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Feeling scared not a bad thing for Evinger


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If Tonya Evinger is scared before facing Cris Cyborg for the vacant UFC women’s featherweight title this Saturday in Anaheim, that’s not a bad thing. It’s just business as usual for the 11-year pro.

“Every single fight I go into, I’m scared and I don’t think that’s a downfall at all,” she said. “It’s the reason I fight the way I do. I go out there to win a fight and I’m not going to let somebody kick my ass because I’m scared. I’m going to fight you because I’m scared.”

To be confident enough to admit something like that shows just who Evinger is as a person and a fighter. At this point in a career that began in 2006, there’s no need for bravado, and with 19 wins in 25 fights as well as an 11-fight unbeaten streak heading into her UFC 214 title bout, the 36-year-old has the resume to prove she belongs. Everything else is just window dressing because at Honda Center, these two 145-pounders will fight, and Evinger is confident that she has what it takes to take down the seemingly unstoppable Brazilian.

“I think people are really giving her the benefit of the doubt at just whupping my ass,” Evinger said. “Look at my career – I’ve never had my ass whupped. Yeah, I lost some fights – I got submitted. I made stupid mistakes and I’ve done stupid things in my career, but at the end of the day, I don’t get my ass beat. People don’t beat on me and I won’t let that happen. This is a fight where people are underestimating me and what kind of fighter I am.”

If Cyborg is now considered the best featherweight in the world, Evinger has to be 1a at the very least, with the true number one to be determined this weekend. But to get here wasn’t easy for Evinger, who, like many of her veteran peers, didn’t show up in the sport in the Ronda Rousey era that opened the door to the big time for the ladies.

“We didn’t have these opportunities,” she said. “We were struggling just to find somebody else that fought, to find a promotion that will actually put you on there, to find somebody that wants to even pay you to fight.”

Evinger remembers the days of fighting for $400, if that, of cutting 30 pounds in four days to take a short notice fight, and of taking bouts against tough opposition when all the odds were stacked against her. It’s why her early career is dotted with losses to the likes of Gina Carano, Alexis Davis and Sara McMann, as well as a chance to compete on The Ultimate Fighter 18 that resulted in a defeat against Raquel Pennington.
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“I never had a manager,” she said. “I did it all myself and it had to do with the reasons I was fighting. I liked to compete and people don’t understand that I think I was better than those girls then. I just think that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind or in the right point of my career to win those fights. People don’t understand the reasons behind losses in these fights. But don’t get me wrong, there’s always an excuse to lose, and sometimes, the reason might be that your opponent is just better than you.”

After losing to Pennington, Evinger got a phone call from Invicta FC’s Shannon Knapp that changed everything.

“I felt like she believed in me and was giving me a real opportunity,” Evinger said. “Invicta prepped me for this. It was an opportunity where I really found myself. I found out what kind of fighter I am, I found out the best style and how to be the best fighter and I gained confidence in myself.”

Evinger made her Invicta FC debut in December 2013, and when she defeated Sarah D’Alelio, it was the first of eight wins in the promotion that earned her a bantamweight title and made her the first choice when Megan Anderson was forced to withdraw from Saturday’s bout with Cyborg. It was also a no-brainer for “Triple Threat” to accept.

“I didn’t have to think about it. I’m out here to fight.”

And once she fights, she’s out to win. She’s come too far not to.

“I can’t stop,” Evinger said. “Then all of this would have been for nothing. I can’t let that happen. I’ve put too much in and I’ve tried too hard and it’s taken me too long. I can’t let it all go away because I gave up. If I’m the best, then this girl doesn’t matter. I’m gonna beat her. All I have to do is perform.”

If Evinger does beat Cyborg, it will be one of the feel good stories of 2017, as few have put in the work and weathered the storms of a fighting life quite like she has. She talks of the days before the McMann fight in 2011 when she decided that she had another run in her to make this work.

“I didn’t have anything,” she said. “I left California with my bag and my dog and that’s when I decided to change my life. I had a lot of things that were going on that I didn’t like and that weren’t helping me be a better person mentally and physically or help me evolve into a better fighter. I went home to Missouri and started over, but I didn’t have any money and they called me for that fight (against McMann). I trained for nine days and I fought with a broken foot.”

She laughs.

“I don’t back out of fights.”

Evinger didn’t back out of this one with Cyborg either, knowing that a win will change everything. That’s something she’s looking forward to.

“F**k yes, I’m ready,” she said. “I’ve been ready for this my whole life. All this hasn’t been for nothing. I’m ready to win the title and have that belt around my waist.”