It’s been nearly a year since Evan Elder last graced the Octagon, but the Missouri native has been far from idle.
“I'm a very firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that God's timing is perfect,” said Elder, who returns to face UFC newcomer Nazim Sadykhov on Saturday in Las Vegas. “And I think that extended amount of time off really gave me a tremendous amount of time to really grow and better myself, both inside the cage and outside of the cage. So, I think that it was very necessary and very beneficial and I’m not necessarily mad about it.”
Already, you can tell that the 25-year-old is a “glass half-full” person, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially in a world where negativity rules. But how does he keep that positive outlook on life?
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“To be completely honest, I would like to say that it's never wavered or that it's real easy. But what we do, man, it's very, very hard. And especially in the gym, we get very, very competitive and it's a brutal sport. And there’s the sacrifice of being away from my friends and family. I'm giving up precious time being with my sisters and my nephews and stuff. So I would be lying if I ever said that there wasn't some sort of cynical thoughts that crossed my mind about what I'm doing in the sense of if what I'm doing is worth it. And that stuff gets to you sometimes. But, for the most part, what really keeps me positive is that I truly believe my purpose is to positively impact the world and other people's lives as much as possible.”
Yes, Evan Elder might be too good for all of us in this crazy world, but hey, a little light never hurt anyone. And as far as the positive impact goes, he’s doing it. Maybe it’s only one person at a time, but if you chat with the St. Louis native for any length of time, you’ll leave that conversation smiling. That’s rare these days. But for all the good vibes coming from “The Phenom,” the bottom line is that he still has to step into the Octagon on Saturday night and take care of business after a disappointing debut. Well, it’s disappointing on paper, as he stepped up a weight class from lightweight to welterweight and lost a three-round decision to Preston Parsons last April. But in true Elder fashion, he found a way to find the bright side in his first trip to the Octagon, and that bright side was realizing that there was no quit in him, despite being in some dicey spots during those 15 minutes.
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“I had this thought of me tapping out,” Elder admits. “I literally lifted my hand to go tap out because those arm triangles were so tight, and I was freaking gurgling and couldn't breathe. And I was like, ‘Oh, this is it, he got me,’ and I went to go tap out. And I was like, ‘You will not be able to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you gave up.’ That's all it was. It wasn't like I was dying; I was just uncomfortable. And after that point, I was like, yeah, you just keep fighting, no matter what. It doesn't matter how much it hurts, it doesn't matter how tired you are, it doesn't matter how uncomfortable you are, just keep fighting. And that's kind of the message I want to convey to everybody else because life itself is a fight. And we always got to keep fighting because in that fight, every time I kept fighting, I managed to get out. I didn't die, I didn't get finished. So just always keep fighting and you never know the way things are going to play out. But you definitely know the way things are going to play out if you quit.”
Unbeaten in seven pro fights before his UFC debut, Elder has apparently gotten even more dangerous armed with the knowledge that while he might have thought he had the goods in his chest to succeed before, now he knows it’s a fact. Add in fighting in the division where he built that previously perfect record, and he’s ready for anything Sadykhov brings.
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“I’ll be much, much more lean, hopefully a lot faster, and I’m going to be in better shape and a little more skilled,” Elder said of Saturday at the APEX. “To be completely honest with you, I was in great shape for that fight (with Parsons) and I was getting ready for another fight. So it's not like I was just caught off guard and I wasn't training. But man, I let my nerves get the best of me. And I was pretty shook from that. And I think more than anything, that's going to be the biggest difference this time.”
Put it all together, and Elder expects to go back home with a win.
“Ideally, if I had to choose, I get in there and I freaking dust this guy and get out unscathed and I'll turn right around and fight again,” he said. “I would love to be active this year after that almost 10-month layoff and just have what I would consider my rookie year. I know I had that, but I really haven't gotten to compete. So I think that my first real year will be 2023, and I would love to make a big statement and really make some noise.”
UFC Fight Night: Andrade vs Blanchfield took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 18, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!