When Rashad Evans made his return at UFC 192 against Ryan Bader he was chasing gold. That’s the only reason he’s still in the fight game.
Saturday may be his last chance to stay in the race for the title when he squares off against Glover Teixeira in the main event at Fight Night Tampa. Evans’ championship window got a little smaller when he admittedly had a disappointing performance against Bader.
“I had some limitations in that fight. I didn’t feel totally comfortable and the ring rust got to me,” Evans said of his unanimous decision loss.
A constant fixture atop the 205-pound division, Evans had notched wins over UFC legends Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen before being forced to watch from the sidelines for two years.
“Having to sit out the way I did was very hard for me,” said Evans, who suffered a knee injury before his fight at UFC 170. “You have a thought in your mind of how things will end. And going out the way I did on an injury, it was something I never thought could happen to me.”
His performance against Bader – which displayed a full two year’s worth of Octagon rust – isn’t the way he would like to go out either. But Evans is in a better place now. He realized during his time off that he should have enjoyed the process more at the beginning of his career.
Now he’s enjoying the process. And with the knee issues long gone, and the Octagon rust shook, it’s a more relaxed Evans poised to make another run.
“The title is always what motivates me. If you’re not fighting to be the best then you shouldn’t be fighting,” Evans said. “I have a lot of years left. If you’re not chasing for gold you’re not chasing anything.”
Teixeira has never tasted gold, though he’s come close. He lost to Jon Jones for the title at UFC 172 but recently has put together an impressive two-fight win steak.
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Teixeira has finished both wins, against Ovince Saint Preux – who fights for the interim title against Jon Jones at UFC 197 next Saturday – and Patrick Cummins. He’s suffered just two losses in his long UFC career but is often unmentioned among the division’s Big 4: Jones, Daniel Cormier, Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson.
“A win over Rashad is a step closer to the title,” Teixeira said. “I don’t know where to put me because I cant see the end of the line yet with so much going on in the division but it’s a step closer.”
The short-term future of the division has a set path, as the winner of the interim belt moves on to face Cormier for the undisputed title. Then there’s “Rumble” waiting his turn. So Teixeira knows he has to keep his sights set on Evans for now.
“We are expecting the best Rashad to come to the fight,” Teixeira said. “If he shows up as some of the not-so-good Rashad then he’s in for a bad night.”
The gold chase continues on Saturday at 8pm/5pm ETPT live on FOX from Tampa, Fl.
Jon Gagnon is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JgagnonUFC