Rashad Evans: Time away from fighting was tough, but it was for the better

(This is the second in a series of Yahoo! Sports exclusive blogs from “Suga” Rashad Evans as he prepares to fight bitter rival and UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones on April 21.)

The world title fight against my old teammate Jon Jones on April 21 will be my third fight since I had to take pretty much a year off through injury. I think the time off did me good. When you fight so many times back to back – and in the UFC it is always against tough guys – it grinds on the body and wears you down.

Rashad Evans and Jon Jones chat with one another before one of Jones' fights.
(Getty Images)

I got into the UFC in 2005 by winning the heavyweight division of “The Ultimate Fighter 2,” and I’ve had 15 training camps of at least six weeks since then. That is 90 weeks of training – getting close to two whole years – and my body was getting tired. The year off made me rest, and all the little injuries that you allow to accumulate over time all healed up. That’s why people say I looked so good against Tito Ortiz, even though I think it was more to do with the way I fight now, mentally.

But the time off wasn’t a good time for me, I can’t say it was. The frustration of being the No. 1 contender since May 2010 and seeing other fighters – including the guy I beat (Rampage Jackson) – getting opportunities when I earned my title shot was pretty bad. It was frustrating. Very frustrating.

I had a very hard time in my personal life too, going through a divorce, so I was having things not go my way professionally and personally at the same time. My injury wasn’t healing like I wanted it to, and it wasn’t a great time. But during that time I learned the true strength I have as a fighter and a person.

I never felt sorry for myself, I never threw tantrum or was like, “Why me? Why all at once?” I realized I had a lot going for me in life. I realized I’d had a lot of luck and opportunities, and a lot of guys out there have it far, far worse. Yeah, I didn’t have exactly what I wanted in life right there, right then, but as soon as I got fit I’d had every opportunity to get my belt.

[ Rashad Evans: Beating Jon Jones means more than winning belt ]

I didn’t have what I wanted, I wasn’t at where I wanted to be at, but I had what I needed to get there. That allowed me to stay positive, and I also knew that I needed to change up my training and attitude toward preparation.

I completely changed the way I train with the Blackzillions here in Boca Raton, Fla., taking it to a new level. My former coach, Greg Jackson, is a great coach. I won’t say he isn’t. But I’d been doing this thing for years and to improve, I needed to do new things. I needed to improve and change to give myself the best chance of winning my belt back – and beating Jones.

Yeah, Jon has gotten better since he was that skinny kid in the gym I used to spar. But he’s not changed as a fighter. He’s improved, but he’s still the same fighter and just as importantly, he’s the same kid who has had it all his own way and thinks he is the best thing since Muhammad Ali.

When it comes down to it, I’m already sick of talking and thinking about him. There’s a lot of emotions involved with this fight, which is motivation in training but also it is something that can drain your mental energy.

I’ve been through these fights before. Michael Bisping and I went at it and the (smack talk) got so back we nearly fought at the weigh-ins. And I went back and forth with Rampage for months, talking smack and making it personal … so I know how to play this game. I don’t think Jon does. We did a TV show in Atlanta, and he was very uncomfortable in his own skin. He knows what I know about him. He knows.

On April 21, the whole world will know, too.

Who you got? Tell “Suga” how you see the fight going on Twitter: @SugaRashadEvans

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Updated Friday, Mar 30, 2012