Former UFC light-heavyweight champion is a key part of The Blackzilians team, being a founder member and informal team captain. UFC heavyweight Alistair Overeem departed the team earlier this week; Evans tells Bloody Elbow he never felt the Dutchman's heart was really in it in the first place.
Rashad Evans is in Istanbul, Turkey this weekend to corner his friend and team-mate Tyrone Spong in the GLORY 15 ISTANBUL Light-Heavyweight Championship Tournament.
As the Blackzilians team arrived in Turkey earlier this week, news broke that they were now one Dutchman lighter: Alistair Overeem has officially parted company with them and, as Bloody Elbow first reported, is on his way to Greg Jackson’s camp.
Reports of Overeem never quite gelling with the team have been around for a while. Detractors put it down to Overeem not being a team player, while sources on the Overeem side had him concerned at a lack of structure in the training regime.
Either way, Overeem has now left the team and is in search of something that will suit him better. So how does Evans feel about the split?
"It’s not a big deal at all to be honest," says the former UFC light-heavyweight champion.
"Alistair was one of those guys who was on the team but never really committed to being part of it. He would run his own camps, bring in his own guys, train by himself, so him going somewhere else won’t make much difference, it isn’t a huge loss.
"Most people who come to the team buy into [the team ethos]. He was probably the only one who hasn’t wanted to do the team thing.
"The funny thing was, he would run his own camps and bring his own people in, then go out there and lose and blame everybody but himself. So now if he goes to Jackson’s and doesn’t learn to open up and step out of himself then he is going to get the same results."
Evans is one of the sport’s more cerebral fighters, one who majored in psychology during his college years. He has given some thought to what might lie behind Overeem’s perceived reluctance to give up his independence.
"He just doesn’t trust people," is Evans’ assessment.
"And at the end of the day as an athlete you have to be coachable. And being coachable is a humbling thing. You have to be like, ‘let me put aside all my own thoughts and let me hear what is coming in’. Then afterwards you might weigh up what you want to take on and what you don’t.
"But when you come into a situation with a mind set on only what you want to do, only think what you what you want to think, then you’re not going to get any better.
"The thing with Alistair is he only does what he wants to do. He doesn’t want to get out of his comfort zone. He doesn’t want to do anything to get out of his comfort zone, even in training. He doesn’t want to train too hard or push himself too hard because it’s out of his comfort zone.
"But if you look at a fight, it is anything but comfortable. So when you’re fighting tough guys and you’re not willing to go out of your comfort zone, you lose.
"I hope he learns to change that. I hope he says to himself that he wants to be different, he wants to be a champion - ‘F--k just wanting to compete, I want to be the best.’ I don’t think he really believes in himself.
"His mindset works against him and that is the biggest challenge that faces people who work with him. Getting him to change his mindset, getting him to say ‘OK, let me be uncomfortable, let me suffer a little bit.’ But I personally don’t think it will happen for him, though I hope it does.
"There’s no hard feelings, I just think he is always going to be that rolling stone. He is always going to be in between places, trying to figure out where he belongs. And the problem is that when he gets somewhere that he may belong, he doesn’t open up enough or trust enough to really let a relationship develop."
Evans is former member of Jackson’s team before an acrimonious split resulted in his heading to Florida to become one of the founding members of what would become The Blackzilians, so he has some insights into the atmosphere there. Or at least, how it used to be.
"To be 100 per cent honest, given the Jackson’s Gym that I knew, I don’t think he is really going to fit in. But I haven’t been there for a long time so I don’t know what the place is like these days. But as far as I can tell they still seem to be a close team," he says.
"So I don’t know if that is going to be something that he is able to adapt to. Right now he is at the end of his rope as far as being with a team so maybe he will feel the need to try harder.
"If he doesn’t do that, I don’t know…. Honestly speaking, I don’t even know why he wants to join a team. All he is going to do is bring in his own guys so I don’t know why he is even joining a team rather than making his own team."
Evans declares himself to be somebody who believes in teams wholeheartedly. He says that MMA is "definitely" a team sport and that he had no issues with pouring his hopes and energies into a new one despite the upset and heartache of the Greg Jackson rift.
"I definitely think it was for the best. Look what I am a part of, look what I helped start. Whether it happened as it did or happened on more peaceful terms, I think it was something I would have had to do eventually," he says.
"To be able to go out there and create new opportunities for other fighters and coaches has been worth it. I’m a joiner. I’m a team player. I am always there trying to give little pep talks after practice and stuff.
"In this sport, people from the outside don’t really understand how and why the whole team thing comes into play. It has to do with the fact that in order to get to the highest level, I have to train with the top guys, some of the best guys, and there is a symbiotic relationship between us. A lot of the time my toughest challenges are in practice."
Right as the conversation turns to tough practice sessions, Tyrone Spong wanders past. We are in the room which had been used for the weigh-ins an hour earlier and Spong still has a mean look on his face, the scowl from his staredown with Saulo Cavalari taking a while to fade.
Evans watches Spong stalk out of the room as he talks about the arrival of real Dutch Kickboxing in the Florida practice room he spends his days in. He freely confesses that these days, kickboxing is his favorite practice session and that he hovers somewhere between fear and excitement when driving to the gym on those days.
"Spong and Henri Hooft brought this different intensity which I had never felt in sparring before. The Dutch kickboxing style has this different mindset. There are days where we just bang the shit out of each other. It’s like survival of the fittest. No backwards step, they just keep going forward," he grins.
"[Hard sparring] depends what day of the week it is. But yeah, sometimes these sum’bitches tryna take you out. We have days where we are throwing serious heat.
"We look out for each other though. Like if I hit a guy and I really crack him, the only difference is that I am not going to run in there and try to finish him. I meant to hit him hard but if he is dazed I will give him that time to recover, like ’Are you OK?’"
Traditionally, MMA coaches will require you to adopt a long low base. In kickboxing, tall and square seems to be the order of the day. So how much can Evans really take from his Dutch Kickboxing training sessions?
"I think you can mix the two. If you go pure Dutch style in MMA you won’t do too well because of the level-changes and the takedowns. But I really like this kickboxing, its different. If I was in my 20s I would definitely give this a go," he says.
"Who would I fight? Oh man. Let me think. These are guys are so tough. These guys are tough as f--k. How long do I get to train for? I get a full camp? Then yeah f--k it, I will fight one of the top guys. What’s the worst that could happen, I could get embarrassingly knocked out?"
Evans takes a few more moments to ponder, mentally running through possible opponents in his head. He settles on one who has been scaring the shit out of his fellow kickboxers for the last few years. Evans certainly doesn’t mind a challenge.
"I’m gonna say Gokhan Saki. I think Saki would be fun to fight. His hands are fast as shit, he is creative, that would be a fun fight," he says.
By coincidence, Saki is in this weekend’s GLORY 15 tournament, holds a KO win over Spong from 2009 and stands a good chance of meeting him again in the finals. That event airs on Spike TV at 8pm ET this Saturday night so if you want to see what Evans is talking about when he says these guys are "tough as f--k", check it out.