Former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad “Suga” Evans has been on a rollercoaster ride the last two years. After starting off 2012 with an impressive, grinding decision win over Phil Davis at UFC on Fox 2, Evans got his long-awaited grudge match with former friend and rival Jon Jones.
Despite lasting the distance, Evans was clearly outclassed by the superior reach of his champion opponent. The decision loss prompted a bit of a slide for Evans, who returned nearly ten months later to face Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156 in February 2013. “Suga” turned in a disappointing performance, losing to “Lil’ Nog” and leaving UFC president Dana White doubting Evans’ true motivation to remain at the top of MMA.
Evans began an attempt to silence his critics against former Pride champion Dan Henderson in the main event of last June’s UFC 161. It was a close fight that saw Evans rocked by a first round jab, but ultimately “Suga” weathered the storm to take home a closely contested split decision. The big name win gave Evans a bit of much-needed momentum that he parlayed that into a UFC 166 co-main event bout with Chael Sonnen.
In that fight, it looked like the Evans of old had returned. Pushing the pace and putting the “American Gangster” on his back, Evans rocked Sonnen with a huge elbow before taking his back and finishing the job with a torrent of blows. He has apparently regained his fire, but he’s been tasked with one of the toughest tests of his illustrious career when he squares off with former Olympic wrestler Daniel Cormier in the co-main event of February 22’s UFC 170.
The fight will mark Cormier’s initial foray into the light heavyweight division. Much has been made about Cormier’s decision to leave the UFC heavyweight division despite his undefeated record. He was headed for a title bout with good friend and training partner Cain Velasquez, something that “DC” simply isn’t willing to do.
So now Cormier will endure one of the toughest weight cuts of his life. He was forced to withdraw from the 2008 Summer Games after he fried his kidneys trying to make weight, so there’s understandably a lot of doubt surrounding Cormier’s ability to make 205 pounds.
Evans has his doubts about that. He also has his doubts about fighting a friend in Cormier, but he knows that this is the fight business and you have to take the cookies when they’re passed. Evans recently appeared on MMA Junkie Radio to discuss the dynamics surrounding his bout with Cormier, saying that the two accomplished fighters still talk:
“I think I told him something about sending him some Popeye’s. That’s why he can never make weight, because he loves Popeye’s Chicken. He couldn’t make 211 (pounds) five years ago or so for the Olympics, so it’s going to be hard if he’s a little bit older. So it’s going to be hard, but maybe he has discipline now that he didn’t have then.”
Evans also explained that their friendship has understandably put on hold for the time being. After all, they are preparing to beat each other into submission next month. That takes a special kind of mental preparation to separate being friends from fighting, but Evans was and is a good friend of Sonnen’s, the man whom he absolutely destroyed last November. Evans touched on keeping it professional:
“I think he’s kind of scared to text me now. But the thing about it is, you’ve got to put it on hold. You can’t be palling around, because it’s a fight. If I allow myself to think any other way than he’s someone who’s trying to separate me from consciousness, I’ve already lost. So Feb. 22, I don’t have no friend.”
That’s about the only attitude he could have as a fighter, because if he allows that friendship to creep into the bout, he’ll be on his way to losing like he said. But he admitted that he and Cormier share a certain common bond that makes punching him in the face a bit harder than usual:
“The thing that makes it hard, as well, is that most of the black fighters, we’re all pretty cool with each other. We all know each other; we have that same bond and connection, because this is pretty much a white man’s sport. It’s majority white-dominated, and we’re still trying to get our footing in the whole business. When we’ve got to fight each other off first, it sucks. If possible, I would not be the one to pick them off first. But at the same time, this is the fight business. If you want to fight, you’ve got to fight everybody.”
“Suga” sounds like he has his mind right heading into a pivotal bout against Cormier. Thought to be nearly done following his loss to “Lil’ Nog,” Evans has righted the ship with two straight wins. However, the wins, while solid in their own right, were against opponents who are arguably ending their runs as relevant UFC contenders.
Cormier, on the other hand, is just beginning his. Will “Suga” fight his way back towards another light heavyweight title shot by defeating ”DC"?