By Thomas Gerbasi
Before The Ultimate Fighter, Rashad Evans was just another talented up and comer looking for a break. That break came in 2005 when he was tabbed to compete on the second season of the Spike TV reality show, but even though he was going to be in the nation’s living rooms every week, fight fans didn’t know what to make of the former Michigan State wrestler.
Yet four fights later, the 5-11 New York native had surpassed all expectations, defeating future friend and teammate Keith Jardine, Mike Whitehead, Tom Murphy, and Brad Imes to win the heavyweight division of the show, earning a UFC contract in the process.
“Winning The Ultimate Fighter was definitely a life-changing experience for me because I got to see what it was like to be a professional fighter and I got to see a lot of different sides that a lot of people who just come into the UFC don’t really get to see because I had to deal with the pressure to have all these fights and to perform,” said Evans. “It was more mental than physical, but the mental part is definitely what helped me get to the next level. When I came on the show, I was one of those fighters who was barely supposed to be on the show.”
He obviously proved that he belonged there, and when he dropped to the light heavyweight division after the show’s conclusion, he again began a tour of silencing the doubters, beating the likes of Stephan Bonnar, Jason Lambert, Michael Bisping and Chuck Liddell en route to a light heavyweight title fight against Forrest Griffin that he won via third round TKO at UFC 92 last December. Evans would lose the belt in May against Lyoto Machida, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he is still one of the premier 205-pounders in the world. Now he comes full circle as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights, and it’s his turn to show the hopefuls in the house that no matter what anyone says, a fighter controls his own destiny when the bell rings.
“Nobody had faith in me, and then to win that season (of The Ultimate Fighter), to do as well as I have done and then to be champion, and come back and see my picture up there, it was like ‘yeah, I guess I really have accomplished something,’” he said. “There’s nothing like going out there and being the only one out there. Everything’s on your shoulders. When you play another sport, especially a team sport, sometimes you have other teammates to place the blame on if things don’t go your way. You really don’t have to face yourself. But when you’re inside the cage and it’s just you and another person, then you get to see the real side of you and see what kind of person you really are and what you’re really made of.”
Oh yeah, and beating heated rival Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson wouldn’t be too bad either, especially with a fight looming between the two former champions in the future.
“I want to beat him at everything,” said Evans of Jackson. “I don’t want him to get no wins. I don’t want him to win one single fight and I don’t think he’s gonna win one single fight. I want to demoralize him here, so when we fight, he’s still demoralized.”