Revitalized to fight Chael Sonnen, Rashad Evans admits he 'was just going through the motions'

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The night before Chael Sonnen tweeted out his latest callout via Photoshop, he and Rashad Evans were seated inches away from each other, waxing poetic about Carlos Condit for UFC Fight Night 27's post-fight show. Back then a collision between the two fighter-turned-analysts was the furthest thing from Evans' mind. But things have a funny way of working out in this sport.

"Him and Dana (White) are close. Chael is about big fights, and he's about the fights that are going to bring him the biggest draw, so I'm sure I made more sense to him than anybody else," Evans said of his UFC 167 co-main event clash against Sonnen on Monday's The MMA Hour.

"I wasn't surprised because we'd talked about it. I think one thing with Chael is that he went out there and had a good fight against Shogun (Rua), so then he got confidence. He knows that, ‘You know what, I can compete against these guys at this weight class.' I think when he went against Jon (Jones), that being the first outing, it didn't give him much confidence to be in the weight class because he got dismissed so early. But now he went in there, fought Shogun. Shogun's been a top-five fighter for like the past four or five years. It just made him think that he can stay at 205."

The Sonnen-Evans match-up was an unexpected one for many, especially considering Sonnen's prior insistence on returning to the middleweight division. However Evans believes the surprising quick finish of Rua proved that the loquacious Oregonian may actually be better suited for his heavier new digs.

"I think that he's better at 205, and I'm going to say that because he's not cutting a lot of weight," Evans said. "When you're not cutting a lot of weight, that's something that comes to be a factor later on in the rounds. For a fighter like Chael who's a grinder, I think not having to cut weight is going to actually play to his advantage, because now he's going to actually have all that endurance that he wouldn't normally have because he's fighting close to his natural weight."

Evans admits it'll be awkward fighting a man with whom he's developed an intimate on-screen rapport. He's no stranger to trading blows with acquaintances, yet even though the present situation differs wildly from his feud with Jon Jones, Evans believes it's best if he avoids any studio work with Sonnen prior to November 16, 2013.

"Hate is a strong word, but I've got to start strongly disliking him," he laughed.

"It's all good, man. It doesn't change the way I feel about Chael. I still think he's one of the best guys inside the sport and outside of the cage. But don't get this wrong, me liking him is not going to stop me from trying to get after him."

As the co-feature on the UFC's 20th anniversary show, a Georges St-Pierre headlined pay-per-view no less, the bout serves as a return to prominence for Evans, who not long ago faced questions about his desire to continue competing following a lethargic performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

A winner since he began his career in MMA, Evans stared eye-to-eye with a potential three-fight losing streak for the first time ever leading into his UFC 161 bout against Dan Henderson. At the time Evans downplayed the significance of the dreaded number, but looking back, the stress of dropping three straight contests was very real indeed.

"I'd like to say it wasn't, but it really was, man," Evans admitted. "When your back is against the wall and you've got your whole career, everything you've worked hard for, and it comes down to losing a couple fights in a row, it does stuff to you. It does rent space in your head. The system that's created in the UFC, you lose three fights and it's like you're on that bubble. You don't know what's going to happen, and you don't ever want to be in that position. I hold myself at a higher standard. That's something I did not want for myself. So when I was fighting against Dan Henderson, I was like, ‘Man, I've just got to get through this fight. I've got to get this win. I don't care how it gets done, but I've got to get this win.' And it felt good to know that I've still got it."

"People say a lot of things," Evans continued. "You can say it don't bother you, but at the same time, it does find a way to seep into your mind a little bit. When I was going through my losing streak, I wasn't on the internet, I wasn't doing none of that. Twitter will hurt your feelings, man. I stayed away from all of that because what happens is that you'll start reading all that stuff, and then it'll just stay in your mind, and then you'll start second guessing yourself when normally you wouldn't. It comes down to, you've just got to believe, no matter what."

Now that the threat of the executioner's ax no longer lingers above his head, and Evans is freed to reflect on what caused his listlessness, the 33-year-old is changing things up this time around. He plans to kick off camp in New Jersey under the watchful eye of Renzo Gracie and striking coach Mark Henry, before shifting back down to his familiar Blackzilian team in Florida.

It sounds cliché, but Evans simply believes he grew tired -- tired of training, tired of the endless climb, tired of the grind. Yet "Suga" knows by now, the sweet taste of victory tends to re-awaken that fire.

"It's not something I'm going to try to find at night. It's something, I've got to cross it every day. I've got to remember, okay, this is why I'm doing it," Evans said. "See, the biggest part, what happened to me before, is the fact that I forgot why I was doing it. I didn't enjoy it anymore. I was to the point where I was just going through the motions. I didn't enjoy the process, because it's all about the process. You've got to really dig deep and you've got to really love every single thing about the game.

"The grind, the grind is where it's at. So I gotta fall in love with that grind again. And that grind is what brings that dog out. Because when I'm out there and I'm doing that extra work, when I'm hitting that bag and I'm making myself go until I can't go no more, until I want to pass out because I'm so dizzy with exhaustion, when I do that, I know somebody has to pay for that. So when I'm on and when my mindset is going like that, on fight night it becomes easy, being I've been breeding that dog all through training camp. On fight night I get to let it out."

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