UFC 167’s co-main event between Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen has crept up on the calendar on tiptoe, which is unusual given the amount of hype and drama Sonnen has been known to create.
Chief among them is that Sonnen and Evans are friends and colleagues at FOX. The other pillow silencer is that Sonnen already knows his future beyond Evans, which is a coaching stint on TUF Brazil against his latest nemesis Wanderlei Silva, followed by a score-settler in the Octagon. In the imagination of fight game enthusiasts, the bad blood between Sonnen and Silva resonates more than a couple of friendlies battling each other.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion Evans appeared in studio on Monday’s edition of the MMA Hour to talk his upcoming fight with Sonnen, as well as the many distractions that Sonnen is facing heading into Saturday night. Though Evans has disappeared into training between camps in Boca Raton with the Blackzilians and New Jersey with Ricardo Almeida, Sonnen continues to appear on FOX Sports 1’s "UFC Tonight."
And that could be a red flag for where his focus is, Evans told host Ariel Helwani.
"I definitely don’t think he’s really focused on where he needs to be, and that’s coming from my point of view," Evans said. "My point of view is I couldn’t do it just for the mindset of, when you’re doing those shows --- and he’s a natural, he’s really good at it -- there’s a lot of prep work that goes into it. You got to know the names of the fighters, you’ve got to know a lot of things about the fighters just to be able to have a casual conversation and know what they heck you’re talking about when it’s time to.
"So, for him to still be doing it, it doesn’t seem like he’s putting that kind of focus that you need to be training at a high level. Maybe something to stay in shape and casually train, but to train for a fight?"
Evans also pointed out that Sonnen has recently switched camps to Reign in Los Angeles, a city that has its own set of distractions and obstacles. But even with the television duties gobbling up time and the camp switch, there’s also his fight with Silva looming over the UFC 167 proceedings.
And that, too, could take away from his focus.
"It could definitely work against him," Evans said. "I don’t want to right now sit here and write the script of what his mindset is going to be like, because you really never know about anybody’s mindset and what goes into having them compete. I can say for me, myself, it would definitely take a little bit off. Because it’s hard. He will have to be one seriously talented individual to go in there and juggle all those things on his plate and still come out and really fight the way he wants to fight. We’ll see on Saturday. But if that were me, that would be a really tall order, and it seems like he’s stacking the order against himself."
As for Evans own future, the 34-year old fighter isn’t sure how long he’ll continue on. But the one thing he says has happened since his lethargic showing against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156 is a rediscovery of hunger in fighting. Before that bout he has been pretty vocal about how he was going through the motions. As long as he has the desire intact, Evans says he won’t put a time limit on how long he’ll compete.
"I ask myself that all the time," he said. "I was in a place in my career where it just wasn’t fun for me anymore. I made it through that rough patch, because after you’ve seen everything, seen behind the curtain of Oz, it kind of changes the way you feel about it. By that I mean, you see how the whole system works, you see the politics in it, and to not be bogged down by the politics of the sport and still keeping your competitive nature, it was hard for me at first.
"But now, I’ve got a different mindset when it comes to competing. I’ve got a different mindset when it comes to just dealing with the politics of the sport and everything else. It’s helped me get a different appreciation for it. I want to keep on fighting as long as my body allows me to. As long as God gives me the ability to keep on fighting."
Evans pointed to his Blackzilians teammate Vitor Belfort’s "second leg of excitement" at 36 years old as an example. He said Belfort’s mindset was the difference in his resurgence, which helped provide him the cues to get out of the funk he was in.
"I want to be able to retire before the sport retires me," he said. "But at the same time, I don’t want to leave the sport until I’m competitively satisfied."
Evans said that he would remain a light heavyweight even after his bout with Sonnen, which will be contested at 205 pounds. He had flirted with the idea of moving to 185 pounds after dropping two in a row, but the weight cut was a concern, as well as the idea that he wouldn’t gain anything positionally as a middleweight from where he’s at as a light heavyweight.