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Rashad Evans targets return by October, wants to 'jump right back into' contender fights

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LOS ANGELES -- Fans hoping Rashad Evans will be back and ready to fight Ryan Bader in two months are going to have to wait.

The former UFC light heavyweight champion told MMAFighting.com last week in Hollywood that he is targeting a return in September or October. But he does want to dive right into the deep end of the pool in the 205-pound division when he comes back.

"I don't want to start slow," said Evans, who has a prominent role as coach on this season's The Ultimate Fighter 21: Blackzilians vs. American Top Team on FOX Sports 1. "I just want to jump right back into it. I see no point in starting off slow, because this is the UFC. Anybody they put in front of me, they're gonna try to knock my head off."

Evans (19-3-1) had knee surgery last year and has not fought since November 2013. He has faced some setbacks in the last 14 or so months and has had a difficult time mentally and emotionally. But with his goal set -- to return in the fall -- Evans is keeping it positive.

"I only feel like I've scratched the surface on what I can do," Evans said. "I feel like I can hit another level and I'm gonna hit it. This right here just made it so I can bring that level out."

As for whom he would want to face, that part is up in the air. The interview was conducted before light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was suspended and stripped of his title after being arrested on felony hit-and-run charges.

"There's been a couple guys looking good," Evans said. "I'll fight anybody. I'll fight [Alexander Gustafsson]. I'll fight Glover [Teixeira]. [Ovince Saint Preux] has been doing his thing. I'll fight him. I'll fight Rampage [Jackson]. Sh*t. I don't care. I just want to go out there and compete."

With Jones out, Anthony Johnson will meet Daniel Cormier for the vacant belt in the main event of UFC 187 on May 23 in Las Vegas. Johnson is one guy Evans won't fight -- the two are teammates with the Blackzilians in South Florida.

Still, Evans doesn't see himself going down to middleweight, either, especially if Vitor Belfort, another teammate, beats champion Chris Weidman at UFC 187. Evans, now 35, said his metabolism has slowed considerably and he's walking around at about 235 pounds.

Plus, "Suga" still feels like he can be champion in the UFC at 205.

"I definitely feel there's a title run in me," Evans said. "I don't want to compete just for superfights, even though superfights are awesome and everything, you give the fans what they want to see. I feel like if you're not competing to be the best, it really kills the whole desire to compete. I want to be the top dog. That mindset, it seeps into every part of your being -- from the way you train, the way you sleep, the way you eat. There's gotta be that championship mindset. If I don't have that mindset, then I shouldn't be competing."

Evans held the title from December 2008 to May 2009 when he fell to Lyoto Machida. He still only has three losses on his record -- to Jones, Machida and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

There's no discrediting Evans' résumé and he feels like he can get right back to that excellence when he returns. The early fall is the target and that's what Evans is now working toward every day.

"I want to make sure that I set those goals in my mind, that way I'm staying diligent about my rehab and everything else like that," Evans said. "I feel like if you're not working for a goal then it's easy to get sidetracked with work and everything else that may come along and forget your ultimate goal to be in the cage. I'm a fighter and I want to be in the cage fighting."

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