It's almost time for all the talking, all the bickering, all the drama surrounding the highly anticipated title fight between Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones and former training partner Rashad Evans to come to an end.
That's because after almost a year of back-and forth jawing, a torn friendship, and a split from long time trainers at Jackson-WinkelJohn MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for "Suga," the two elite fighters will finally step inside the Octagon on Sat., April 21, 2012, in Atlanta, Georgia, as they headline UFC 145.
In a long history of bitter feuds in the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), this one has to be right at the top. This rivalry, however, differs from others in the sense that it goes much deeper than, "I think I'm a better fighter than you and I'm going to prove it" status. This one has very real personal feelings attached to it. Rashad was one of, if not thee, pillar of Greg Jackson's stable of fighters until a very green Jones joined the ranks and began his meteoric rise to the top of the MMA world.
Broken promises, feelings of betrayal, shattered pacts of loyalty from coaches and fighters alike only adds fuel to the fire to this feud, one that has just about reached its exploding point. The UFC has held nothing back with the promotion of this colossal clash either, including individual stylized promos for each fighter and giving it the "Primetime" treatment. The storyline and the back-and-forth banter from the two combatants, however, is more than enough to get fans riled up for this one on its own.
Their animosity towards one another was ever so clear when the two appeared on UFC's Ultimate Insider in a face-to-face heated conversation that reminded everyone just how deep their feud goes.
Evans, for one, is no stranger to trash talk from his opponents, having spent a season coaching The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) opposite Quinton Jackson, which was must see TV. Rashad went on to defeat "Rampage" at UFC 114 to back up all his verbal jabs. According to Evans, his fight against "Bones" will be more personal, for reasons already made clear.
Make the jump to see what Rashad had to say in his in-depth interview with Larry Pepe on his recent appearance on Pro MMA Radio:
"This one is more personal, me and 'Rampage' was like, 'I don't like, you don't like me.' It was just like that, but with Jon, with it being so personal and us having had a situation like we did, it just makes it that much more of a, I guess more of a mental challenge to really not allow it to get to me and not allow it to let me fight with emotion. I don't want to say that I don't want to be one of those fighters that does not fight with emotion, no, I want to fight with emotion, emotion is great to fight with, but at the same time you have to be able to harness it. Do not let it get away from you."
How does Evans feel his former protégé will act under the pressure of such a huge emotional filled fight?
"I don't know how Jon performs under mental pressure like this, you know? I do know that this is personal for him and I know that he is taking it serious and one reason he is taking it serious, even if he doesn't want to say it's as personal as it is, it's because his coaches are. When you constantly have somebody in your ear telling you, "You got to get him, you got to get him," they are making the fight bigger and making it mean a lot more for them, so then it is going to mean more for you. So, for him to say he is completely divorcing himself from all emotions from the whole thing, it can't be further from the truth, because I know his coaches are not."
When Greg Jackson finally confirmed that he would indeed help his young star (Jones) defeat his former friend and student (Evans) in the form of cornering him, Rashad, for one, was not surprised:
"I'm not surprised, I felt like even when he said he wasn't going to coach him, he was still going to have some kind of involvement because he is still inside of his gym. It's just like him saying he isn't going to coach Carlos Condit, but Carlos Condit is inside of his gym, so of course he is going to have something to do with it. I never bought into the fact that he wasn't going to coach Jon. One thing I know about Greg is that he likes the attention of being Greg Jackson, so there's no way he is going to turn down an opportunity to get that face time on camera."
When asked for his opinion on the reason that Jackson gave for deciding to corner Jones, Rashad didn't mix words one bit:
"That's gotta be one of the dumbest things I have ever heard to be honest with you. If it wasn't for Greg bringing him on the team, then we wouldn't have it. If he had stayed loyal to the people that was on his team, then the situation would have never came to be. But, the thing about it is. Greg cares about his best interest, Greg cares about being the coach of the year every year. Even though it's a great honor and he has definitely earned it many years, but for the most part, when that becomes your paramount focus over spending time with your fighters, over nurturing the relationship you have with your fighters and just being that nucleus that you gotta be for the team, when being coach of the year takes precedent over that, then you have to reassess your values at to what you call a team. Is the team about "I" Greg Jackson or is the team about an actual team? What I have figured out, is that the team is about "I" Greg Jackson and not the team."
Regardless of the constant verbal jabs from each other, Rashad does not downplay Jon's skills and is very complimentary of his rise, something he says he has always done:
"I feel very confident that I'm going to beat Jon, I feel very confident, there is nothing in me that waivers or deviate from the fact that I believe I am going to win. Do I think Jon is a good fighter? Yeah, he is a great fighter and I like his development and I like his growth and I am always full of compliments when it comes to Jon and his fighting. And I never say that, you know, he's trash or anything like that, he is a good fighter. But, I'm going to beat him. I would say beating Jon (Is more important than winning the title). The personal connection with the whole thing and it would really mean something to beat Jon because everybody holds him in such high esteem, and it's deserving, he definitely had a lot of great fights in his short time, so to beat Jon would just be amazing."
When the dust settles, win, lose or draw, "Suga' says that despite all the drama with he and his former team, he will be nothing short of a gentleman in his behavior towards them. He also says that even though they will never be best of friends again, the good guy in him will lend a helping hand if the chance ever arises:
"I'm going to be a gentleman and I am going to be respectful and I am going to shake his hand no matter what happens. I'm going to shake Greg's and WinkelJohn's hand. But for the most part, I don't think we will have any reconciliation where we hang out again. Who knows what will happen in our future, or whether something will ever arise to where I can help him out, the nature in myself, I would probably help him out if I could, but I for the most part I don't see a need for us to be like best friends or something."
Whether or not Jones' would return the favor, remains to be seen.
The anticipation is unbearable, the feud is very real and the clock is winding down until fight night where the top two 205-pound fighters in the world will look to prove who in fact the best fighter in the division really is.
Make your picks, Maniacs, who takes this? And how?