UFC: Rashad Evans on motivation, inspiration & emotional highs/lows

A few weeks ago, in anticipation of the now canceled fight between UFC stars, Rashad Evans and Daniel Cormier, I secured an hour long…

By: Stephie Haynes | 9 years ago
UFC: Rashad Evans on motivation, inspiration & emotional highs/lows
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

A few weeks ago, in anticipation of the now canceled fight between UFC stars, Rashad Evans and Daniel Cormier, I secured an hour long interview with Rashad. I thought to myself, ‘Self, let’s hold off on this one until fight week, and wow the Hell out of our awesome readers.’ Boy was that a wrong move.

Unfortunately, Evans incurred a nasty knee injury, and will be out for at least 6 months following his surgery. When I heard the news, I wanted to scream. Instead, I cursed that pesky injury bug mightily, and got cracking on this feature. The interview was too good for me not to share with everyone, so I’m posting it in its entirety today.

Many thanks to my awesome co-host and colleague, Iain Kidd for the transcript help. I also want to thank my long time buddy and photographer extraordinaire, Ryan Loco for giving me the fantastic photos contained within this article.

Steph Daniels: You have a fight coming up with Daniel Cormier. He’s one of your broadcast partners, and I have a question about that. It seems like a lot of fighters want to get those broadcast spots, but there are a limited number. How does that work?

Rashad Evans: The people in the production team with the Fox network keep an eye on who speaks well in front of the camera, and who has that thing that may translate well to the show. If they have an interest in somebody, or somebody has an interest in doing the show, they’ll usually bring them out. They’ll give them a trial run and see how they do, and if they like them, they’ll bring them out and have them do the show.

It seems like it’s very limited, but it actually opens up pretty well because there are so many guys actively training for fights. When I’m getting ready to fight I’ll walk away from the show to totally focus on fighting. Daniel is on the west coast, so it’s easier for him to still do the show while he’s training, but I can’t do it, so that opens a space for somebody else.

More importantly, it’s about how the person is and how their personality comes across on camera. That’s the guy they look to use.

Steph Daniels: It would appear that your spot is pretty much cemented. Do you see it as something you would want to continue doing when you finish competing?

Rashad Evans: The way I look at it is this: you’re always one fight away from your last fight. Your next fight may very well be your last fight. With that in mind, you’ve always got to be able to walk away from the sport or have something else lined up that you can do. Being able to commentate or something like that is something that keeps me close to the sport, but also allows me to walk away on my terms.

This sport has done so much for me. This sport has really changed my life, and when I’m not in it or around it for a while, I miss it so much. So, being able to stay close to it by studying fighters and commentate on other fights is something that keeps me well connected to the sport.

Steph Daniels: You’ve experienced emotional highs and lows in this sport. I remember a time when you were coming off a disappointing win, I think over Phil Davis, and you were really bummed out. You had won the fight, but you were really bummed out. You came right out and you said, ‘I don’t know how much more I’m going to do this.’ Tell me, what’s different between the emotional strain you were feeling that day, and your rejuvenation now.

Rashad Evans: What happens is you get to a point where you do this for a while and it gets redundant. It gets old. You get tired of putting your body through what you have to put it through to get ready for a fight. One thing that wears on you more than anything is the political side. Once you see behind the curtain of Oz, Oz is just not the same anymore, you know what I’m saying?

They were looking at me like my life was off just because I lost a fight! It’s like goddamn. They had no idea that when I was winning my life was out of control and I wasn’t happy.

After being a fighter and working on the production side, you get to see why matchups are made, and you see a whole other side of the sport, and as an athlete sometimes it can be discouraging. The promotion has to do what it has to for the sake of promotion, and as a fighter you may not agree with that. It’s something that can really slow your drive and kill your hunger as far as being an athlete.

When you do it for a while, you kind of get to see the shallowness of it. By that, I mean if I have a bad fight, my whole life and the direction my life is going is valued by other people based on that performance. When I lost to Nogueria, everybody was like, ‘Oh man, Rashad, your life must be out of control!’ They were looking at me like my life was off just because I lost a fight! It’s like goddamn. They had no idea that when I was winning my life was out of control and I wasn’t happy. Sometimes it just happens like that.

People seem to link your professional career with your life outside of fighting, and that’s the whole shallowness of it. You get to see as an athlete that the fans are sometimes with you and sometimes against you, and you learn to not give a fuck no more. It’s like, you know what, if you cheer for me? You cheer for me. If you don’t? You don’t. If you say this about me, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been on both sides of being somebody fans like and somebody fans hate, and once I finally decided in my mind that it doesn’t matter either way, I became a happier person.

Steph Daniels: Throughout your career, the only bad blood I’ve ever seen you really have was with Rampage to a degree, and next to none with Jon Jones. With Jon Jones it seemed more competitive to me. There’s this rash of everyone calling out everyone else, and it seems that’s the only way people are getting quality fights. How do you feel about that?

Rashad Evans: For a long time I was very outspoken, and I felt the need to be heard. Now, as I get older, I’m not at that stage of my development. I’m not saying I don’t agree with people who do it, it’s whatever they need to do. For me, I’m just out of it. I’m just looking to compete, more than anything, against myself. I don’t really need to talk shit to somebody else to get the best performance from myself.

I think right now, the way the game is, the market is getting saturated. The UFC trying to become a household product and they’re putting so many of these shows on top of each other that it’s really hard to build and hype fights. The days of long build ups to fights are long gone. That makes it a lot harder for athletes to get the attention that they need for their fight. The athlete has to do a little bit more to get attention. He has to do a little bit more to draw the audience in, to make the fights blockbuster fights that people want to see, and to make it a fight that everybody is talking about.

It’s becoming harder in that respect, but what I’ve been trying to focus on more than anything is putting in my work. I want to go out there and just leave somebody sprawled out. I want to just go out there and be awesome with my devastation. Then, I don’t need to say anything anymore; people know when I’m on a card, that’s what’s going to happen.

Like with Mike Tyson fights. Mike Tyson didn’t have to say anything. Mike Tyson would be like “First of all, I’m the greatest fighter God ever created.” He had that swagger about him because when he went in there, the person knew. They knew that one thing was going to happen; they were going to get hit hard, and they probably weren’t going to be standing after they got hit. That’s what I want to bring to the cage instead of all the talking, because after a while that gets to you, man. It wears on you more than anything.

I watch Chael Sonnen, and he’s so amazing in front of the camera with his one liners. He’s just a dream when it comes to promotion, but at the same time, as an athlete it takes a lot out of him. I’ve seen him right before the fight and he’s got this exhausted look on his face, and It’s like, man, you know what, he’s not in a good mental state to compete because he’s taken so much out of himself just building the fight up. There’s a fine line, but what I plan to do is leave it in my work. I want to build a fight based on my previous work.

Steph Daniels: Does it take something emotionally out of you that they’ve lined you up back to back with fighters that are broadcast partners of yours?

Rashad Evans: Yeah. It’s been hard. These last two fights have been really hard for me. Daniel more than Chael. I remember when Daniel first started getting into the game, and he was asking me who he should sign with and stuff. It was me, Lawal and DC, and we all stayed pretty close after college.

Watching Daniel’s transition and to see where he is now has been amazing. It’s going to be hard for me to have to go in there and fight him. It’s going to be a hard fight for him making this transfer to 205. He’s dropping down and he’s already had a hard time making 211lbs for the Olympics, so I know this is going to be hard from a mental point of view, and not to toot my own horn, but he’s going against me, and that couldn’t be a worse matchup for him, you know?

Steph Daniels: That’s something I wanted to ask about, do you think with you being his first matchup at 205lbs, he’s bitten off more than he can chew? I mean his very first fight at this weight and he’s matched up with the number two or three guy. Give me some more detail about what you think about this as far as styles.

Rashad Evans: Stylistically speaking, this couldn’t be a worse matchup for him. I’m faster and I’m a wrestler. Even if he does get me to the cage or take me down, he’s not going to be able to keep me down, so he’s going to have to constantly work. Coming from heavyweight where he was pushing these big guys around, and he was able to outwork and outhustle them, and get them to work at his own pace… It’s going to be hard for him to get me to work at his pace. Even if he does take me down, I’m going to be able to get out and I’m going to be moving a lot. He’s going to have to have great endurance.

This is going to be tough for him, because not only can I match him with my MMA wrestling, but I also have power in my hands too. So does he, but I definitely have proven power in my hands in my feet, so it’s going to be a tough matchup for him. I’m going to go out there and just try to do everything I can to make this the roughest introduction to 205 anyone has ever had. No matter what, he’s going to say, “I don’t want to fight at 205 again.” That’s my mind set.

Steph Daniels: When you were at Jackson’s you were one of those ‘ride or die’ guys, loyal to a fault. When you were there and everything was good and Jones was coming up, you always said, ‘No, we won’t fight each other.’ Then Jones and Greg Jackson kind of broke that. Is that irrevocably broken? I ask this because it looks like Tyrone Spong might end up at the UFC.

Rashad Evans: So you’re asking if I would fight Spong? He and I are really close now. We’re like brothers, we’re family. He’s helped me out tremendously. I know there’s no way I’ll ever fight him under any circumstances. I would give up my career before I fight him. I would never do it.

Now I’m setting myself up for the next few years, so I could just walk away and be financially secure enough to not fight anymore. I’m getting to where I want to be, where I can call my own shots financially speaking and never have to fight again, and only fight because I truly love it and never for the money.

If Spong comes along when he’s ready to be in the UFC, I’ll be there, I’ll be cornering him, and if it ever came to us having to fight, I’d make a decision about if I ever want to fight again, and I probably wouldn’t fight again.

When you’re put in those positions where you have to fight somebody that you’re friends with, it’s usually because you have to, because it’s your job and you need the money. When you don’t have the same kind of things holding you down, you have the option to walk away and do something else.

If Spong comes along when he’s ready to be in the UFC, I’ll be there, I’ll be cornering him, and if it ever came to us having to fight, I’d make a decision about if I ever want to fight again, and I probably wouldn’t fight again.

Steph Daniels: Would you ever consider middleweight?

Rashad Evans:
I’ve thought about this. It’s something a lot of people asked me about, and it’s something I considered for a while, but I just… *sighs*. It all depends. Right now, Vitor is tearing it up. It would have to be something I discuss with my team, if I decide to go.

I look small, but it would be so hard for me to make that weight. Right now, I sit at about 220lbs on average. Right now, in the heart of my training, I’m at 220lbs while dieting and eating clean, so it’s not as easy as it would seem for me to make it to 185lbs. If it was something like the UFC wanted to make a dream matchup happen like against Machida or Anderson, or something fun? Then I would definitely do it, but if not? I don’t see why I would cut down to just be where I am now at 205, you know?

Steph Daniels: What was the first fight you ever saw that made you think I wanted to be a fighter?

Rashad Evans: It was Mike Tyson vs Leon Spinks. We had the pay-per-view at my dad’s house and everybody was talking about this guy Mike Tyson. I remember being young and seeing Mike Tyson and just being amazed at his technique and how he hit. It was just amazing. After that fight I was like, ‘Man, this is something I want to do.’

I asked my dad afterwards, ‘Dad can I be a fighter? Can I be a boxer?’ He said I was much too small. At the time I was probably like six years old or something, but it was one of those things that stuck with me. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

Steph Daniels: What’s your motivation? For some guys it’s all financial, some guys want to leave a legacy for their children, for some guys it’s just about challenging themselves and being the best and for some guys it’s just that they like duking it out. What’s your motivation?

Rashad Evans: My motivation is… Everybody always counts me out, you know? So my motivation is just to show everybody, all the time. That motivates me to go and drive hard. I’ve always had this underdog role. Nobody ever thought I was going to do anything.

Everybody always counted me out, even when I was wrestling and stuff. I remember my wrestling coach being like, ‘There’s one guy in this room who is going to be the best wrestler out of all you guys.’ At the time, I wasn’t really that good, and then he said my name. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness! He said my name!’ Everybody was like, ‘Rashad!? Pfft. This dude sucks! How is he going to be the best wrestler?’ They were pissed. They were pissed off.That coach, Bill Dixon, he seen my talent. He seen my hunger, he seen my drive, and he was right. I ended up being the best wrestler out of all of them.

This underdog role is always something I’ve had. Maybe it’s because growing up I was always hanging out with guys that were two to three years older than me. I would hang out with my brother, and he’s two years older than me, so all of his friends were around his age. I was a late bloomer, I didn’t go through puberty until later on. Not only was I younger, I was really little. Everybody always overlooked me. That’s the treatment I always got from everybody.

I would always have to work a little bit harder, do a little bit more, just to make sure I wasn’t the one holding people back and if something messed up, I wasn’t the weak link. I think that’s always been my motivation.

Steph Daniels: You’ve spoken a few times about being financially set if you walk away and things like that. It sounds to me like you’re really weighing your options for the future. Am I misreading this?

Rashad Evans: Nah, you know, this is the fight game. More importantly, it’s the sports and entertainment world, and this world is very ‘what have you done for me lately.’ So it would be very foolhardy for me to think that I’ll be able to stay in this forever, that my body is always going to hold up, and that fortune is always going to go my way in terms of winning fights and stuff.

Like I said, this is borrowed time. I’m on God’s time right now, and I’ve been blessed to do this as long as I have been, being 34 years old and being in the UFC as long as I have been. I don’t know how long I’m going to have this blessing for, so I’ve always made sure that I’m setting things up now so that when I’m able to step away, I can step away.

That way I can compete for the right reasons. I can enjoy doing this for the right reasons. That’s what it’s all about for me. Being able to fight because I want to fight and I enjoy fighting, not because, ‘Oh man, I don’t have any money. I really need this. I really need to get this fight because I’m broke.’ I never want to fight for those reasons. I never want to stay around longer than I have to stay around, or let the sport retire me.

I’ve seen great fighters who allowed the sport to retire them, just because financially they weren’t smart with their money. Just because they took for granted the ability that they have, and thought they would always have another fight. Life doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes it’s just over after your last fight. You never know. I’ve always said to myself, in my mind, that when I’m ready to step away, I want to step away. I want to be able to make my own decision about when to step away.

I love fighting. I love the crowd and everything. That’s the hardest thing about fighting. Yeah, you’re going to miss the money and all of that, but you know what the most intoxicating thing is? The crowd. People telling you that you are the motherfucking man. When people see you and they’re like, ‘Ohhh shit!’ When you walk into a bar, when people look at you and they’re like, ‘That is a bad motherfucker right there.’ That’s intoxicating. Even if you’re not an egomaniac, that will still push you to be like, ‘Yeah, people recognize.’ That’s a very intoxicating feeling, and to step away from that is a hard thing to do.

You can never see when you should step away. The guy who is fighting is always the last one to know he’s done. Everybody else can see he’s lost a step, but the guy who is always training, who is in there, the guy who needs to step away? He can never see it.

Steph Daniels: There’s two kinds of stepping away. Some guys say they’ll step away when it becomes evident they can’t compete any more. Do you want to be that guy, or do you want to be like Jerry Seinfeld and step away when you’re number one?

Rashad Evans: Here’s the thing about that. That’s an illusion. You can never see when you should step away. The guy who is fighting is always the last one to know he’s done. Everybody else can see he’s lost a step, but the guy who is always training, who is in there, the guy who needs to step away? He can never see it.

So I can’t rely on myself to be like, ‘OK, I see it now, I see I lost a step, I need to step away.’ That’s a hard talk to have with yourself.

Steph Daniels: Is that a talk you had with yourself after the Davis fight?

Rashad Evans: You know, with that fight… It was like, yeah I felt down, but at the same time I watched the fight over again and it was good, I just didn’t finish him like I wanted to finish him.

Steph Daniels: That’s the thing, I couldn’t understand why you were so down, because you very obviously took care of business, but you were kinda down on yourself, and I didn’t understand why.

Rashad Evans: I’ve grown since then. This is the fight game, and in the fight game you take your wins however you can. You never know how things are going to shape up from one fight to the next. You fight hard, you get the win and no matter what you need to do, there’s no need to hang your head about it. There’s always going to be something you can go back and work on, but when you hang your head about it for too long, you start to take away from yourself. You start feeling sorry for yourself, and you’ll have enough sad days anyway, so don’t make sad days when you don’t have to.

When you get a win, don’t make a sad day out of it. Smile and enjoy yourself, because there’s going to be plenty of days when you can be sad about something. This is the fight game, and in the fight game the smile and the frown are the same thing, because at any given time you could be wearing both.

Steph Daniels: I have to ask you about Mama Evans. How much of her influence still carries over into your fighting, especially your mindset about how you managed your money.

Rashad Evans: I rely on my Mom’s philosophies all the time. When I was going through my hard time I started feeling sorry for myself a little bit. I was like, ‘Why me? Why do I have to go through this?’ My mom was like, ‘Rashad, why not you?’ That idea was just a shock. She said, ‘Bad things don’t always happen to other people. Bad things can happen to you, too. Everything is not always going to go your way, but you can’t start feeling sorry for yourself. You can’t start wanting people to feel sorry for you. That’s life. You’ve got to find a way to move past this, you’ve got to find a way to get by this, and you’ve got to find a way to turn this into something positive. Don’t start feeling sorry for yourself.’

When she said that to me, I was thinking about it, I was like, ‘Ma, that was a real asshole things to say,’ [laughs]. But then I started thinking about it, and she’s absolutely right. Why not me? Why the hell not me? She was right about it.

It’s all about how you look at things. It’s not just the whole bullshit optimistic find a silver lining type thing, but the truth of the matter is that in life, you have to be able to say, ‘This is what this means, and this is what I’m going to turn this into.’ No matter if my career goes to hell in a hand basket from here on out, I had a great run. I have so much to be happy about, I had my opportunities and I’ve had a great chance to do what I love to do and make money doing it. This has been a great ride, so I can’t lose from here. This has been awesome. I’ll take the good with the bad, and I’ll smile at the worst, too. If something bad happens to me? That sucks, but fuck it, I’ll find a way to make it work for me.

When you start being successful at something, you start to think that good things are always going to happen, but that’s not necessarily the case. Things are not going to happen the way you want them to. Sometimes it’s just not in the cards for you to have it the way you want it. You can wish and dream and hope, but it’s just not in your cards at that time, and you’ve got to be able to just deal with it. Just deal with it. Just take it how you took it when things were going good for you.

Steph Daniels: I imagine when things are going well for you at such a high level, the comedown when something bad does happen must be tremendous.

Rashad Evans: Oh man, the comedown is so hard. It’s so hard. It’s so hard. It was hard for me at first, because when I got into this nobody told me how it was going to be. You start to identify yourself with what people say about you, and you kind of lose yourself a little bit.

Coming from where I came from, I was always the underdog, but then all of a sudden I became the man. Now people are taking notice of me, and now I’m somebody special. So when things weren’t going the way I wanted them to, it was like, ‘Did I lose my thing?’ The fall is like… man. It’s hard. It’s sad. It makes you want to cry and it breaks you down. You feel worthless and you feel like what the hell is going on in my life.

I’m a very emotional guy. I always try to help out and do something for somebody, and when I feel like I can’t, or I’m failing at it, it bothers me. Other people’s problems bother me sometimes. It’s kind of hard for me to get close to people sometimes because if they have a problem, then it’s going to fuck up my day, it’s going to be my problem too.

You can follow Rashad via his Twitter account, @SugaRashadEvans

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About the author
Stephie Haynes
Stephie Haynes

Stephie Haynes has been covering MMA since 2005. She has also worked for MMA promotion Proelite and apparel brand TapouT. She hosted TapouT’s official radio show for four years before joining Bloody Elbow in 2012. She has interviewed everyone there is to interview in the fight game from from Dana White to Conor McGregor to Kimbo Slice, as well as mainstream TV, film and music stars including Norman Reedus, RZA and Anthony Bourdain. She has been producing the BE podcast network since 2017 and hosts four of its current shows.

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