When Rashad Evans received word from the New York State Athletic Commission that he was not allowed to fight at UFC 205 this past November he thought it was a joke.
The former light heavyweight champion had been training for months to prepare for his debut at 185 pounds and Evans had never faced any struggles being licensed for a fight prior to the message he received prior to his scheduled bout with Tim Kennedy.
Evans later revealed it was an anomaly on an MRI that was taken ahead of his fight that caused concern for the commission in New York and when the Ontario Commission refused to license him for the same issue a few weeks later at UFC 206, he really started to think his career may be over.
Article continues below ...
“I never felt so much at the mercy of the other people in my whole life and it’s a very humbling thing,” Evans told FOX Sports ahead of UFC 209. “I trained so hard and I put the work in and I did everything I could do on my end but then I had to sit back and be told that I can’t fight. Then I was told that I may never fight again. It was hard to deal with. For the last 14 years or so, I’ve been a fighter for so long I kind of forgot what it’s like to not have this as my biggest form of expression of who I am.
“For a brief second I was like it may be over and I was in denial for a long time. Even when they told me I couldn’t fight in New York, I was waiting for them to be like ‘oh we’re just kidding’. I couldn’t believe that it was actually going down that I was not going to fight. That it was not clearing up. I was in denial for a while. Then I got the chance to fight in Toronto and then it happened in Toronto where they didn’t even give me a second look. They were like ‘New York said no so we’re saying no’. It was a helpless feeling.”
Medically speaking, Evans always had confidence that he was healthy enough to fight but when the New York commission raised questions, he couldn’t help but wonder if this was really going to be the end of what could be a Hall of Fame career.
Add to that, Evans recommitted himself to the sport as he started training to fight as a middleweight after starting his UFC career as a heavyweight on “The Ultimate Fighter” before winning a championship at 205 pounds.
“I really worked hard to get myself in shape, just from a physical standpoint when you’re able to bring your body down and have the discipline to get into shape the way I was, it’s really a spiritual journey as well,” Evans said. “So I really changed my whole mindset along with my body and then to have things to wrong, it was a true test of my spiritual fortitude.”
Nick Laham/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
A few weeks ago, Evans finally faced his fate before the Nevada State Athletic Commission, who had to approve his license before he could be cleared to face Dan Kelly as part of UFC 209 in Las Vegas.
Because Evans is over 35-years of age, the commission already required an extra step to approve his license but with everything he went through medically in New York there were still nerves about whether or not he would receive his license.
When the commission confirmed Evans and approved him to compete at UFC 209, he admits that a tear nearly rolled down his cheek in celebration.
“I almost cried to be honest. It was an emotional thing for me because no fighter wants to go out like that, especially me,” Evans said. “I didn’t want to go out like that. I know one day this will be over and I feel like I’ll be able to handle it but I just wasn’t ready for it to end like that. I wasn’t ready for it to end without me having a chance to compete again and have the feelings of how you feel going into a fight.
“You’re battling yourself and you’re nervous and you have all those thoughts in your mind, all those things that happen when you’re riding that emotional roller coaster when you’re getting ready for a fight. Those are the things that you love most about fighting. To never experience that again, it was really hard to wrap my mind around. When the commission said I was able to fight, I was just relieved and I was happy.”
Following a couple of tough losses and a lot of time off due to numerous knee surgeries, Evans was already looking forward to a fresh start at middleweight but with the way everything played out, he truly believes his fight this weekend is a second chance for his career.
“It definitely feels like a second career,” Evans said. “Because it feels like I’m starting all over. Almost every aspect of it. From training situations to just getting cleared to a new weight class, everything feels brand new.
“I feel like a new kid on the block. It’s refreshing. I’m excited, I’m nervous, I have all those rookie feelings but I know I can do it because I’ve done it before.”
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC
As elated as Evans has felt in the weeks leading up to his return to action, he’s also not lost on what he has to prove when stepping back into the Octagon for the first time in nearly a year after suffering back-to-back losses for only the second time in his 13 year career.
When he was pulled from UFC 205 last year, Evans heard the quiet rumblings that perhaps his career was finished and those whispers came after similar thoughts were echoed following his two previous losses in the light heavyweight division.
Now as he returns this weekend, Evans is still fighting for himself but his performance will also send a message to all those naysayers who said he’d never be back again.
“I’ve definitely got something to prove. I want to go out there and show a lot of people that have doubted me and who really just stuck a fork in me and said that I’m done. That don’t think I can do it and say that I should quit. All those things they say when they think you don’t have it anymore,” Evans said. “The looks that they give you and the kind of snide remarks that people make. Things like that. I’ve definitely got something to prove and I’m going to go in there and release myself to say the least. Release a lot of anger and just have fun out there because at the end of the day, I’ve been at the top of the sport and I’ve been at the bottom. I’ve had some real hard setbacks in this sport and I learned to realize that you can’t really build who you are on what people say. That’s ultimately building your foundation in sand.
“People come and go and what they say doesn’t really last. I’m definitely looking forward to going out there and just letting people know that I’m not finished and when I’m finished is when I say I’m finished.”
Rashad Evans competes at UFC 209 this Saturday night, March 4 with the prelims airing live on FS1 starting at 8 p.m. ET.