Rashad Evans has worked on his ground game with Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Sergio Gasparelli. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Rashad Evans wants to avoid the fate suffered by “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner Ryan Bader in his ill-fated UFC 132 encounter with former light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz.
Ortiz -- who faces Evans in the UFC 133 headliner on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia -- finished Bader with a stunning first-round guillotine choke in July, securing only the second submission victory of his career. As a result, Evans has worked tirelessly on his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills with trainer Sergio “Babu” Gasparelli, who has already spent time with Paulo Filho, Anderson Silva and the only man ever to defeat Evans, Lyoto Machida.
Gasparelli watched Ortiz’s submission against Bader and praised his work, but he does not consider the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” to be a particularly difficult opponent for Evans, who was originally scheduled to meet the unbeaten Phil Davis. After Davis withdrew, Machida was offered a rematch but declined.
“Those three guys are top fighters without much difference between them,” Gasparelli told Sherdog.com. “I don’t see Tito as the most difficult matchup for Evans. Lyoto is coming off a knockout against [Randy] Couture, wants his belt back and has already defeated Rashad. And Davis is an annoying fighter who doesn’t move forward or backwards and has a game that confounds everyone. He isn’t easily put down and has awesome wrestling.
“Ortiz, on the other hand, is completely predictable and always comes forward,” he added. “His win over Bader showed how he comes in to fight, his will to win and how he trained all his positions with Ricardo ‘Demente’ Abreu. He stepped into fight Evans, and the fact that they have a draw to clear up gives extra motivation to both of them.”
Working alongside muay Thai specialist Diogenes Assahyda and Evans’ longtime trainer Mike Van Arsdale, Gasparelli had a front row seat for the drama and tumult surrounding the UFC 133 main event. He admits Evans -- who originally planned to take on former teammate and reigning light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at the event -- was disappointed when word of Davis’ withdrawal reached him.
“I confess we became really worried when it was announced that Davis was injured,” Gasparelli said. “We thought that no one would accept the fight. That would have been bad for Rashad and for us, because he was really enjoying training and was motivated to fight again after an awesome three months of preparation. It would have really disappointed us.”
Gasparelli says he was surprised by Evans’ talent on the ground and believes his rematch with Ortiz could be decided there.
“It’s not always about looking for the submission all the time; it’s about mixing the art with MMA,” he said. “If you can punch to open a gap, why not do that? I can’t see a fighter nowadays only wanting to submit someone. If you have the chance to go for a knockout, go for it. That’s Evans’ game.”