He waited the better part of a year for his title shot, forsaking other opportunities to fight and risking the ire of UFC president Dana White. With the fight less than two months away, a freak accident in training injured his knee and forced him out of the UFC 128 main event. Now the UFC has shuffled Jon Jones – Evans' own teammate – into the title fight in his place, leaving Evans' future as uncertain as ever.
"It's hard," said Evans. "Of course it's hard. I can't lie and say it's not hard or that I don't think sometimes, I wish it was me. I'd be lying if I said that. But I believe that everything happens for a reason."
What that reason might be, it's hard for him to say at this point.
It's the kind of thing he couldn't have prepared for. While doing a routine takedown drill in practice one day, two teammates accidentally crashed into Evans from the side and twisted his knee at an unnatural angle.
"As soon as they ran into me and we hit the ground, I heard something pop," said Evans. "I just knew something was wrong then."
He went to Las Vegas and got checked out by the UFC doctors, and when it became clear that a ligament strain would keep him out of the March 19 bout with champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, he said he knew the title shot would probably come down to either his teammate Jones, or his old nemesis, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
"I knew Rampage would turn down the fight," Evans said. "I can understand that decision. Rampage, he doesn't carry himself in the best shape when he's not fighting, and maybe he hadn't really trained for a long time, and I think that's part of the reason why he didn't want the fight is he's really not training. I don't know."
While it's hard to make the transition from number one contender to just another name in division, Evans is trying to make the best of it without dwelling on the negatives, he said. Of course, it doesn't make things easier when your boss won't stop publicly criticizing you.
Dana White has openly questioned Evans' decision not to take a fight while waiting for Rua to recover from surgery, mocked the idea of Evans "protecting his brand," and recently told USA Today that the reason he decided to slot Jackson in for a bout with Matt Hamill rather than a sequel with Evans is because the first fight was a "(freaking) snoozefest."
It's the kind of thing Evans is used to hearing from his employer by now, even if it still irks him from time to time.
"Dana White says what he says, and one thing you can always appreciate him for is his honesty," said Evans. "I guess sometimes his honesty doesn't favor me, but that's fine. That's okay. He can say our fight was boring, but I have a different perspective being in the fight. There was a lot of points in that fight where my heart rate got up a little bit, so I could never agree that that fight was boring.
"He says a Hamill fight would be more exciting? I mean, we'll see. Hamill has pretty much the same style that I have, so we'll see if Hamill's able to make it more exciting than I was. If he's saying it was boring because of me, I don't understand that. I watched the Machida and Rampage fight, and that fight was pretty boring to me."
As for White's assertion that it was a mistake to spend most of the last year waiting for Rua, Evans said that he still feels it was the right decision and would do it the same if given another chance. The irony is, it's partly White's animosity towards him that made him choose that path in the first place.
"Even knowing what I know now about what would happen during training, I'd make that same decision again," he said. "The problem is, there's no governing body to the UFC to decide who gets the title shot. There's no ranking, so how do I know when I'll get a title shot again? What, when Dana White likes me enough? It's basically on when he likes me, and you know as well as I know, that's not that often. If I get the opportunity to fight for a title because he says so, then I'm going to take it. If I have to wait to take it, I'll wait to take it."
With any luck, and with the help of an "aggressive treatment" program, Evans hopes to be back in the cage by June or July. He's ruled out the possibility that he'll fight his teammate, even if there was a belt at stake, but said he wouldn't immediately change weight classes if Jones becomes the new champ in March.
"I'll see what shakes out. I don't want anybody to not succeed for my own selfish reasons. I feel like everything happens the way it's supposed to happen."
Contrary to what some people might think, Evans said there is "no part of [him]" that wants to see Jones lose in his title bid against Rua. True, a loss would leave the door open for Evans, but it doesn't enter into his thinking, he said. It all goes back to a talk he had with Jones just prior to the young phenom's bout with Ryan Bader at UFC 126.
"I told him, 'Listen, after you destroy this guy everybody's going to be talking and saying you should fight Rashad or whatever, but understand that whatever's meant for you is meant for you, and whatever's meant for me is meant for me.'"
Even if it's meant for the 23-year-old Jones to become champion while the 31-year-old Evans waits his turn, he said, that's fine. It sort of has to be.
"Neither of us controls the key to the future. It's out of our hands, so whatever happens, happens. So I can't be mad at that. I just have to live with what happens next. I still want to be champion. I still consider myself the best guy in the weight class, so it's tough to swallow, but you just have to go forward. That's all you can do."
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