There are things former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans will and won't do.
First up, getting healthy and returning to the Octagon is 'Suga's' top priority. He will do that. As he told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour, he suspects early 2015 is when he'll finally be able to get off the sidelines.
"I want to return in February," Evans said, since being on the proverbial bench from an injury he sustained in February of this year. "That's just me giving myself enough time to make sure that I feel comfortable getting back in there because I know when I get back in there, there's nothing but tough guys in my way. I'm definitely going to have a tough fight coming back. I want to be ready for that."
And does he have anyone in mind he'd like to fight specifically?
"I was thinking like that earlier and all like, 'It'd be fun to fight Glover [Teixeira] or whoever', but honestly speaking, the way things are shaping up right now in my weight class, whoever I fight is going to be an interesting match up because I've got a lot to prove coming back from an injury and trying to make that push for the title," he confessed. "Whoever they have up there, whoever is ready for me, whoever they're going to put me up against, I'm ready for whatever."
That's all conjecture and speculation, though. What's real and more recent is the accomplishment of his Blackzilians teammate Anthony Johnson, who bludgeoned Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in just 44 seconds of the first round of their UFC on FOX 12 bout on Saturday. While Evans wasn't in attendance at the event, he made sure he watched the bout. And like everyone else, he was utterly blown away.
"Oh, I did watch it, I did watch," he acknowledged. "It was on the big screen at this event [I attended] and it was just brutal, man.
"Anthony just showed everybody that, you know what, he's a contender, and he does have that beast mentality. I talked to him before the fight and I was like, 'How you feeling?' and he said, 'Like a beast!'. I know when he says that and the face that he makes. I'm like, 'He's definitely feeling like a beast right now.'"
As a friend, training partner, mentor and fellow light heavyweight, Evans is positioned better than most to make sense of Johnson's stunning development. As Evans tells it - which he is all too happy to do - it comes from understanding his own mistakes and doing what's necessary to not be defined by them.
"There's a saying, you know, 'In the valley, I grow.' It was in AJ's valley of his career where he grew, where he was out of the UFC and had to fight in smaller shows. He didn't really know what his mixed martial arts career would really be. A lot of people said a lot of bad things about him and that's where he grew to be the person we see right now.
"It was all the negative things," Evans continued. "All the disappointment and heartbreak that he himself had, that he did to himself that allowed him to grow up to where he is right now. Now he's got that hunger. Now he's got that belief. He knows he's the best. He just wants to go out there and prove it. Now everybody else is seeing what he's been harnessing and working on for the last year and a half."
The admiration is nice and certainly sincere, but they both occupy top spots in the UFC's 205-pound division. Does that mean a possible bout between the two is possible? After all, Evans was signed to fight his friend Daniel Cormier before being injured in training.
As it turns out, that's something Evans simply won't do.
"We fight all the time," he said of training with 'Rumble'. "We fight more than the UFC can pay us, I'll tell you that. We fight every single day. We're each other's number one training partners. So, would I fight him professionally? No, I wouldn't. I don't need to fight him. We feed off each other in a lot of different ways and I can't fight him.
"And you're like, 'Oh my god, we've heard this before,'" Evans said, referencing his well-publicized unwillingness to fight one-time teammate Jon Jones before actually competing against him upon leaving their once shared camp. "I believe with the relationship that Anthony and I have, that if that bridge ever needed to get crossed, we'll find a way to handle it in a different way than I did the first time."
Speaking of which, Evans and Jones recently spoke when the two were in Baltimore for UFC 172. Evans claims the conversation was not only cordial, but healthy. The two couldn't be called friends, but they're long past being enemies, too. He and Jones, Evans explained, were willing to let bygones be bygones.
"You know, it was the first time we had a conversation in a long time and it was something that really need to be had because a lot of things were left unsaid. A lot of in-between people going back and forth between both parties," he explained. "It was actually good to have a conversation where we got to hash out and talk about a lot of things that were said. It was definitely good that we talked."
As good as it was, however, training with Jones to help him prepare for his upcoming title defense against Cormier is not something he's prepared to do.
Like the case with Johnson, this is also something Evans just won't do.
"I couldn't do it. Like I said, I have no problem with Jon, but at the same time, there's a couple of factors in the way. One, I have an outstanding relationship with DC. I've known DC since college and the beginning of his career and everything else like that. I can't see myself giving away any kind of inside information on DC.
"I couldn't give away game plans or what I would do and it's just because, not only that, we all may compete against each other. I would love a chance to get to fight Jon again. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a fighter and a champion and what he's done for the last few years. I definitely would like to get a crack at him again. I'm sure DC and I might cross paths as well in the cage again, too."
Given what he knows about Jones and how close he is to Cormier, does Evans have someone he'd point to as the odds-on favorite? Not really, Evans noted, and that comes from a place of respect for both competitors.
"That's difficult because I know Jon had a very close fight with [Alexander] Gustafsson, but then I thought he came back very well and very dominant against Glover Teixeira, really showing no fear at all. Beating the guy with the exact game plan in which he thought he was going to beat Jon in. Really just taking it to him on the inside. From an outside analytical point of view, you would've never thought that was going to happen. It showed that he's growing that much in his confidence. He showed that if he does train hard and really, really does focus, he does have another level that he can hit.
"Now, on the other hand," he continued, "when we see DC, who is not like anybody he's ever faced before because of his ability to take anybody down in any kind of way and it seems to be in his last few fights, if he wants you on the ground, you're going to get on the ground. He's going to take you down. Now what's going to be interesting to see is how Jon Jones is able to handle that or counter that with someone who controls the pace any time they want to. It's a very interesting match-up and it's hard for me to say right now who gets what, but the Jon Jones that was preparing for Gustafsson - the mind set - I think he's going to try to carry that over to DC now that they have a feud going on. He's definitely going to try to make him that much more on point on fight night."
Evans does have a side in this fight and it's with his long-time friend. But with age and experience comes maturity, even against former rivals. For as much as Evans believes in and supports his friend, he is the first to tell you he positively cannot discount the remarkable run of Jones.
And while that sounds like a fighter hedging his bets, it's also almost unheard of for a friend to not outright declare their other friend's glory is all but destined.
For Evans, this one is too close too call. He will cheer for Cormier, but it sounds like he won't rule it out anything from the likes of Jones.
"DC's my brother, man. DC's my guy, so I think it goes without saying, but if I'm not speaking on emotion, not speaking on any kind of personal relationship between the two of them, I would say it's a really hard one for me to call," he said.
"It's hard to honestly discount what Jones has done in the light heavyweight division for the last few years. He really hasn't had a close fight except for the Gustafsson fight. He's really beat everybody by that much. It's hard to say, 'DC's going to destroy him,' because if I was to say that, then I really wouldn't be paying attention to what's been happening to what he's been doing to everybody else the last few years."