Saturday, December 9, 2023

Rashad Evans Returns to the Cage

After ending a two-fight losing streak in June, Boca’s Rashad Evans (18-3-1) returns to the cage this Saturday night in the hopes of launching a win streak at UFC 167. The former UFC light heavyweight champion faces his friend and sometimes TV analyst colleague Chael Sonnen (29-13-1) in one of the featured bouts at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Boca Raton magazine profiled Evans in its July/August 2012 issue, only a few months after he dropped a unanimous decision to Jon Jones in their much-anticipated fight for the light heavyweight title.

Here is that profile in its entirety:

In the weeks prior to Rashad Evans’ April battle for the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) light-heavyweight crown, the Boca Raton resident cast an imposing presence over Times Square in the form of a five-story-long billboard promoting his eagerly anticipated showdown with title-holder Jon Jones.

But as powerful impressions go, Evans points to the town some seven hours northwest of the Big Apple—Niagara Falls, N.Y.—where he grew up with as many as nine siblings and half-siblings in the house at any one time.

“It’s survival of the fittest, especially when you’re trying to compete for the attention of a single mom who is constantly working,” says Evans, (now 34). “There was always a fight of some kind in the house; my older brother, who was much more physically dominant than me, beat the heck out of me every day. It toughened me up.

“After that experience, there was nothing that anyone in the world could say to even remotely bother me; I’d already been picked on by people who knew me best. It actually was good training.”

Not that the former UFC light-heavyweight champion—and one of the most compelling fighters in the full-contact sport that combines boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, judo and other disciplines—went straight from his boyhood home to the octagon.

Evans first honed his skills as an amateur wrestler. In 2000, while attending Niagara County Community College, he captured the National Junior College wrestling championship at 165 pounds. He later transferred to Michigan State University, where he wrestled and earned his degree in psychology. After graduating, he worked briefly as a bouncer at a bar in East Lansing, Mich. It was there, while helping to break up a fight, that he met someone who invited Evans to an underground mixed martial arts club.

“The place looked like something out of ‘Fight Club’—it was under a bridge in this dilapidated old warehouse,” Evans says. “Inside, it’s all dark and damp; rats are scurrying everywhere. We enter this room where the funk and steam are overwhelming—and there are two guys on a mat beating the hell out of each other.

“I think I was a natural because of my athletic ability, my wrestling background and the fact that I took karate when I was young. So I started coming back and participating.”

In 2005, shortly after launching his professional mixed marital arts career, Evans received the invitation that would change his life; he was selected as one of nine heavyweights to compete on the Spike TV reality show “The Ultimate Fighter 2.” Despite being the shortest (5 feet 11) and one of the lightest (225 pounds) contenders, Evans won the competition and, with it, a three-year contract with UFC. Three years later, after brutally knocking out UFC icon Chuck Liddell in his prior bout, Evans stopped Forrest Griffin in the third round for the light-heavyweight title.

“What I do is draw from everything inside—the pain, the heartache, everything that drives you in life; I’m able to harness that and just go for it,” says Evans, who dropped a unanimous decision to Jones in their April title fight, only the second loss of his career against 22 victories. “When I fight, if I lose, that’s fine. But the person standing across from me? He’ll never want to fight me again the rest of his life.”

Evans has taken a liking to the Boca area; he owns a home here now and works out in Delray Beach at the Jaco Hybrid Training Center. Though he still has some years left inside the cage, Evans, who’s made movie and television appearances, is considering his next career move.

“I can’t fight forever,” he says. “I’m on borrowed time. I want to find something to continue to challenge myself.”

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