Story and photo by Anthony Springer Jr
As an undersized heavyweight, he was not supposed to win season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter.
As the underdog, he was not supposed to unleash the highlight reel overhand right that separated future hall of famer Chuck Liddell from consciousness at UFC 88.
And he was not supposed to defeat Forrest Griffin at UFC 92 to win the UFC light heavyweight title.
If Rashad Evans was not supposed to be here, somebody forgot to tell Rashad Evans.
The top dog at 205 strolled into yesterday’s open workout without a care in the world. After several rounds of sparring with two partners, Evans addressed the press. He remained calm, chose his words carefully and considers the upcoming bout with Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida just another day at the office.
“I just want to go out there and perform really well,” Evans said of the pending main event.
Unlike the original pairing of Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Evans remains respectful of Machida’s talents—a far cry from the declaration to Jackson that he was going to “dig in that ass” during the verbal sparring match that took place after UFC 96. Evans repeatedly affirmed the commonly held belief that Machida is a “tough” fighter and took nothing away from the man who will be standing across the Octagon come Saturday night.
To sum up Machida, Evans agrees with the chorus of Machida assessments to date: “He’s elusive, hard to hit and very accurate with his strikes.”
Though Machida is hard to hit, Evans hits hard and his record is proof. Knockout victories over Sean Salmon and Chuck Liddell will remain on UFC highlight reels for years to come. Evans’ evolution from mere wrestler to feared striker is perhaps the only reason he’s a headliner and rising star today.
“The wrestling still appears here and there,” he says of his original skill set, “but I love to hit.”
One of the men responsible for improving Evans’ love of striking is former Chute Box coach Roberto Piccinini, brought in two months ago to help train the champion. Piccinini promises a different Rashad Evans come Saturday night—and if all goes well, the new Rashad may resemble an old legend.
“He’s going to be more aggressive with the hands,” Piccinni declared. “We’re trying to go like Mike Tyson. That’s the aspiration for me, for him, for the whole time. Move around, avoid the counter…use a lot of hands and feet movement.”
Of course, newfound aggression has the tendency to make a fighter impatient. And a lack of patience leads to certain doom against a fighter like Machida (Thiago Silva is living proof). According to Piccinni, patience won’t be a problem for Evans because he knows that while Machida is tough fighter, the champion always holds the dominant position.
“[Machida’s] going to have to come and pick up the belt,” he added. “We don’t have to give the belt away. If he gets close to Rashad, we’re going to knock him out. We’re not going to go after Machida.”
Evans will need all the composure and aggression he can muster to defeat Machida. Since the cagy Karate fighter has never been defeated, Evans looks forward to being the first to solve the puzzle.
In fact, if you let Evans tell it, he already has.
“He doesn’t get hit much, but he has holes.”