UFC president Dana White has long believed friendships can't get in the way of fighting goals.
Rashad Evans must agree. Just a few minutes after Jon Jones crushed Mauricio "Shogun" Rua to take the UFC light heavyweight title, Evans climbed into the Octagon and accepted the next shot at the young star.
The big issue? Generally, fighters from the same training camp, don't want to fight each other. Evans and Jones both work with trainer Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, NM.
When Evans was mentioned by UFC analyst Joe Rogan and then showed in the Octagon on the big screens around The Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., the crowd booed loudly.
That show of anger paled in comparison to the look on Jones' face. The introduction of Evans in the cage seemed to rain on Jones' parade a bit. He got just a few seconds to celebrate the culmination of years of hard work and then had to deal with the emotion of facing a training partner sometime later this year.
"We are teammates. I've sparred with him and he's sparred with me," Jones said as his voiced cracked. "This my dream and this is everything I believe in. And I know God wouldn't lead me this far, to leave me, so I gotta do exactly what I have to do."
Evans, nattily attired in a suit, walked to the microphone with a smirk on his face.
"I guess you should never say never," joked Evans.
Before UFC 128, with the possibility of Jones winning the title, Evans and his younger training partner agreed they wouldn't fight. That all changed in the last 10 days when Jones said he was tired of answering questions about Evans and suggested his training partner wasn't in his corner.
"[...] Rashad is not in my mind, he's not in my being, he has absolutely zero to do with my heart and who I am right now," Jones said during the UFC 128 prefight press conference. "[...] I have a lot of people outside of Rashad who I can draw energy and power from and they'll all be with me."
That opened the door for a fight in the future. Evans responded by saying Jones was being childish.
"That does sound a little bit cold-blooded. Jon's a young guy and when you're a young guy sometimes you talk a little too fast for your brain to keep up. I don't think it's acceptable at all. I don't think it's something I'd say.�It sounds like he wants to fight, huh? Those sound like fighting words," Evans told Larry Pepe of Pro MMA Radio. ".[...] Sometimes when you open your mouth you show what you're afraid of more than anything. I don't know why he has such an adverse response like that to me. I've never challenged him or made him feel like he should do that sort of thing. It sounds to me ? if I was out of the situation ? that he was feeling insecure about me. You can't just expect to not talk about a situation where you stepped in for a friend and training partner in a title fight who was injured. You can't take it personal… That sounds like a baby."
Tonight, Evans confirmed the belt trumps the friendship.
"We train together and you got that strap, so I gotta go after it," Evans said as the crowd booed.
Evans was originally scheduled to fight Rua at UFC 128, but suffered a knee injury just before Jones' fight at UFC 126 in early February. The UFC, faced with no one elite to challenged Rua six weeks later, turned to the raw Jones. It sounds like Evans believes Jones cut in front of him. When Jones first joined the Jackson's camp, Evans was told a head-to-head fight would never be an issue. Things have changed.
Now the question is, who leaves the camp?
Jones only began training with Jackson in 2010. Evans is one of the camp's original high-level members dating back to 2005. In that Pepe interview before the fight, it sounded like Evans had already made up his mind and will be working with Grudge Training Center in Denver if he had to face Jones.
It sets up an intriguing matchup from a mental and physical standpoint.
Evans has to know the champ's game as well as anyone in the division. At 32 years old, he may also be better equipped to handle the emotional side of the fight. That said, Jones, 23, didn't look one bit nervous last night in the biggest fight of his life. Evans also has the gift of gab. He's got a real knack for getting under the skin of his opponents.