The saga of Rashad Evans’ long journey back to the octagon and attempt to regain the UFC light heavyweight title is well documented. For those that haven’t been keeping an eye on the proceedings, allow me to bring you up to speed.
Rashad became the number one contender on May 29, 2010. When word came out that then-champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua had an injured knee and would require major surgery that would put him on the sidelines until 2011, Rashad declined to take a fight in the interim and risk his guaranteed title shot. He would wait it out.
Will Ring Rust Affect Rashad’s Return
Evans waited patiently and with Shogun completing his rehab and being declared fit to fight, the match was set for March 19th in Newark, New Jersey; the main event of UFC 128. Then, the other shoe dropped for Evans. He suffered a knee injury himself in training, which scrapped the planned Evans-Rua showdown. The title shot went to Evans’ then-teammate and training partner Jon Jones. Jones subsequently took the title from Rua and had a falling out with Evans which caused Rashad to leave Greg Jackson’s camp. The two were set to fight before Jones decided he wanted hand surgery, so Evans was matched with Phil Davis instead. Jones decided he didn’t want the surgery after all and is now set to defend against Rampage Jackson at UFC 135. Then Davis suffered an injury and has been replaced with the resurgent Tito Ortiz.
A more complicated return to action has not been seen by the sport. But now thankfully for both Evans and MMA fans everywhere, the soap opera like nature of his return is now over and we can all focus on the actual fight. A fight that in itself brings more questions then it would have a year ago. The chief question among them all being ring rust.
When Jones dethroned Rua, he was less than five weeks removed from defeating Ryan Bader and was in peak physical shape. Rua had last fought nine months prior and as stated earlier, was coming off major knee surgery. While Jones looked great in victory, the Shogun we saw that night looked sluggish, much the same way he looked the last time he was coming off major surgery and fighting Forrest Griffin. Fast forward to the present and we have an in-shape and rejuvenated Tito Ortiz who will step in the cage for the second time in just over a month to fight Evans, who is coming off an almost fifteen month layoff from competition.
Ring rust may have played a factor the last time Evans was in the cage as well. After losing to Evans by decision, Rampage Jackson noted that his own fifteen month layoff from fighting in order to film “The A Team” played a part in his defeat. He stated “I kept trying to mentally block out all the people talking about ring rust because I knew it was going to be a factor, but I was just trying to block it out. Out there tonight, I felt it. I felt it bad. I’m really ashamed of myself that I fell victim to ring rust. Emotions had nothing to do with it.” If ring rust has played a factor in two of the other fighters involved in this drama, it stands to reason it could be a factor in Evans’ return as well.
One thing that plays into Evans’ favour is that this is not his first comeback from a long layoff. After defeating Michael Bisping at UFC 78, Evans was out of action for nearly ten months before returning at UFC 88. That was the night he rocketed up the UFC’s food chain by knocking out the face of the company, Chuck Liddell. Evans looked in shape and fluid throughout the fight and the devastating KO victory not only won him the KO of the night bonus from the UFC and KO of the year from Sherdog, and granted him the shot against then-champ Forrest Griffin where he took the title.
As one would expect, Evans’ camp insists he will be ready. Evans has followed one of his former coaches at Jackson’s, Mike Van Arsdale, to Van Arsdale’s Imperial Athletics gym in Boca Raton, Florida. Van Arsdale told ESPN.com that he is designing Evans’ training specifically to his needs. “I think Rashad…was doing the same workout that the team was doing, which I think wasn’t the right prescription for his body type and what he needed to get ready for that particular fight. Instead of running, he probably should have been wrestling; instead of pounding with the legs, he probably should have been practicing some maneuvers with the standup.”
Whether Evans’ new training regimen will keep the ring rust at bay when he fights Ortiz is yet to be seen. But one thing is certain, if Evans does lose and Ortiz is able to continue his feel-good comeback story, in the back of his mind Evans wondering if all that time off was really worth it.