Rashad Evans is grateful for the opportunity to compete again. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
By the time Rashad Evans steps into the Octagon to face Ryan Bader in Houston next Saturday night, 686 days will have passed since “Suga” dispatched Chael Sonnen at UFC 167.
During his absence, Sonnen retired after failing multiple drug tests, former training-partner-turned-rival Jon Jones was suspended and stripped of the light heavyweight title and Daniel Cormier, whom Evans was supposed to face at UFC 170 before injuring his knee, claimed the vacant 205-pound throne.
In the meantime, the 36-year-old former champion had plenty of time to ponder life after fighting. Consecutive knee surgeries have a way of making one a little introspective, even if retirement was never a consideration.
“It actually forced me to really look at that situation. As an athlete, when you’re used to competing on a consistent basis, your time is marked by each training camp and each fight,” Evans said during a UFC 192 conference call on Friday. “Before you know it, years have gone by before you’ve had a chance to have that perspective looking from the outside and seeing your next move.
“The thing that’s so hard is when you’re inside of this sport, you tend to forget that it’s just a season of your life,” he continued. “There have to be seasons that follow. You have to plan and plant some seeds for the following seasons. That’s something that can be easily overlooked because when you’re involved because it’s such a whirlwind and you enjoy it so much.”
The Blackzilians standout first tore his ACL prior to the aforementioned matchup with Cormier at UFC 170 in February 2014. Evans’ knee rejected the cadaver tissue inserted during the original surgery, and he was forced to undergo a second procedure earlier this year. It was a blessing in disguise for Evans, who was able to think about the end of his career without having to do so on the heels of an involuntary exit.
“Being in the situation that I was in I was forced to ask myself some tough questions which I wouldn’t have faced unless I was done with the sport,” he said. “I’m glad I had an opportunity to take a look and see what I wanted to do with the rest of my life while I had a chance to still compete.”
Evans found plenty to keep him occupied during his extended absence, but he also had to fight off the negative thoughts that occasionally took root.
“I keep a pretty busy schedule between doing the Fox gig and my obligations at the gym and at home with my kids. When you’re dealt a situation like I was dealt, having two surgeries back to back [just] as I’m catching my rhythm at the peak of my career, it’s very frustrating. I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a time where I doubted the fact that I could come back,” he said.
To prolong his career, Evans says he has altered his training in order to make it to fight night as healthy as possible. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 2 winner enters his matchup with Bader on a two-fight winning streak, but those triumphs over Sonnen and Dan Henderson -- both in 2013 -- feel like a distant memory. Evans last held light heavyweight gold in 2009 and he last challenged for that title in 2012, but in a division largely bereft of rising talent, he isn’t that far from making another run.
However, that won’t be Evans’ main priority -- at least not yet.
“I’d be lying if I said there’s no pressure for me to go out and perform well. I want to show that I haven’t lost a step; I want to show that I’m still hungry to compete at the top of the weight class,” he said. “It’s not to say that I want to throw my name in the hat to have a chance to fight for the belt. If I go out and perform well that’ll speak for itself. I think my concern more of anything is going out there and finding my rhythm, finding my timing, finding all the things that I need to do so I can sleep at night and say I competed. The bigger you make the whole event the harder it is to compete at your best.”