There’s no class or seminar for being champion. You either accept it or face a bumpy ride. Life changes completely, and there’s no break.
UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans got a first taste of fame after appearing on the second season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” though the attention wasn’t always positive. Some fans branded him a “showboater,” and met his wrestling-based style with suspicion. He always seemed to be fighting for acceptance.
Prior to “TUF,” Evans fought on the California circuit, slugging it out with other fighters paying their dues. Pay was low, and recognition was a pat on the back. Microsoft was a long ways away.
In December, he dealt critics their greatest blow with a TKO victory over Forrest Griffin, and the spotlight heated up. There aren’t as many haters as before, but everyone is watching.
“It’s been pretty good, man,” Evans says of life since the belt. “My life is… actually… excellent.”
Then, a heavy pause.
“You know, with being champion, there’s always stuff that’s coming at you left and right, and you’re like, damn, it didn’t need to be like this,” he continues. “I wish it was like the old days.”
That is, the days where fighting was just fighting. Though Evans’ history doesn’t run back to the old, old days, he’s been around long enough to see money change things. And nowhere has that been more present than his life as champ.
“When you have so many people coming at you from different angles, trying to tell you to do this and do that… the kind of person I am, I give everybody the chance,” he says. “Because I don’t know everything, and I don’t want to think I know everything. So I listen to a lot of people, but sometimes you can’t listen to everybody, because people don’t always know what they’re talking about.”
Of course, nobody asked him to be champ. Don’t cry for me, Argentina, they’ll say. And Evans is well compensated for his job – though maybe not as much as those in relative fields – and reaps benefits like Microsoft and Silver Star.
But it’s not always easy to remember that under the microscope, and the things he says and does are public, always.
“It is different, because you have all these expectations, people expect you to be this way, be that way,” he says. “I just want to be myself.”
Because he trains with Georges St. Pierre, people think he should be like the welterweight champion.
“People say, Georges is like this as a champion,” says Evans. “I’m not Georges, Georges is Georges. I don’t need to be like him. Georges doing what he’s doing and me doing what I’m doing are two different things. But it doesn’t make either one of us less of a champion.”
St. Pierre, however, has been a shoulder to lean on during the experience. It’s his advice that Evans has listened to most.
“Georges and I talk about it a lot,” says Evans. “Georges told me you can’t please everybody, so don’t even try. Don’t get so caught up in trying to appease everybody.”
While he continues to polarize fans, Evans is focused on doing what makes him happy and fighting without additional burdens.
“What you need to do is worry about yourself first and foremost, and then sort everything alone or with someone you can trust, somebody who gives you good advice,” Evans says of St. Pierre’s advice. “And don’t be obsessed in any one area. Don’t be obsessed with training, don’t be obsessed with hanging out and having a good time, partying. Have a perfect balance.”
He’ll need balance in every sense to defend against challenger Lyoto Machida, who appears to be one of the most unshakable fighters in the division. Fans have already brought out the negatives on the match-up, but Evans is unconcerned.
“I’m not going to add any pressure to myself to say it’s going to be this kind of fight or that kind of fight,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and fight my best. I really can’t worry about what people are going to say if they’re going to say it’s a boring fight. There’s always been harsh critics of me, saying this, that, and the other. If I listened to the fans every time, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”
And as fans have thought of him, an underdog, so he’d like to be remembered, whether he’s champ.
“As somebody who was never considered the best, but ended up being the best,” he says.