ATLANTA – The strain was visible on Rashad Evans' face, evident in his voice.
For the better part of 14 months, he's answered questions about the same incident regarding the same man, over and over. Everywhere he's gone, everyone he's seen, wants the answer to that one question: What happened?
Evans spent several hours Wednesday explaining why he's personally at odds with Jon Jones, whom he'll fight for the light heavyweight title Saturday at Philips Arena in the main event of UFC 145.
As he answered, the fire, resentment and passion that has made this fight so hot and generated so much interest from a burgeoning fan base was missing.
He spoke mostly in a monotone, flat-lined, staring straight ahead and showing none of the anger or hate that supposedly fueled this match and has helped make it one of the most highly anticipated bouts in UFC history.
"After a while, it's enough and you're ready for the fight to come," Evans said. "I'm ready to be done with talking and just go fight."
Though he's been in a few feuds in his career, Evans isn't a fighter who is fueled by grudges. He's the kind of guy who pauses the DVD player while watching tapes of boxer Roy Jones Jr., goes to the bathroom and comes out with his hair cut the same way as Jones.
He became friends with Roy Jones, who was once boxing's pound-for-pound king, about a year ago after studying his fight films for years. Evans invited Jones into his camp and the one-time superstar boxer provided him with valuable insights.
Roy Jones, who is no relation to Jon, told Yahoo! Sports that he was stunned when he heard a UFC crowd voraciously booing Evans. When he questioned it, he learned it was commonplace.
That, he said, didn't mesh with the guy he's come to call his friend.
"I have no idea what the hell these people are thinking who would dare boo a man like him," Roy Jones said. "Rashad is a good dude, a great dude. He's a funny guy. I don't bring people in close to me who aren't good people. This man is good. You hang with him and you know you're going to laugh and have a good time."
Evans is much like boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. in that he plays a character that seemingly delights in antagonizing fans and his opponent. The public railed against Evans when he grabbed his crotch and strutted around the cage after winning the title in 2008 by stopping Forrest Griffin.
He nearly drove Quinton "Rampage" Jackson off the edge with his acerbic quips when they coached against each other on "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2009.
That, though, is the public manifestation of " 'Suga' Rashad," the cocky, supremely talented fighter who will tell you what he's going to do and then smirks after he does it.
Those close to Evans, though, know that couldn't be farther from the truth. Nate Bryant is Evans' oldest brother and said there are distinct differences between "Suga' Rashad," the public figure, and plain old Rashad, his baby brother.
"He's a 180 [degree] difference from that character you see," Bryant said. "He's relaxed, he's jovial. That persona you see in public, that's 'Suga'. You can't be the same person when you're in the ring that you are in everyday life. When he makes the transition and becomes 'Suga', he plays that role and he plays it extremely well. But when he's away from the lights and away from the crowds, he's just a down-to-earth, humble, funny guy."
Evans revels in the hate he's able to generate from UFC crowds. If you want to guarantee a chorus of boos in an arena filled with mixed martial arts fans, put Evans' mug on one of the video screens.
Bryant said Evans is comfortable with his role as one of the UFC's resident heels.
It didn't hurt that he was supremely competitive from a young age and reveled in overcoming steep odds.
"I think there was a point in time when it bothered him," Bryant said of the fan reaction. "But I think he grew to embrace it and to enjoy it. Rashad was always the smallest guy at whatever he did. He was the little guy and no one ever thought he could win and he loved upsetting them, taking their hopes and everything they had, and destroying that.
"He's loved being the underdog ever since he's been a kid. He'd always look for the biggest person and then he'd take it to that person. Always."
Not many think he can beat Jones, who is a 5-1 to 6-1 favorite to beat Evans and retain his title.
Evans is motivated by the odds, as well as by the fact that he's not only facing his one-time mentor, but also his former coaches, Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn.
And while Roy Jones has great respect for Jon Jones' talents, he said it will take "a hell of a man" to defeat Evans.
"Jon Jones has got things he does that are great," Roy Jones said. "No question about it. Flat out great. But the secret is taking away the things he likes to do. If he likes to wrestle, you take away his wrestling. If he likes to throw his right hand, you force him to use his left. Rashad has a game plan, and it's not fair for me to talk about that, but this guy is a hell of a fighter, believe me when I tell you that.
"He's got the best hands in MMA, in my opinion. He's fast and he has a lot of power. He could be a boxer, if he wanted."
Evans, though, is in the right sport. He's 10th in the Yahoo! Sports rankings and is '12-1-1 in the UFC. He's beaten former champions Tito Ortiz, Jackson, Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell, and has been called the most underrated fighter in the world by UFC president Dana White.
White is correct when he says Evans doesn't get enough credit for what he's done, but at this stage, Evans isn't particularly concerned about anything other than getting his hand raised Saturday.
"I don't think I get my due, but that's something I'm all right with," Evans said. "I think that in time, I will get my due. Right now, I don't need to read my press clippings and I don't need to be impressed with what I've done or have anybody else tell me this or that.
"[A win over Jones] would be huge because it would show people that I'm as good as my record says and that I do show up to fight. I never think about that, about being in the Hall of Fame. There's still a lot left to do in my career.'"
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