MMA: Evans, Silva highlight injury-plagued UFC 108
AP Sports Writer
If every mixed martial artist expected to fight at UFC 108 had been healthy or willing, Saturday's event at the MGM Grand Garden would have been one of the all-time greats.
Instead, the last men standing are Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva, who are in charge of making sure the show is still an exciting end to a year of impressive growth for their sport.
Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva, Shane Carwin, Lyoto Machida, Tyson Griffin all were expected to appear on the UFC's usual year-ending big card in Las Vegas at one point or another. All eventually dropped out with a baffling sequence of injuries that eventually sidelined at least 10 fighters expected to appear on the card.
What's more, Evans' first fight since losing his light heavyweight title to Machida was long expected to be against Rampage Jackson, his unfriendly rival — but Rampage instead elected to play B.A. Baracus in the upcoming movie version of "The A-Team," delaying their bout indefinitely.
Evans (18-1-1), whose favorite Christmas present ever was a Mr. T doll, has little time to contemplate the would haves and should have that could distract him from a dangerous fight with Silva (11-1), whose only career loss also occurred against Machida.
"I've made it a point to not get distracted, because Thiago is a very hungry fighter," Evans said. "If I'm going to fight Rampage, is it going to happen, how much do I dislike him, all that stuff. It has been tiresome just answering the same question. Every time I find myself drifting away from the person I've got to fight, I just watch some of the tape and just see what I can do, and then it just gets me motivated all over again."
Evans says he wasn't pleased by that "long to-do with Rampage, a lot of verbal intercourse that really never amounts to anything." Though Evans is favored against Silva, the Brazilian jiu jitsu star is coming off an impressive first-round stoppage of Keith Jardine, Evans' good friend and training partner.
Evans didn't have to search for motivation after Silva celebrated his win over Jardine with an emphatic gesture that many took to be taunting, though Silva insists it wasn't meant disrespectfully.
"I just came back from a big loss, and it just was my standard point to say, 'OK, I'm back,'" Silva said through an interpreter.
Evans has studied Silva for years, ever since they were briefly expected to fight before Evans got a chance against Chuck Liddell and knocked out the sport's most popular fighter in September 2008. Evans also learned about Silva during Jardine's preparations for their bout last year.
Yet Evans hasn't fought since May, when Machida stopped him to claim the 205-pound title. Evans reconsidered several aspects of his training during his time off, evaluating how he went from beating Liddell, taking the light heavyweight title from Forrest Griffin and then getting knocked out in less than nine months.
"I was humbled bigtime," Evans said. "When you're winning and things are going good, it just seems like that's how it's always going to be, and things that you know that you should do, you kind of neglect because you've been getting away with it, because you've been winning anyway."
Evans worked as a coach on the UFC's popular television show, "The Ultimate Fighter," along with Jackson, but he never stopped training, doing only a bit less sparring early on to protect himself after his knockout loss.
"For the most part, I'm just a lot more confident in my game plan and my strategy going into this fight," Evans said. "I think I'm a bit sharper than I was, but it all remains to be seen. It's all about execution."
Evans spent the past holiday season in the final stages of training for his fight against Forrest Griffin, so he's comfortable being away from his family at Christmas. So is Silva, who had seven months between his loss to Machida and his win over Jardine to refine his skills.
"It's a new resolution for this year to be more intelligent, and not an emotional fighter and rush into things," Silva said.