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Rashad Evans realistic about his return from retirement at 42: ‘I’m not disillusioned’ about my time left in the sport

The last thing Rashad Evans wants in his return from retirement is to become a cautionary tale.

The former UFC light heavyweight champion will compete for the first time in nearly four years while serving as the co-main event for the upcoming Eagle FC 44 card in Miami where he faces submission specialist Gabriel Checco.

While Evans certainly isn’t the first fighter to hang up his gloves only to put them back on again, he’s being realistic about his comeback without making any grand declarations when it comes to his future.

“It’s one [fight] and let’s see what happens,” Evans said on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I’m 42 years old and I’m not disillusioned to the point where I’m thinking I’m going to go on another five years of being able to competing at the highest level.

“I’m competing against guys who are a lot younger and have different ambitions where they want to be in the fight game. So it’s different. I’m working at a disadvantage here in that sense but at the same time, I do enjoy it and I still want to go out there and still show what I got.”

When he called it a career back in 2018, Evans was on the tail end of a five fight losing streak in the UFC including a brutal knockout loss to Anthony Smith in what was his final appearance inside the octagon.

After retiring, Evans focused on being a dad, building businesses, serving as an analyst on UFC broadcasts and eventually coaching the next generation of fighters near his home in Florida.

It was through those training sessions that the former Ultimate Fighter season 2 winner started getting the hunger to compete again and he recognized that right away because it’s something he didn’t feel in the last few fights of his career.

“Ever since I retired, I’ve been making my way back to MMA as far as my love for it and the feeling I had for it when I originally started,” Evans explained. “Because towards the end of my career, I kind of fizzled out to the point where I really didn’t want to be in there. I wasn’t really connected to the fight. I really wasn’t bringing forth the part of myself that I know I can bring forth.

“It was bittersweet towards the end of my career in the UFC but through the years of training afterwards, I started to find that love again for fighting and fighting for MMA.”

Physically, Evans wasn’t necessarily in a bad place but he didn’t have his mind right to deal with the stresses that come along with a sport as mentally taxing as mixed martial arts.

Looking back now, he recognizes that all the preparation in the world couldn’t have helped him get the job done when he just wasn’t mentally present in those fights.

“That’s what led to retirement,” Evans said. “I didn’t feel like I could really bring it mentally anymore. Cause being a fighter, being physically ready is one thing but being ready mentally is a whole other thing in itself. Having the right ‘why’ you’re doing it is very important. When you don’t reassess that ‘why’ and you don’t have that focus on why you’re doing it, you can kind of get lost in the sauce of it all.

“If you’re not connected with the sport, it’s very hard to do because the nerves of it, what you’re getting ready to do, it starts to really weigh on you in a different kind of way when you’re not connected to the sport.”

According to Evans, another major component in his comeback came during the past two years while the world has been trying to survive a global pandemic.

“With the way things are with COVID and things that are still going on with COVID as far as all the different restrictions and all the things we’re being subjected to, it almost felt as if we’re running out of time to do the thing that we truly want to do,” Evans said. “Because every single day you inch closer and closer to having more restrictions put on us.

“A lot of people don’t like to think about it. A lot of people don’t like to talk about it but the reality of the situation is if you look at other countries, they’re on lockdown and some of them are facing some crazy, drastic measures and when you look the roadmap of where the world is headed, it just doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a world that allows this freedom of expression. So for someone that truly loves this as a freedom of expression, if can just do this one more time, then I wanted to do it.”

Because he’s been around the sport for so many years, Evans has seen more than enough examples of fighters returning from retirement for all the wrong reasons whether it’s just financially motivated or simply not being able to walk away from being a competitor.

For Evans, he’s absolutely approaching his second chapter from a selfish place because this is just something he wants to do for himself.

That’s why Evans isn’t putting any unnecessary expectations on his comeback rather than just saying that he’s back for at least one more fight and then he’ll see what happens from here.

“I’m just doing it for me,” Evans said. “That’s what this whole journey from when I retired has been about. My whole experiences, the journey that I’ve been on. Just finding myself again outside of the sport, it was really about me getting back to me. Competing from that place where I’ve come to learn myself from because I feel as if when I was competing, I started out one way but then just getting caught and being part of the flow of things and getting caught in the fame of it all.

“You kind of lose a part of yourself that’s there when you first started. The one that enjoys every single part of it and just yearns to do it on a different level. I lost connection with that part. I’m at the point now where I really, really love it again and I’m in love with fighting again.”