Run ragged from a three-month camp, UFC light heavyweight Rashad Evans needed to blow off some steam. His fight with former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell was two weeks away, and he needed to get his mind off the fight. He stepped into an Albuquerque movie theater to take in "Pineapple Express," and lo and behold, Liddell showed up in the movie, putting a beating on Vernon "Tiger" White in the background of a scene.
So much for getting away.
"I'm trying to get away and think about something else, and Chuck's beating up this black dude on TV," Evans snickers. "I'm just like, damn."
In approaching his main event tangle with Liddell at UFC 88, Evans is trying above all else to follow coach Greg Jackson's words in taking on "The Iceman": the fight is just a workout, and nothing more.
Eight years into his career as a mixed martial artist, Evans has picked up high-profile fight experience since besting a field of eight heavyweights in the second season of The Ultimate Fighter. In November, he headlined the watery UFC 78 card in New Jersey, and took on Tito Ortiz in the co-main event of UFC 73. He's no longer the T.U.F. star trying to prove himself.
But he says the increased attention can get into your head, not to mention the burden of carrying an undefeated record. At 11-0-1, Evans has yet to experience that sting of defeat.
"When you fight from a position of trying to hold a status, or trying to protect something, then you don't go in there and have great performances," he says. "I've had many performances where I felt pressure to be undefeated, and you just don't fight right. I'd just assume to forget about my record and start this fight zero and zero."
If that's the case, Evans is a newcomer who could throw a wrench in the gears of the UFC's matchmaking machine. It's no secret that if Liddell wins, he's a prime candidate (read: a UFC cash drop) for a Dec. 27 fight with current light heavyweight champion and original T.U.F. star Forrest Griffin.
Should he win, Evans could possibly delay or prevent that big payday. So it's smart that Evans is doing his best to ignore that possibility -- and the fact that he's fighting the most beloved UFC fighter in its history. The danger is in thinking about it too much.
"There is (danger) if you've got too much idol worship," Evans says. "I respect Chuck and I'm a big fan of Chuck, and I love what he does for the sport. But then at the same time, I still want to go out there and kick his ass. It's just the competitor in me. If we were playing air hockey, I'll try to kick his ass in air hockey, just to compete."
He has come a long way to fight Liddell, and he's determined to make the fight about him, not the idol.
"Whenever you fight somebody, you look across the ring, they have a different face, but you're pretty much fighting yourself. And it's a challenge I get to present to myself to see if I can go out there and do it."
On Sept. 6 at UFC 88, Evans will workout, and with any luck, it will be a good one.