For Rashad Evans, Jackson’s Comments Only Fuel The Fire

“Rampage” one of the few things that irks Evans

Rashad Evans is one of the faces of MMA. His smile is omnipresent. His personality affable. He wins you over as an ideal spokesman of the sport through interviews and as a guest panelist on ESPN’s MMA Live. As a fighter “Suga’s” accomplishments speak volumes. He’s a former light-heavyweight champion who went undefeated in his first 14 MMA fights (with one draw), won Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter” and coached a group of hopefuls on the 10th installment, including prospect Matt Mitrione and eventual winner Roy Nelson.

What you’ve learned through the years is that Evans won’t come unglued – except when the name Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is brought up. The thought of Rampage, hearing his voice and sharing the same air turns the warm and cerebral Evans into the volcano Eyjafjallajokull. Since going nose-to-nose following Jackson’s UFC 96 win over Keith Jardine the two have warred over the media, the entire TUF season as opposing coaches, through Twitter and most recently the telephone that turned a normally routine conference call into an explosive situation.

Jackson was asked his thoughts on how defeating Evans at UFC 114 would result in a chance to regain the light-heavyweight title he held for 14 months. That didn’t matter. His respect for Evans is nonexistent to where it’d be just a moral victory and he wondered aloud why he’s fighting Evans other than to “keep his mouth shut. He has done nothin’ compared to what I’ve done (as the first unified UFC and Pride FC light-heavyweight champ). It’s a step backwards.”

Evans shrugged off the initial verbal slap, the deep breath helping for about 15 seconds before the screaming began, dominated more than half the call and made it clear that the main event of UFC 114 is professional and personal – and it’s not hype.

“Mother—- you’re not stupid,” Evans shouted. “Stop acting like you’re stupid. Stop acting just like you’re black, you’re stupid. I can’t stand the attitude.

“It’s just the way he is. Who am I to fight him? Who is he to fight me?”

There’s nothing fake about this feud

It became clear to UFC president Dana White the day these two guys walked on The Ultimate Fighter set that they hate each other. Jackson said he’s never fought anyone he’s hated as much as Evans, dismissing his rival’s title reign as a token honor . To Evans the challenge is not just defeating one of the sport’s most extraordinary athletes. It’s defeating the demons that are stroked by Rampage’s vitriol. Evans must win the conflict of Man vs. himself in addition to Man vs. Man, and that’s not allowing his rage to be the strongest motivator.

“I’m going to stay cool despite how hot he makes it,” Evans said. “My corner will do a good job of keeping me focused and dialed in. I do want to go out there and start throwing punches at him and seeing where they land. At the same time there’s a strategy involved, so I have to stick with the strategy.”

Losing focus cost Evans dearly when Lyoto Machida knocked him out in the second round at UFC 98 and took away the light-heavyweight championship. He nearly paid the price seven months later by sitting back in the third round of a bout he controlled against Thiago Silva, was tagged and nearly put away in the final minute. Mentally, Evans must answer more questions. Physically, he’s at or near his peak as an explosive striker since the day he told Greg Jackson associate Mike Winklejohn, “Coach, all I got is a jab.” In addition, Evans worked with Strikeforce light-heavyweight king Muhammed Lawal during training to help simulate Rampage and learn some of King Mo’s best takedowns.

It’ll be the total package, one that’s mentally awake, that will put away Jackson.

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