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Rashad Evans on his return: 'I'm going out the way I want to'

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

HOUSTON -- What old is new again for Rashad Evans.

Like many longtime fighters who have been put through the UFC's meat grinder, at a certain point in his career, Evans came to dread the pressures of fight week.

But as he gets ready to meet Ryan Bader in a key light heavyweight showdown at UFC 192 on Saturday night at Toyota Center, the former UFC light heavyweight champion had a newfound appreciation of the process after his first open workout session in nearly two years.

"It feels good," Evans said. "It's something that, being out so long, not having this, I definitely missed this part of it. At one point, I would get so tired of it -- ‘oh man, I gotta do this' -- but being away from it, I can see the beauty of it and appreciate it a little more."

That's the type of perspective you get when a career you love has been taken away and you wonder if you'll ever get it back. Since defeating Chael Sonnen at UFC 167 in Nov. 2013, Evans has had multiple knee surgeries, and had to drop out of more than one fight along the way.

Evans admits he nearly gave up hope on ever returning to the Octagon. But when push came to shove, the former champ, who turned 36 on Friday, wasn't going to let his career end on such a note.

"For awhile, I gave up and started to get down on myself and put on a little weight," Evans said. "I started feeling sorry for myself, then I was like, ‘you know what, man, I can't go out like this.' If my story's going to end, I'm going to go out the way I want to, I want to go out there and compete."

Evans isn't sure where things will stand on Saturday night, as Jon Jones' expected return has tampered down expectations that the winner of his fight with Bader will be next for a light heavyweight title shot following Satuday's Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson encounter. So while he's not dismissing the future entirely, Evans is appreciative simply to once again have the opportunity to compete.

"I definitely want to see it go further, but I think one fight at a time is a great approach," Evans said. "When you focus on one fight at a time, you appreciate that one fight. When you put too much on your plate, you have a tendency to lose focus and really not appreciate what you have in front of you, so for me, for this one fight, I'm not trying to retire any time soon, but I think going out there and learning to appreciate one fight at a time is the way it should be."

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