit and show off some of the things I didn’t get to on the show. I knew going in I wasn’t going to be the strongest guy on the show, and I wasn’t going to have a size advantage. But now I don’t have to worry as much about getting held down or someone really putting their weight on me like I did at heavyweight.
MMAWeekly: With every fight you had on the show and the finale, you seemed to be able to turn your opponent’s best weapon against them. Mike Whitehead was a wrestler and you outwrestled him. Keith Jardine was a striker and you bested him standing. Is that something that you work on to take the best part of your opponent’s game away from him?
Rashad Evans: I like to know what my opponent thinks they do well and then try to take them out of their game, kind of let it all hang out. If they can get me and they can beat me, then I’ll switch up, but if I go in there and try to make their gameplan work against them and they don’t make the adjustment, then I’ll have success with it and that will just frustrate them.
MMAWeekly: You’re fighting Sam Hogar from the first season of the Ultimate Fighter on this show, and he’s a somewhat unorthodox fighter, trains with the Miletich camp. What danger do you think presents for you in this fight and how do you feel about him as an opponent?
Rashad Evans: I feel he’s a good opponent, very well rounded, good on the ground, he’s slick. He’s got good jiu-jitsu, he’ll be in one position and then a second later he’s moved around to something else, he’ll get ahead of you. He’s pretty slick on the ground, he’s got some good kicks, so he’s just pretty well rounded.
MMAWeekly: Without looking past this fight, do you think this will break you into the rankings at light heavyweight and start to build your way to the top?
Rashad Evans: I just take it one fight at a time. In wrestling we’d have to go through three or four matches in a tournament to win it, and I’m just enjoying the fact that now I only have to go one fight at a time and take it like that. If you perform well, the rest will take care of itself.
MMAWeekly: A lot of veterans and other up and comers have said they think the guys coming up from the show are having an easier time of it, getting the contract and such. Do you feel like being the winner of the Ultimate Fighter puts a bigger target on your back?
Rashad Evans: Yeah it’s a bigger target. You’ve got a lot of guys who are coming up who put in a lot of work to get into the UFC and we come in from the tv show and they’ve been working hard too, but we got the opportunity. I don’t want to say hate, but there is definitely animosity towards us, but I’m willing to step up.
MMAWeekly: One big thing that jumped out during the show was your rocky relationship with Matt Hughes. Have you talked to him since the show ended and what kind of terms are you on now?
Rashad Evans: Yeah after the show was over we kind of talked and just squashed everything and during the show Matt gave everyone on his team a t-shirt and after it ended I was at home and about a week before the show premiered, I got a package in the mail and Matt had sent me a t-shirt, and that let me know that he respected me and it’s all behind us.
MMAWeekly: You got a lot of fan support from that feud you had with Matt Hughes. It got him a lot of heat from the fans and they seemed to rally behind you when everything was going down. What kind of support have you received from the fans since the show ended?
Rashad Evans: I get a couple different responses. One side says they’ve been with me the whole time and really rooted for me to win with everything going on and the other side is the exact opposite, you know, I got lucky, my time is going to run out and stuff like that. Some people just don’t have respect for me, but that’s alright.
MMAWeekly: What can we expect out of you in this fight?
Rashad Evans: I’m going to open it up a little bit more than I did at heavyweight. Get a little big more physical, and show off everything else that I wasn’t able to show as a heavyweight. And in the future, just watch out. Whether I win or lose I’m going to go out there and give it my all, and if I lose I’m going to lose the way I win, which is going all out.
Rashad Evans will make his official UFC debut on Thursday night during Ultimate Fight night versus Sam Hogar.
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