On Saturday, just one week after his important win at UFC 161, Rashad Evans will be in New York to support his Blackzilians teammate, Tyrone Spong. Evans, you see, holds Spong in the highest professional regard, so he jumped at the opportunity to watch Spong's handiwork in person as the kickboxing phenom attempts to plow through an eight-man tournament field at GLORY 9 New York.
The thing is, even though he can watch Spong train any time he wants to, this is different. Even though he can spar with Spong whenever he wants, he just doesn't think it's a good idea. Evans may be a former UFC champion, but he knows his limits. And when it comes to standup striking, he's not in Spong's league. The pride within him won't even allow him to pretend it, or to offer some vague words that will disguise the truth.
Ask Evans how he does against Spong when they do match up in practice, and his demeanor changes. The wide smile falls off his face. His eyes look off to some faraway place. He suddenly has trouble completing full sentences. It's not something he wants to recall, engage in or imagine.
"S---," he says, almost breathing out the word as a sigh before letting it fade into the ether. "I can’t spar with Tyrone, man. You crazy? He doesn’t … He can't go like 100 percent when he spars with me. He can’t. It’d be bad. It’d be bad for me.
"I would have to take his ass down right away," Evans continued. "He’d throw one punch and I would be shooting in on him, for sure. Because his hand speed and his boxing, the way he hits, it’s ridiculous. And his kicks? Forget about it. I'm not getting … I told Tyrone, I seen him kick the bag, I said, 'If you kick me like that, we are not friends no more. Don’t call me, don’t nothing. We are not friends anymore.'"
This is the kind of jaws-agape, head-shaking reaction Spong often receives from observers. At 27 years old, he has already put together an impressive history of success. Though kickboxing records are not maintained by an official database, Wikipedia has Spong with 69 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw and 1 no contest; Spong himself says he's won over 100 kickboxing fights and has yet to hit double-digit losses.
And amazingly, kickboxing isn't his sole focus. In Nov. 2012, he made his MMA debut and knocked out Travis Bartlett inside of the first round. He plans to fight again for the World Series of Fighting in August. And after that, he expects to make his professional boxing debut.
Evans thinks boxing might be Spong's future focus. The way he sees it, once Spong no longer has to worry about kicks, and can still fight at his lightning pace, his opponents are going to have their work cut out for them.
So how does he do it? Why does he do it?
"I like to fight, period," Spong told MMA Fighting a few days before his first-round matchup with Michael Duut. "I've always liked to test myself and be in little scraps. I just love it, the competition of man to man. It's something that I truly love."
Spong grew up knowing he wasn't meant for an office job. He started with kickboxing in his early teens, and set his sights on small, incremental goals. First he just wanted a fight. Then he wanted to become Dutch champion, the European champion, and eventually, world champion. As he reached each goal, he looked for new challenges.
That's how we've gotten to the point where Spong is considering simultaneous careers in three demanding combat sports. He admits that it's an extraordinary undertaking, but says it's what was necessary after briefly reaching a point of boredom with kickboxing.
"It’s really challenging," Spong said, "But it’s something I need right now in my career. I've seen it all. I've been through it all. It's something I need to motivate me. It's to keep me out of the steady mode of the same drills and the same practices. I get to switch. I’m an intelligent fighter. I need something to trigger my brain and to think about and work on."
That's even the case when he doesn't particularly love what he's doing. He admits he doesn't really like the wrestling and grappling that goes along with MMA, but still does it anyway (Evans says he's improved greatly in both). He also doesn't much care for the tournament format of Saturday night's GLORY 9 show, but says he did it for the organization, as well as for the challenge of it all.
That's why MMA and boxing are appealing to him now. There is the challenge but there is also the money, and Spong says that as a family man and the father of three kids, he has to ultimately go with the opportunities that pay him the best.
That could be boxing. In one breath, Spong says he'll take his time to establish himself, but in another, he says he believes he can be competing for a title within a year or two. In the past, he's said he'd love to fight either of the Klitschko brothers. Either way, his ambitious can hardly be contained. If you're fighting somewhere in the boxing, kickboxing or MMA worlds, Spong might be coming for you.
"I like all three, but the thing is, I'm a prizefighter," he said. "I want to make sure I win all my fights. I want to give the fans something new. I want to be the new rush of air people talk about. I like challenges and I like fighting. I used to like fighting without pay. Now I get paid good for it. I'll fight anything. The way that I'm gifted and blessed with the ability to adjust and to learn everything so fast, I have to try new things. I'm gifted and blessed, and I'm very thankful that I have those abilities, so I use them."