USA TODAY: Ex-champ Evans returns to roots, revives swagger for UFC 161


rashad-evans-36.jpg(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)

Even as the fight was happening, Rashad Evans knew it was a bad one.

The former UFC light heavyweight titlist could feel it as he stood in the cage across from Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156 in February. Nogueira waited for Evans to attack. Evans waited for Nogueira. In the end, Evans acknowledges, “Really nothing happened.”

Actually, one thing did happen. Evans (17-3-1 MMA, 12-3-1 UFC) lost a unanimous decision, his second in a row.

In nine years as a pro, he had never lost back-to-back fights. He had also never lost while doing so little to try to win, which was what really bothered him.

“My coach was in the corner telling me, ‘You’ve got to go,’” Evans told USA TODAY Sports. “But I couldn’t hit that switch. I just couldn’t turn it on and let it all hang out.”

Now that he has had a few months to dwell on it, he thinks he knows why. It has a lot to do with an accusation that has followed him since he first appeared in the UFC in 2005, when fans and some fellow fighters criticized him for being too cocky.

“I turned down the swagger a little because I wanted to be more focused in my competitions,” Evans said. “But when I did that, I took a little piece away from me. I took a little of that go inside of me that pushed me, that part that made me get into a dogfight with anybody and do anything to get the win.”

Evans will get his chance to rediscover that swagger in the main event of UFC 161, which takes place at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on Saturday (pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET).

He faces former PRIDE champion Dan Henderson (29-9 MMA, 6-3 UFC), who is coming off a lackluster decision loss of his own to former champion Lyoto Machida in February.

With both fighters seeking redemption, Evans doesn’t expect any shortage of action. But he has to find the right balance, especially against a knockout artist such as Henderson.

“When I go out there and compete, I have to be cocky,” Evans said. “That’s how I compete. I have to have my swag out there and be like that because that’s a part of me. It’s a part you’d never see of me in regular life because I joke around and smile, and you don’t see that side.

“But when I compete, I want the person I’m fighting to know that he shouldn’t have even signed the contract to fight me. He should be embarrassed, and I want to embarrass him for doing so.”

As Evans knows, that kind of attitude brings out haters. Then again, so can an overabundance of caution.

“No one wrote a book on what you should and shouldn’t do,” Evans said. “I’m just making it up as I go along. But at the same time, I have to be honest with myself.

“I have to be real with myself and compete the way I’m feeling. When I’m in the moment, my body will do what it does. And when that happens, I have to trust that it will be OK.”

For the latest on UFC 161, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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