Former UFC light heavyweight champion and TUF 2 heavyweight winner Rashad Evans joined the Fight Corner recently to preview the 21st season of The Ultimate Fighter and to discuss when he might return to active competition.
First, this season of The Ultimate Fighter, American Top Team and the Blackzilians camps will pit their best rising talent and experienced fighters against each other. The winning camp walks away with $500,000, a TUF Team Trophy and the bragging rights that go along with it.
Evans, 35, has been a staple of the Blackzilians fight team since its inception. He, along with Jorge Santiago, Gesias Cavalcante and Danillo and Yuri Villefort, left Coconut Creek’s American Top Team in 2011 and founded the new camp at the Jaco Hybrid Training Center in Delray Beach, Florida. Soon after, a rivalry between the two camps would ensue. Evans explained what started the bad blood between the two Florida fight teams.
“What the genesis of the American Top Team and Blackzilians beef is, when the Blackzilians started, it was a couple of fighters that was training at American Top Team. They splintered off and they started training in their own gym and away from ATT. At the time it was just three or four of them, and then I come into the mix and we all started training together. I had a fight camp coming so I brought in some guys to help me train. And then more guys kept coming, and more guys kept coming. And with all that, we had a lot of hype and a lot of success,” Evans said.
“So before long, the Blackzilians grew. And this is my saying that American Top Team, it was like they didn’t care as long as it was like whatever. But once it got successful, once we started winning, once we started making a name for ourselves, then they get jealous. They’re like, ‘oh, well you’re still our fighters.’That kind of bothered me about their claim, their reason why. But anyways, get away from all that. The rivalry is pretty much built on that. We’re separated by about 10 to 15 miles apart, and we see each other around here and there, but this is the first time that American Top Team and the Blackzilians are going head-to-head.
“But it’s an amazing, amazing show because it really captured this rivalry that has been brewing for the past four or five years. And it’s going to be something to watch,” Evans added.
Evans was a part of this season’s process from assisting with hand-picking the best athletes from their stable to enter the tournament, to providing tutelage to those competing on the show. Unlike previous seasons, the TUF 21 fighters will get to train at their respective camps, but they still have to live amongst their rivals in the TUF mansion in Florida.
“We definitely picked out some diamonds. These are guys that may not have gotten the exposure, they may not have gotten hype, but these guys are definitely real.”
Evans provided some background on the soon to be featured fighters to emerge from the Blackzilians. Carrington Banks is a wrestler who came out to help Melvin Guillard in a former camp. According to Evans, Banks used to handle Guillard and the Blackzilians offered him a spot on their team. Once Banks graduated college, he chose fighting as his path and Evans has helped develop him. In 2009, Evans met Kamarudeen Usman during his camp for Rampage Jackson. He came aboard as a wrestling partner for Evans, who in turn, kept asking Usman to help him prepare in future camps. Usman wasn’t convinced MMA would be his future career, but eventually changed his mind. And Jason Jackson joined the Blackzilians about 3 years ago. He is “amazingly talented” and “has a great belief in his self” according to Evans.
Evans as a coach, mentor and athlete, has been held in high regard by his other teammates such as Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, Michael Johnson and Abel Trujillo, Evans feels he’s been implemental in bringing up the next generation of Blackzilians. Since he’s been out due to injury since Nov. 2013, Evans has poured hours into helping the up and comers finesse their game.
“I’m the kind of fighter who, I love to develop new talent,” Evans said. “I’d love to give somebody else the chance to do what I’ve done and to have an opportunity to get out of the sport what I’ve gotten out of the sport. So I do.
“I’m very hands on with my guys and even when I can’t train, I go in the gym to bring up morale, joke with them, give them pointers when I can. These guys, they mean a lot to me because in return, I look into their eyes and I see the hope and just the hunger and stuff like that and that motivates me to train harder.”
“Suga” was expected to come back from a torn ACL in early 2015. He was scheduled to battle Glover Teixeira, but his knee would reject the cadaver part placed inside to repair it. That setback in his recovery would keep him out even longer. It’s been 3 months since Evans had his last surgery and he’s hopeful that he can return to competition by fall 2015.
“It’s been my second surgery in a row, so I’m not trying to push it too crazy. But, I’m definitely pretty aggressive with my rehab. I would like to return in September, October. That’s what I really want to do, around that time and just keep going and just fire off as many fights as I can after that, and just keep it going and staying busy until I end my career.”
Evans also discussed a possible move to middleweight. Since his teammate Anthony Johnson will face Jones for the title next, Evans said he is considering a move to middleweight. But he wants to make sure he can make the cut properly.
“I’m 35-years-old and to make a cut like that and not be able to make it, it could be detrimental to my career. I have to be smart about it, but it’s definitely something that I will consider doing.”
TUF 21 will debut with a special 2-hour episode on Wednesday, Apr. 20 on FOX Sports 1. The show will air starting at 10pm ET.
Here’s a look at the cast:
AMERICAN TOP TEAM
Marcelo Alfaya (16-7, 1NC) Porto Alegre, Brazil
Steve Carl (21-4), Belle Plain, Iowa
Nathan Coy (14-5), Vallejo, Calif.
Michael Graves (4-0), Toledo, Ohio
Hayder Hassan (6-1), Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Sabah Homasi (8-4), New Brunswick, N.J.
Uros Jurisic (5-0), Ljubljana, Slovenia
Steve Montgomery (8-2), Florence, S.C.
Valdir Araujo (14-5), Gama, Federal District, Brazil
Carrington Banks (3-0), Peoria, Ill.
Luiz Buscape (16-5), Joao Pessoa, Paraiba, Brazil
Jason Jackson (4-2), Kingston, Jamaica
Vicente Luque (7-4-1), Westwood, N.J.
Andrews Nakahara (4-2-2), Mogi das Cruzes, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Felipe Portela (8-2), Brasilia, Brazil
Kamarudeen Usman (5-1) Auchi, Nigeria