It’s been a tough couple of years for ‘Suga’ Rashad Evans. A win from his February 2014 date with Daniel Cormier would have seen the former champion reemerge in the title chase, but in his last hard sparring session during his camp Evans’s pursuit of Jon Jones’s belt was brought to an abrupt halt when he blew out his ACL.
The TUF 2 champion has since claimed he was in the best condition of his life in the lead-up to the ‘DC’ fight, which no doubt made the injury sting a little bit more. However, having rehabilitated his knee, Evans has set his sights on a return exactly a year after his date with Cormier, but this time he would face off against Brazilian Glover Teixiera.
Teixiera pulled out of the fight citing issues with a previous injury, and while there is no doubt that Evans would have found his withdrawal frustrating, the worse was yet to come. In mid-February ‘Suga’ revealed that he would have to sit out a further six to seven months after his body had rejected the cadaver tissue used to repair his ACL injury.
At 36, there might be more of a stress on urgency if Evans’s is to reignite his title hopes, but he believes his time off has allowed him to look realistically at his situation ahead of his return bout against Ryan Bader this Saturday night.
“Yes, (the time off) actually forced me to really look at that situation,” he said ahead of UFC 192. “As an athlete when you are used to competing and competing at a consistent basis, your time is pretty much marked by each training camp and each fight.
“Before you know it, years have gone by before you really had a chance to have that perspective looking from the outside and seeing what your next step is, what’s your next move.
“And the thing that’s so hard is that when you’re inside of this sport, you tend to forget that it’s just a season of your life. And there has to be following seasons that follow, that are coming up. So you have to plan and plant some seeds for the following seasons.
“And that’s something that definitely can easily be overlooked because when you’re involved it’s such a whirlwind and you enjoy it so much. It’s hard to look 100 yards down the road and see exactly what’s coming up.
“But, being in a situation that I was in, I was really forced to. And I was really forced to ask myself tough questions, which I wouldn’t have probably faced unless I was done at the sport unless it was done before I was ready. So I’m glad I had an opportunity to sit back and really just take a look and see what I want to do with the rest of my life - while I still have a chance to compete.”
The two-year absence is without a doubt a major factor heading into UFC 192 for Evans, but he has not lost too much ground with regard to the championship. Although names like his own, Gustafsson and Teixiera still hold places in the UFC’s top five rankings two years later, there is one very obvious omission – Jon Jones. Without ‘Bones’ at the top of the table, the division has been blown right open to the point where two men, Cormier and Gustafsson, have been given title shots despite the fact that they are coming off losses.
Bader was a man who many people felt would take on Cormier for his first defense given the back and forth between the two at the UFC 187 post-fight press conference. He is currently on a four fight win streak and once Jon Jones doesn’t return from suspension in the mean time, a win over Evans will almost certainly put Bader into a title bout.
Evans knows that he has a chance to steal Bader’s momentum, and with a good enough performance, he knows he can walk straight into a title showdown.
“I’d be lying to sit here and say there’s no pressure at all for me to go out there and perform well. And there is. I want to go out there and I want to show that I haven’t lost a step. I want to go out there and show that I’m still hungry to compete at the top of the weight class. But you know it’s not for the reason to say that, I want to throw my name in the hat to have a chance to fight for the belt.
“I think if I go out there and I perform well, that’ll speak for itself. I think my concerns more of anything is just going out there and just having fun and finding my rhythm, finding my timing, finding all the things that I need to do so I can sleep at night, and say that I competed good.
“I think that the bigger you make the whole event, the harder it is to go out there and compete at your best. There are so many things in the background that I can add to me wanting to do well but the more I do that the more complex that it makes it. So I just decide just to make it small. It’s about going out there and having a great performance against Ryan Bader.
“And Ryan Bader, he’s still looking good lately. He’s gotten better as a fighter and I can’t want to go out there and show everybody what I’ve been working on for the last two years, besides just being injured.”
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