I had the opportunity to speak with former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans. He's in town for UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage as he'll face the winner of this bout for the UFC light heavyweight title. A former training partner of Jones, a former foe and victor over Jackson, Evans has quite a bit of insight and analysis to offer.
In our discussion, Evans explains why he believes Rampage will defeat Jones, what Jackson's keys to victory are, comments on the ability of Jones to absorb punishment and updates us on the status of his broken thumb.
Luke Thomas: Joining us right now on the McDonalds hot line is the former UFC light heavyweight champion of the world. He awaits the winner of this weekend's main event for UFC 135. The one and only ‘Suga' Rashad Evans. Rashad, how are you, sir?
Rashad Evans: I'm doing good, man. How are you guys doing?
Luke Thomas: I'm doing very well. Happy to have you on the line. Lotta questions to ask you. I'm not even sure where to start but I guess I'll start with this: I saw on Twitter that you believe there's gonna be an upset. Talk to me why you think there's an upset because I definitely believe Jones deserves to be the favorite. It's hard for me to see a way Rampage can win even if he spent a million dollars on this camp at MusclePharm. Tell me why will Rampage win.
Rashad Evans: When it comes down, Rampage has always been a good athlete. He's got as far as he did and he built his legacy pretty much in his early career and that's when he really was just going off of brute strength and heart. Now I feel he's back at the Wolfslair and he had a really, really good training camp and he stayed in the gym at Muscle Pharm so there's really no distraction. A Rampage that's focused is a dangerous Rampage and I think that the biggest problem with Jon Jones is the fact that he's getting so overly confident and cocky that he can't get beat and all he has to do is step in the cage Saturday and collect his belt. I think that's dangerous thinking when you've got somebody in front of you who's been training hard.
Luke Thomas: One of the arguments that Jones made and I talked to him about it yesterday is that the vaunted punching power of Rampage, listen no one is saying that Rampage can't punch, but the idea that when he touches you, you go to sleep, this sort of light switch power, is grossly exaggerated. He pointed to the Hamill fight. He pointed to the Jardine fight, I mean Jardine did get knocked down but it wasn't until basically the end of the third round and he points to the Machida fight. How do you evaluate that claim?
Rashad Evans: He does have that power at a given time in the fight but at the same time, it's really hard to know when you're gonna land that blow to put somebody to sleep. I do agree in some respects that it may be a little bit exaggerated to some extent but at the same time, when you do have the punching power of Rampage, you can catch somebody and the fight could be over like that because the guy does hit hard. That's just a fact.
Luke Thomas: I may have misread this on twitter so correct me if I'm wrong. Did you say that you got to see Rampage train at MusclePharm where you were super familiar with what he did? Is that correct?
Rashad Evans: Yeah. I went to Muscle Pharm yesterday and I walked through the facility and I seen some of the things that he was doing and then I seen him and he was looking good, better than I've ever seen him before and I was actually really surprised. I just think that a guy like that that can get focused and get dialed Is a dangerous guy if he can get focused and dialed in. I think Jon Jones' mistake is he thinks he's too good right now. He thinks he can't be beat.
Luke Thomas: It seems to me and if you disagree by all means please speak up, but a key component of this fight for Rampage anyways is gonna be the managing of distance and if he stays at a distance, it's probably not gonna be the best night for him but if he can get inside and really keep Jones off balance, that's his keys to victory, but can Rampage really punch his way inside? Can he effectively manage that real estate?
Rashad Evans: What it comes down to is not so much even punching, it's footwork. He has to have the footwork to get inside and close the distance and I think from some of the things that I've seen, he looks like he's in good shape so I think that he can probably get inside. The thing about it is where does Jon Jones, where does he take the fight? Jon Jones might try to do something, maybe try to wrestle him, do whatever he's gotta do to try to dominate Rampage early but we're gonna see. It's an interesting match-up. I'm trying to figure out like what is each of them's gameplan of what they're gonna do.
Luke Thomas: If you're Jon Jones, and I don't mean just that you're fighting Rampage but you have Jon Jones' perceived skill-set and his body type. If you're that guy, how do you beat Rampage Jackson?
Rashad Evans: I would just keep it long and keep attacking at angles. Keep it long and attacking at angles and use good footwork.
Luke Thomas: Talk to me about Rampage's takedown defense. I guess my question is two parts actually. Is it as good in the center of the cage as it is when he's got his back against the cage and he's got double underhooks and he's ripping people off? He seems to be very strong there but does he respond as well to shots as he does body locks? Talk to me about how Rampage Jackson is strongest when defending takedowns.
Rashad Evans: He's strongest against the cage all day, way strongest against the cage. Open takedowns, that's what I was able to get him on, get him out in the open. Can Jon get underneath him? I was able to get underneath him but can Jon get underneath him? I think if I was Jon Jones, Jon is more of a Greco guy so I think he's gonna try to do maybe some kind of Greco throws or something with a body lock to get him down.
Luke Thomas: One of the knocks on Jon Jones is actually a bit of an exaggerated claim because he did get hurt a little bit in the Andre Gusmao fight, but in terms of an elite striker with big power or someone that lands a really nice, hard shot, the claim is that, and it's somewhat true that he hasn't faced that in actual fights. You've trained with him extensively. How does he respond to punishment?
Rashad Evans: Well, I've seen him get pushed in practice and I've seen him be very human and not as good as he looks on TV. I've seen that there's times where he looks great in practice but there's times where I've seen him quit in practice.
Luke Thomas: For you, in this fight, before we actually get to you facing the winner, could you give us an update? If I recall correctly, you injured your hand, you had a cast on at the UFC on FOX presser. Can you give me an update on the state of your hand?
Rashad Evans: Yeah, I broke my thumb.
Luke Thomas: And where are you in rehabilitation today?
Rashad Evans: About three weeks away from it being healed.
Luke Thomas: Do you still have a cast on?
Rashad Evans: Yeah
Luke Thomas: What is the recovery process like for as digit essential to your hand as a thumb?
Rashad Evans: Well I get it off and just do some therapy for the most part for a while and then I can start using it to punch again.
Luke Thomas: So you expect a fairly quick return to training then.
Rashad Evans: Yeah, pretty quick.
Luke Thomas: You're smelling a Rampage upset, and who knows what's gonna happen, but let's say you had your choice, right? It seems to me, and again if I'm wrong, let me know, but it seems to me you would rather face Jon Jones. One, that's a bigger fight probably even though either one would be for a title but people are dying to see you face Jon Jones. You've already beaten Rampage. If you had your choice of who you face next, who do you choose?
Rashad Evans: Well, of course because me and Jon Jones have that whole beef I would definitely like to fight him and if you wanna go on not liking somebody, I like him the least. I would definitely like to fight him.
Luke Thomas: There was a lot of talk this camp based on how Rampage and Jones are jawing back and forth. At what point does that become a distraction. Certainly you and Rampage had a lot of that but you still won the fight. Do you think this is at all a distraction for either guy or is it basically a real manageable level here?
Rashad Evans: It becomes a distraction when you take it personal.
Luke Thomas: Do you think either of these fighters are taking it personally?
Rashad Evans: I think Jon Jones is taking it personally. This is his first time being in a fight where he's used his mouth like that. Normally he tries to be the humble guy and say all the right things but that's being pushed a little bit because Rampage is giving him a little bit of mouth.
Luke Thomas: Is the easiest way to get under Jones' skin to question his credentials or his ability?
Rashad Evans: Yeah, one thing you do with somebody is you try to get them to second guess themselves as much as possible and if you can get them to second guess themselves even before they step in the cage, that's one leg up already and I think he's getting him to second guess himself a lot.