Rashad Evans reveals he tore his ACL, projects a fall return

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC 170 didn’t go the way of UFC 151 (that is, disappear from existence), but it survived under strange circumstances. With a little over a week before Rashad Evans was to welcome Daniel Cormier to the 205-pound division in a co-main event, Evans hurt his knee and was replaced by little-known Patrick Cummins. Though people were all over the map as to whether or not this was the right choice by the scrambling UFC matchmakers, the fight ended up playing out to expectation, with Cormier shutting Cummins down in a little over a minute.

As for Evans, who was riding a two-fight winning streak heading into the Cormier bout with a sense of "revitalization," there was still an air of mystery surrounding the whole thing. For instance, with him having appeared on a UFC 170 conference call shortly before the UFC announced he was out with a knee injury, when did he actually hurt himself? And what exactly was the injury to his knee?

The one-time light heavyweight champion appeared on The MMA Hour on Monday to talk about it all for the first time. And it turns out that people who detected an air of rigidness in Evans’ voice during the conference call were right to assume something was wrong.

"[The knee injury] was the last practice of the camp," Evans told host Ariel Helwani. "Towards the end of practice, I was doing a wall drill, where guys are trying to hold me against the wall, and we were wrestled up and [training partner Cezar Mutante] slipped out of position and he ended up landing on my knee at a certain angle. I landed on it wrong and I messed my knee up pretty bad, and at that point that was before the conference call."

Evans didn’t blame Mutante, calling it an accident, but did explain exactly when it happened. Turns out the injury happened on Wednesday, not long before he appeared on the conference call. Evans had already been to the doctor to have an MRI done on his knee, and later appeared on UFC Tonight, still waiting word from doctors on his radiology report. Though he grew increasingly doubtful he’d be able to compete, he said he was initially optimistic.

"I didn’t think it was that serious actually," he said. "I got up and walked out of practice and was able to walk, and I was like it’s just a little sore. I was like, maybe I’ll get some anti-inflammatory, rub it down and it’ll be alright. As the day went on it just got way more unstable and it swelled up, and I was just like, man, this is more [serious] than ever before."

Turns out he tore the ACL in his right knee, which will keep him shelved for six to eight months. Evans already had surgery to repair the ACL and to "clean up" the meniscus, and says that now he is already into his therapy on the "road back to recovery."

"The hardest thing is to think, man, I can’t bend my knee…I can’t believe it. Bending your knee is like the easiest thing in the world to do and it’s something you take for granted."

Evans also conceded that an injury like this is new to him, having gone his entire athletic career -- which spans well before his collegiate days wrestling at Michigan State through a decade of cage fighting -- without an injury as serious as this one.

The closest he came was back when he was slated to fight Mauricio Rua in 2011, when a strained MCL sidelined him.

"But it was nowhere near like this," he said. "I’ve been competing and training doing sports for 25 years and never have had to go under the knife for anything, never been injured. Never happened before. And to have something like this happen, I was like well, it’s been 25 years of just putting my body through pure hell, at some point something was going to give. I’m happy to have gone as long as I have without going under the knife for any reason."

If all goes well, Evans projected he could be fighting again by fall, which is a long time to contemplate what might have happened against Cormier, and everything that goes with it.

"It was hard for me, it was really hard," he said. "I really wanted to cry. I had put so much into the camp, and I really wanted to go out there and have a great performance. I did everything absolutely right on in camp, I thought everything was perfect, I felt the best I’ve ever felt ever competing…and just for something like that to happen, it was heartbreaking. Really heartbreaking."

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