By: Mike Bohn | October 22, 2016 6:15 pm
With back-to-back losses for the first time in his 12-year career, former UFC light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans is ready for change. He gets it at UFC 205, where he drops to the middleweight for the first time for a showdown with former teammate Tim Kennedy.
For much of Evans’ career, he didn’t know what it meant to lose. His pro career started with a 14-fight unbeaten streak that included winning Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter” and capturing the UFC 205-pound title. His first setback came when he dropped the title to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98 in 2009, but he rebounded with a four-fight winning streak.
Since then, however, the results have included a noticeably negative slump. Evans fought just six times in the past four-plus years, and he’s gone an underwhelming 2-4 in that stretch. The most recent fights have been the most painful, though; a unanimous-decision loss to Ryan Bader at UFC 192 in October 2015 was followed by the shortest fight of his career – a 108-second knockout loss to Glover Teixeira in April’s UFC on FOX 19 headliner.
After seeing how he’s performed in recent fights, Evans (19-5-1 MMA, 14-5-1 UFC) took a step back and realized adjustments needed to be made in almost every category, and he told the “UFC Unfiltered” podcast that he’s got himself sorted ahead of the UFC 205 fight with Kennedy (18-5 MMA, 3-1 UFC).
“At one point (in my career), I was just really, really focused on fighting, and everything revolved around fighting and just making sure I was steady growing,” Evans said. “But then I got to the point where I was doing really well, and it was kind of effortless because of all the work I put in before. Then life kind of took over, and just different aspects of my life really started to pull me away from that mindset that got me to where I was at and really got me to being the name that people come to know. I got a divorce, started another relationship, had a kid. All these different things add weight on.
“You don’t really feel it at the time because you’re going through it,” he continued. “As you’re going through it, life is life, but slowly and slowly, you start to get pulled away from what got you to where you are. It takes a while, and it takes a lot of soul-searching and just being honest with yourself. I don’t know if I found the answer, but I’ll tell you one thing: I’m enjoying the process a lot more, and I’m enjoying being more of a student and really getting back to my roots of dedication.”
UFC 205 takes place Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass, though the bout order hasn’t been finalized.
With focus at a high, Evans said the move down to middleweight was a natural progression. He’s teased the idea of switching weight classes for several years, but with a record-tying 19 UFC appearances in the 205-pound division, it’s understandable he felt at home in the division.
At 37, though, Evans’ window to make a drastic career change is seemingly shrinking. He said the opportunity for a fresh start was too much to pass up.
“Dropping to 185 is the best thing for me because for the first time I’ve got to really make sure I’m doing everything correctly as far as taking care of my weight,” Evans said. “I’ve been flirting around with the idea for years now. I never was the biggest light heavyweight. I’d come in maybe five or 10 pounds (over the 205-pound limit) at the most on fight week. Meanwhile my competition was coming in 15, 20 pounds heavy. So they were cutting a lot more.
“When you’re in there and you’re going, you don’t really feel it. But at the same time, I don’t have that, ‘Get over here, I’m going to slam this mother(expletive)’ strength. That’s what I was missing, and I feel it had a lot to do with just the weight and how strong I was and my size for that weight class. I had to really make a change and just having new competition, having to feel like the new kid on the block and have to earn my way through another division and pretty much just reinvent myself was my motivation to really want to do it.”
Fighting at middleweight won’t be entirely unfamiliar. Standing across from him will be Kennedy, a former training partner and teammate from Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA in Albuquerque, N.M., who helped Evans prepare for some key bouts earlier in his career.
It’s been a long time since they’ve trained together, though, and with Kennedy not having fought in more than two years, there’s arguably more mystery around his return than Evans’ change in weight. Nevertheless, Evans said he has fond memories of what it was like to share the training room with his upcoming opponent and thinks that will benefit him on fight night.
“I remember his whole style, I remember his rhythm, and I’m glad I had it, but he also remembers me,” Evans said. “And that’s pretty much what this fight’s going to break down too. Who has gotten better in the areas when we were apart? When we were going together, he was more or less a training partner. So for him, I don’t think he was giving it his all like if it was him going through camp.
“He’s trying to lightly talk (expletive) to me, saying, ‘Oh Rashad, he asked for me.’ Dude, we’re in the fight business,” he continued. “This is what we do. This is how we eat. I love to fight. I don’t choose it because I hate it. I love to fight. If the UFC comes to me and says they want me to fight such and such, if he’s not a really close friend and mine and we’re not teammates, then yeah, I’m going to fight you. This is what we do. We fight. I’m sorry. This is just the business. It doesn’t mean I don’t respect you.”