After a lengthy buildup to his rivalry match with Jon Jones and a title challenge that ended in defeat, little seemed sure about Rashad Evans' future except for the fact that he and Jones were out of each others' lives. With Jones in his rearview mirror, the big question about Evans' career centered around whether he would remain at light-heavyweight or move down a division to compete at 185.
The many guesses that were thrown out all proved to be incorrect. Instead, Evans' own fight career is temporarily shelved while his feud with Jones continues with him as a supporting character. Just two weeks ago, Vitor Belfort accepted a late-notice match with Jones, and as the newest member of the Blackzilians fight camp, asked Evans to coach him.
Evans immediately accepted the role, which essentially means he has put his own aspirations on hold for now.
While that might seem a strange position for a 32-year-old still in or near his prime, Evans said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that it was a role he was happy to take.
"I’m glad Vitor made me part of his journey to become champion," he said. "People want to always throw ego into it, like 'Rashad, what are you going to do?' And this and that. I'm not worried about that, man. My main focus is for Vitor, that's it. Everything else?It doesn't even matter right now. I’ll cross whatever bridges I need to cross when I have to cross them. It just makes no sense to worry about things I don't need to worry about right now."
According to Evans, Belfort's move into the Blackzilians camp was a long time coming, with the roots for change first planted months ago when the two sides set up a kind of exchange program that was going to see both men travel to spend time at the other's camp. Before that was able to happen though, Belfort was offered to fight Anthony Johnson, a Blackzilians member, so the visits had to be delayed.
Finally, after the bout, Belfort came to visit, loved the atmosphere and made the move to join the team. It wasn't long afterward when he found himself with the offer to face Jones.
Of course, Evans and Jones have a long and storied history which dates back to Jones' early days in the sport, so Belfort thought it was an obvious choice to ask Evans to train him and offer his insight on Jones, which was especially valuable with such little time to prepare.
For others, that led to questions of what it would mean for Evans if Belfort were to become champion, but Evans said he is willing to wait out the currently clogged division to see what happens before making his next move.
"As far as if Vitor becomes light-heavyweight champ, that’s great, that's what I would want," he said. "I don't know how far am I from getting a title shot. You never know with the UFC, so I’m just going to keep fighting and competing to be a champion, and whatever breaks free, breaks free. If I get an opportunity at 185 and it's a serious opportunity, then I'll take it. Same thing at 205. I'm still pursuing the championship anyway I can. For me, helping him train is not so much about me. I want to help him become champion."
Evans said that right now, he feels like the matchups that make the most sense for him are bouts with either Mauricio Rua or Lyoto Machida, and while he'd like to get back in the cage before the end of the year, he thinks the UFC schedule may prevent him from that, making a return after the New Year more likely.
That means that for the foreseeable future, the ongoing storyline surrounding his career will center on his continuing rivalry with Jones. Evans will be in Belfort's corner on fight night at UFC 152, and he says that he "truly believes" Belfort has a chance to beat Jones even though he acknowledges that the 25-year-old champion is a "phenomenal fighter" who brings "a lot of craftiness and poise" to the cage.
Surprisingly, those weren't the only nice words Evans slipped into the conversation about his onetime friend, as he offered Jones' public relations advice, saying that he needs to really be himself.
"Being who he truly is, is not a guy who is disliked," he said. "He can actually be a good person, but I think him slipping back and forth between the person he thinks people want him to be and who he truly is has really messed him up."
Evans went so far as to say that if Jones called him for guidance, he'd be there to offer it.
"Of course, if he ever needed me for anything, I’ll be there to talk to him and to help him out if he needs it," he said. "And I don't know everything there is to know about life, either, so if there’s something i have a problem with, I’m sure I can learn from him, too."
Maybe that hypothetical discussion will include a question about where Evans will end up. For now, Evans will play the waiting game, focusing on what is the best long-term solution.
"I've just got see where I fit in and what’s the plan," he said. "What's the plan? I want to see what opportunity is at 185, who I have to fight and where would it lead me to, because it really makes no sense for me to drop down to 185 to be in the exact same position I am at 205, where I don't have to cut."