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Former world light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans has always been one of the most likable fighters on the UFC roster, but he did rub some folks the wrong way when he spoke of being embarrassed about his April loss to Glover Teixeira.
How could a fighter – any fighter, but especially Evans – be courageous enough to make the walk to the Octagon, compete, and then hang his head just because he had a bad night? It was baffling at first, but then understandable, if only because it proved that after all these years, the 37-year-old still cared.
“My feelings of embarrassment were just because I really trained hard for that fight and I really felt like that was going to be the fight to bring me back.” --Rashad Evans
“My feelings of embarrassment were just because I really trained hard for that fight and I really felt like that was going to be the fight to bring me back,” said Evans, who has lost two straight heading into his middleweight debut against Tim Kennedy on November 12. “And it wasn’t. And I felt so bad because I sacrificed so much for it, and that’s a scary feeling because, for me, fighting was always something I never had to think about or worry about. It was something that just came to me and no matter what happened, I always found a way to get out of a situation and win a fight. And to lose in the first two minutes of a fight was very embarrassing to me and it hurt in a place that I never really felt before.”
Teixeira, owner of a pair of the most potent fists in the game, halted Evans at 1:48 of the first round with punches that would have felled any light heavyweight he hit with them. It was no reason for Evans to be embarrassed, but after a four-year stretch in which he went 2-4 and dealt with a two-year layoff due to injury, he thought he might have reached the end of the road.
“It crossed my mind,” he said of retirement. “I thought that maybe it was time to go in another direction and start to really confront what is going to come after I finish fighting, which is the rest of my life. As a fighter, it’s something that you don’t really think about, but it’s inevitable. You’re always one fight from it being your last fight, so it is something I’m going to have to confront sooner or later.”
He did confront it, and decided he was going to stick around and take his gloves and mouthpiece to a new neighborhood – the 185-pound middleweight division. To some, it might seem like a last ditch effort to keep his career alive, but to Evans, it’s a move he should have made a long time ago but was too stubborn to make. Not surprising from someone who won the second season of The Ultimate Fighter at heavyweight.
“I felt as if I needed to really make a change, and after my last fight, I went through the process of looking at myself in the mirror and deciding that if I’m going to compete, what do I need to do to make sure I bring out the best in me. And I felt at 205, it got very stagnant for me there. I’ve competed with most of those guys, I’ve got a teammate and a good friend of mine (Anthony Johnson) who’s climbing up the ranks, and the guys are cutting a lot more weight than I am and they’re naturally bigger. So there were a few things I was thinking about, and for some reason, the weight class changed and I had to admit it. They were bigger than they were before and they were stronger and I needed to challenge myself and make sure I was still finding a purpose behind my reason to fight.”
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And a chat with his friend, former NFL great Ray Lewis, sent him 20 pounds south to middleweight with the tools he needs to succeed.
“He’s such a good mentor and sometimes he gets so deep that you don’t get it until you get it,” Evans laughs. “He told me you’re gonna become a better fighter when you truly make it a lifestyle. That’s an element that I didn’t have before and I realized that it’s more than just a fight.”
The Niagara Falls native says that the move to 185 is “actually working out better than I thought,” so far, and he is primed and ready to fight in his home state of New York for the first time next week. But being lighter isn’t the only change he promises at UFC 205. When he steps into the Octagon, Evans is going to become a fighter again.
“Sometimes you can get in your own way with the way the whole fight game is,” he explains. “You can over analyze things, but at the end of the day, it comes down to one thing, and that’s fighting. And if you’re a true fighter at heart and you really love to fight, then you’re gonna find your way and you’re gonna be all right. It’s an instinct and I’ve just got to trust that more. I know the sport. I know how to fight. I just have to believe it, and believe it when I go out there.”