LOS ANGELES -- Rashad Evans might have some tough decisions coming up.
His Blackzilians teammate Anthony Johnson is challenging for the UFC light heavyweight title in May. Vitor Belfort, another one of Evans' training partners, fights for the UFC middleweight title the same night at UFC 187 in Las Vegas.
Evans, who is still on his way back from knee surgery, currently fights at light heavyweight. He could potentially compete at middleweight. But if Johnson and Belfort both win, he knows one thing: he would not, under any circumstances, fight either of them.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion won't make that mistake again.
In 2011, Evans was supposed to fight Mauricio Rua for the belt, but got injured. Jon Jones, Evans' then-teammate at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA, stepped in and won the belt. Jones said at the time that he would be OK with fighting Evans, even though they were friends and each other's main sparring partner.
Evans felt like he saw the writing on the wall. He left Jackson's and helped start the Blackzilians in Boca Raton, Fla. He and Jones ended up fighting in 2012 amid a boatload of trash talk. Evans wishes the whole thing went down differently.
"For me, Jon Jones and that whole experience taught me a lot," Evans told MMAFighting.com during an Ultimate Fighter press tour in Hollywood this week. "Jon Jones was one of my favorite training partners and I would have loved to be able to see what we could have done together if we were able to stay together. Our training sessions were really good. We had some really good training sessions. I felt like we could have learned a lot from each other and raised each other's game up."
Three years have passed since the fight, which Jones won by unanimous decision, and Evans has had a long time to think about it. "Suga" has mostly patched things up with Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn and Jones. They are on speaking terms, though Evans admits "it's never going to be what it was before."
"I think at some point you have to look back and see your role in the situation," Evans said. "Looking back and seeing my whole role in the situation, I didn't handle everything right."
Evans, 35, still keeps up with Jones' career and not just because the two are in the same division. The two are not necessarily friendly, but Evans said he checks up on Jones once in awhile through Jones' manager Malki Kawa -- like when Jones tested positive for cocaine in January. Evans said part of him wishes he was still there for Jones as a mentor during those times. (The interview with Evans was conducted before Jones' felony hit-and-run arrest last week.)
"Even though Jon does amazing things inside the cage, Jon is still young," Evans said. "You give somebody so young so much power, so much freedom, they don't always make the right decisions. He's human and sometimes people think things never catch up with then. Sometimes they catch up with you at the wrong time."
Jones, 27, and Evans encountered each other last year at UFC 172 before Jones' fight with Glover Teixeira. Evans was working at the time as a FOX Sports analyst. Jones told Ariel Helwani then that he "missed" Evans.
"I saw Rashad [Evans] and I honestly missed him," Jones said. "It was weird. I just missed him. He's a guy that was definitely like a role model in a way when I first started off and I'll always remember looking up to him.
"Even though we have fought, it is so long in the past now and I legitimately missed him."
Evans said he wishes that some parts of what happened back in 2011 and 2012 "would have been handled differently." And that goes for himself, too. He finds himself watching Jones fights and somewhat cheering on his former friend.
"He's one of my favorite fighters to watch," Evans said. "Even when he fights, I kind of root for the guy. I get excited when I see him pull off moves that nobody else can do. I still got that feeling for the guy. I don't hate him and there's no reason for me to act like I do hate him. Would I fight him? Yeah, I'd fight him. But for the most part I don't hate the guy."
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