Boca-based UFC fighter Rashad Evans discusses what it's like to step inside the octagon.
You're clearly a polarizing figure in the sport. What have you learned about being a showman?
“I had a hard time in the beginning divorcing myself as a person from the fighter. The person who fights has to be a character; you want to be remembered. So when people are booing me, it’s not that they don’t like me the person. They don’t like that character.
“It’s like professional wrestling in that respect. That’s the entertainment side of it.”
What is it that fans don’t like about you?
“That I’m cocky. For me, when I’m in a fight, it’s psychological all the way through. I could never give my opponent a single thought that I’m second-guessing myself or worrying about anything he’s doing. Not only am I not worried, I’m super confident that I’m going to destroy him.
“I look at it this way: Not only am I going to destroy you, but you’re beneath me. You shouldn’t even be stepping in the cage with me. That’s the mind-set I exude. It’s not the most humble thing to do, but when I fight someone, the fight starts way before the physical confrontation. It starts up here first [pointing to his head]. If I can get my guy to second-guess anything he does, then I can jump on that. ... Some of that posturing and bullshit [allows me] to almost look right through him. Like I have a secret. Suddenly, the opponent is wondering, ‘What does he know?’ Now, he’s thinking about his techniques and wondering if he’s ready...That’s what I want.”
Is the psychological and also intellectual part of this sport something people don’t appreciate?
“There are so many facets of this sport, so many disciplines involved, and because of that your mind always has to be working. At the same time, you can’t think too much. You have to program yourself to be two or three steps ahead; you always do a move where you have two or three options, just in case he reacts a certain way. That way, you’re always playing with your opponent. That’s the game—you want him to react to you. If you’re reacting to him, you have to break that flow and refocus.”
You’re battling an opponent who may come at you on the ground, standing up or by kicking you—how do prepare for so many disciplines?
“That’s the most challenging part of the sport. You have to make sure you get the proper reps in for all the different areas of the sport. An opponent good on the ground may have a whole series of different techniques that can bring a fight to an end—leg locks to arm chokes to neck cranks. On your feet, you can use elbows, kicks, different punches, take-down moves. It can get really confusing...When we practice, we’re training for all these different aspects of the sports. On top of that, there is conditioning so that everything flows in one movement; the best fighters make all the techniques flow in one movement.”
“I want to be a martial artist. I don’t just want to be the guy who’s good at wrestling. It’s like a spiritual transformation, as well, when you live the martial way and you understand exactly what your opponent does. It’s great to have a base like wrestling, but at the some time I want to evolve into things I didn’t even think I could do.”
What is the moment like when you hit someone so pure that they crumble to the mat?
“I couldn’t feel that it was that kind of blow when I hit [and knocked out former champion] Chuck Liddell. I felt like I threw a good punch; it was a fluid swing. I didn’t even know Chuck was knocked out until I saw the referee over him...When the fight is happening, the action slows down so much that it’s almost like slow motion. You’re so present in the moment that time stands still. Each second feels like a minute.”