Most fighters will say that at least 70 or 80 percent of fight preparation is mentally being ready for the battle ahead. One shining example of a fighter who works to out-think his opponent before the cage door ever closes is No. 1 light heavyweight contender Rashad Evans, who is not only physically ready for his title shot against Forrest Griffin, but he's as mentally prepared as ever.
When The Ultimate Fighter Season 2 winner stepped into his fight against Chuck Liddell most people were somehow counting him out before it even started. The Michigan native was happy to disappoint, as he landed a thunderous punch that put the "Iceman" out cold, giving him the win.
After the fight, Evans credited his coaching staff of Greg Jackson and MikeWinklejohn for coming up with the perfect strategy to beat Liddell. The next fighter to break down will be Forrest Griffin at UFC 92 on Dec. 27.
"We're working on a gameplan and going over it extensively, me and Coach Winklejohn and Greg Jackson. They see what I do well and they just capitalize on that and try to make me do what I would do, but just do it better and just add a few things here and there," Evans said recently during an appearance on MMAWeekly Radio.
He understands all to well that Griffin is a much different type of fighter than maybe anyone he's faced in the past. His fellow Ultimate Fighter champion is seen as a hard worker and sort of a "jack of all trades" when it comes to his MMA style.
"It can be more difficult in some areas because he's just so well rounded in all avenues, but it just means I have to step my game up another notch," Evans commented about his fight preparation. "He's definitely talented in all areas and he has a gas tank that can just keep going and going, so I welcome the challenge."
The camp at Greg Jackson's gym consists of the regular rogue's gallery of training partners including Keith Jardine, Nate Marquardt, GeorgesSt. Pierre, Joey Villasenor and Eliot Marshall. Still despite an undefeated record and an overall impressive fight resume, Evans will enter the Octagon on Saturday night as the decided underdog.
"I don't know if I like playing that role, but it's a role that I've gotten used to," he said about being the underdog in the fight. "I just learned not to pay it any mind. When you're playing a favorite, you fight from a different position. You're fighting from a position that everybody you're telling about the fight is talking about, 'awww man, I don't even know if I should wish you luck. I know you going to mop him up.' So that puts pressure on you in a different kind of way.
"But when you're the underdog it kind of puts pressure on you in the fact that you want to prove everybody wrong."
The biggest lesson that taught Evans how to battle out of that underdog role was his 2007 fight against Tito Ortiz. In the bout, Evans was admittedly giving too much respect to his opponent and not fighting his fight, which cost him early on. Now, he feels like he has the mental aspect of his game down as well.
"You can't get to the point where you make it such a mental game that saying, 'Oh I have to win this. This is my only chance. I'm never going to get another opportunity, another title shot.' I'd like to go in there and win the fight, but I'm going to go in there and compete, and if I go in there and compete to my best then the bi-product of that is going to be a win," said Evans. "If things aren't going in my favor, I can definitely climb that mountain again and enjoy the journey all the way up to the top once more."
With all the hard work and training winding down, Evans is simply happy to get back in the cage and fight again and with a win this time around, everyone will cease calling him "Rashad" or even "Mr. Evans." He will simply be "Champ."
"That's going to be the greatest feeling in the world. I can't lie," he stated. "To have that title, it just says that I put in the work and I reaped the reward for doing that work and it would just be an amazing feeling."