ATLANTA -- On Wednesday afternoon, someone asked Rashad Evans what his best advantage over Jon Jones is. Evans' face lit up, as though he was about to offer up a secret he'd been wanting to share.
"You're going to laugh when I say this, but it's that I'm small," he said. "I'm smaller than him so I have the size advantage. I'm going to be all over him, like a little spider monkey."
Yes, he's small alright. Jones is 6-foot-4, Evans is 5-foot-11. Jones has an 84.5-inch reach, and Evans has a 75-inch reach. That's a lot of distance to navigate, but Evans is confident he can do it, because he's done it before. Ah yes, this is where the part about practice comes in. The part about which one got the better of the other back when they were teammates. About whether Jones was just a young kid learning on the fly or someone who was a threat from the beginning.
The truth is out there somewhere, but only they know it.
Evans speaks with the confidence of a veteran, one with not only past success in the octagon, but past success against his UFC 145 opponent, Jones. But according to him, it's not simply about what he knows he can do, it's about what Jones knows, too. How they stacked up against each other two years ago isn't really important in the grand scheme of things because it's so long ago. But it is important in the mental edge it has offered, which is to say that it's really important.
This is especially true when it comes to wrestling, the stylistic base for both.
"For the most part he can say what he wants to say, but it's going to be different for him because he knows that I can take him down," Evans said. "Before, he could never even imagine somebody taking him down because they didn't. But he knows I can because I have.
"It's a fact. I can take him down," he continued. "He understands that so he's got to fight with the idea that 'OK, I've got to be careful because this guy could take me down because he has before.'"
That's not to say that Evans is going to be hellbent on the takedown. In fact, he says he's going into the fight without any concrete idea of how to approach his attack. Instead, he wants to be in the moment, to let his instincts guide him.
The way he explained it, when he's at his best, he doesn't think at all. He simply reacts. And because his brain isn't consciously processing anything, the action in front of him slows down.
"I don't even know what I'm going to do," he said. Honestly, I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm just going to out there and fight, let it just hang out, just be raw, let it come to me. I can't sit here and say my mind set is made up to do one thing because I know Jon is one of those athletes that's going to come out there and try to make me think. That's what Jon does really good. He makes fighters think. When you do make a fighter think, that's when you're able to attack. He gets guys thinking, gets them puzzled, and then he's able to do his game plan and gets them doing whatever he wants to do. My goal is to go out there and not think at all. Just react and see what happens."
A reactionary style is one that is fairly dependent on speed. Evans essentially acknowledged this by offering that in this fight "timing is everything." The transitions from striking to wrestling are the gray areas that will determine his success or failure. And speed is often diminished with age.
Evans isn't exactly an old man, but at 32, he's eight years Jones' elder. Jones made reference to that while talking about scouting film on Evans. He mentioned that he had watched Evans' last bout against Phil Davis around 65 times, studying his guard passes, setups and other tendencies. That's exactly the opposite approach that Evans has taken. Evans does not want to think at all; Jones can't have enough information.
But he also made reference to Evans' age by noting he had watched tape of him "in his prime, and I've watched his fights that he's fighting now." Does that mean he believes Evans is no longer in his prime? Jones took a long pause and simply said, "I don't know."
Evans smiled and shook his head at that, but the truth might come on Saturday, when his veteran fight instincts must be at their sharpest to overcome Jones' youthful aggressiveness and creativity.