Evans vs. Jones extends beyond the octagon

Rashad Evans only hints at it. But he thinks something might be up with Jon “Bones” Jones, his former training partner and opponent in Saturday’s UFC 145 in Atlanta.

“Fighting-wise, Jon Jones has staying power,” said Evans, the challenger for Jones’ UFC light heavyweight championship. “But you know as well as I know it’s not always about the actual performance.

“What took Tiger Woods out was not about golfing. You know what I’m saying? What takes a lot of athletes out is not about their performance or what they bring to the game. It’s the other things that make them who they are that you really don’t see. And once those things are altered it changes how they perform.”

And what, exactly, does Evans mean by that? He laughs.

“That’s another conversation,” he said.

Welcome to Jones vs. Evans, an interesting study of former friends and training partners.

There’s the pseudo psycho-analytical jabber. That’s been dialed back a few notches in recent days. But there’s also the bizarre Vegas nightclub incident in which Jones invited Evans outside, near some cabanas, with the express purpose of getting in his face and talking trash. There were no TV cameras, no reporters, no reality show being taped. It was just, well, strange.

This would be akin to, say, Kobe Bryant seeing LeBron James in a social setting, asking him to go outside, and then telling him how he’s going to dominate him in the NBA Finals. It just doesn’t happen.

Jones freely admits his role in that infamous nightclub incident in Las Vegas between the two last year. And the 24-year-old champion doesn’t care who knows.

“I don’t really remember what happened,” Jones said. “But I remember telling him that I was going to finish him in this fight. That’s the way I felt and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Here’s the scene: Evans and Jones are sitting at the same table at a nightclub during the UFC Fighter Summit in Las Vegas. Georges St-Pierre is there, too. It’s May 2011.

“And Jon just keeps looking at me,” Evans said. “And I’m like, ‘What’s up, man?’ And he’s just, ‘Let’s go have a talk.’ “

They go outside near some cabanas. They start talking and at that point the stories differ, but only slightly. Evans said contrary to one version of the story, St-Pierre didn’t step between him and Jones.

“GSP never got involved,” Evans said. “He never had to separate us.”

But just who insulted who is up for dispute.

“He said something to me that was out of line,” Jones said. “I don’t remember it. And we got in an argument. You argue with somebody and everything is free to be said. I said something to him, I said it to his face, and I’m backing it up.”

Evans recalls it a bit differently.

“He was talking stupid like he was going to destroy me and stuff, and I was like, ‘OK, we’re going to see.’ And I said, ‘But I bet you don’t.’

“And we were just talking back and forth. And then my people came over, his people came over, and that was pretty much the end of it.”

After the fighters went back inside the nightclub, Evans says, Jones talked to a bouncer in a fruitless attempt to have Evans kicked out. He said Jones ended up leaving instead.

Fast forward to nowadays…

This is a landmark week for the Jones family. Jon, the middle son, defends his title on Saturday. And five days later, Chandler, the youngest son, a defensive end for Syracuse, is expected to be a late first-round pick in Thursday’s NFL Draft.

“It’s going be a big week for me and my family,” said Jon, whose oldest brother, Art, is a defensive end for the Baltimore Ravens.

“I’m getting ready one of the biggest fights in my life, my brother is getting ready to be drafted into the NFL. We’re all going to be extremely happy men, and I really think God is watching over our family and he’s blessing us.”

Bones should know a little about that. He’s a Christian. He has the words “Philippians 4:13” tattooed across his chest. It’s a Bible verse that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

He has no problem talking about his Christianity.

“God doesn’t like me any more than he likes Rashad Evans,” Jones said. “But what my Christianity does do for me (is) it helps me make better life decisions. It helps me not get sucked into what fame and money would do to most 24-year-olds. And ultimately that leads to success.”

And that’s what makes Evans’ original statement about Jones so compelling, that line about, “What took Tiger Woods out was not about golfing.”

Evans, the 32-year-old former champion, again alludes to what he perceives as a personality flaw that could lead to Jones’ downfall.

“I think Jon is going to be a great people’s champion when he starts acting like a real person,” Evans said, “and stops acting like he’s morally better than somebody else, or he’s on a higher plane, or he’s figured out something that the rest of us haven’t…I think that Jon thinks that he owns the spotlight.”

That’s all Bones needed to hear. Upon hearing that comment, he unloaded with his own psycho-analysis.

“It’s just that comment alone that shows that he’s jealous,” Jones said. “I never said that I own the spotlight. That’s the way he feels about me.”

Why?

“I think it’s very safe to say that he’s jealous,” Jones said. “I have what he wants. I have the light heavyweight championship. I have a good strong family behind me. I have a strong team behind me. These are things that he’s lost and I think that that creates a type of envy.”

OK, so maybe both men are wonderfully flawed human beings. You be the judge. It’s a strangely fascinating relationship between these two fighters.

“It’s been one of those things,” Evans said. “It’s just like, ‘Damn, I wish I could fight this dude already so I could stop talking about his ass.’ “