WINNIPEG - Rashad Evans chuckles when asked about his modest beginnings in the sport of mixed martial arts.
Evans, an accomplished amateur wrestler at Michigan State, was working as a bouncer in a bar when he overhead one of the patrons talking about taking a guy down with a rear-naked choke.
Hearing the MMA term immediately caught his attention and Evans soon found out that the guy actually trained at a gym in Lansing, Mich.
Evans’ first impressions of the tiny gym weren’t great, as it was located in a seedy neighborhood and the decor — complete with a rat or two running around the dungy building — was not exactly welcoming.
But once he got a taste of the competition, Evans was hooked and soon found himself inside the ring with people from all walks of life.
“It was like our own little Fight Club,” said Evans, referencing the 1990s movie with Brad Pitt. “You wouldn’t expect to see some of the people in there either.”
But that’s where the seeds of his passion for the fight game were planted.
After starting his pro career 5-0 under the tutelage of Dan Severn, Evans got his big break, a spot in The Ultimate Fighter 2 TV show in 2005, ultimately winning the heavyweight division.
Years later, Evans finds himself with a 22-3-1 record and in Saturday’s main event for UFC 161 in a light heavyweight bout against Dan Henderson at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
“It’s a pleasant surprise, but I’m happy about it,” said Evans. “I didn’t even know about it. They didn’t even call me. I found out on Twitter that I was in the main event. But that was cool.”
As for the match-up itself, Evans is planning to keep a simple approach.
“Speed is definitely going to be a the biggest factor in this fight. The key for me is just to stay relaxed and more importantly, just believe in myself. Believe in my speed, believe in my hands, believe in my takedown ability. Believe in my all-around game. Once I do that, this fight should be in the bag for me.”
Although Evans isn’t lacking confidence, it’s not like he’s disrespecting Henderson either. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“It’s going to be exciting. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dan. It’s going to be fun because I watched his style for a long time and modeled my style after his for a bit, from his takedowns, to his punches and stuff like that,” said Evans, who played both tailback and safety on his Niagara-Wheatfield High School in Sanborn, N.Y. before shifting his focus to wrestling in college. “It’s going to be crazy looking across the cage and saying ‘damn, that’s Dan Henderson and we’re about to go at it.’ It’s going to be pretty cool.
“I believe I have a heavier punch but his punch is legendary. He has silenced a lot of people with the H bomb.”
Coming through with a win on Saturday is the goal for Evans, but not necessarily for the reasons one might think.
“This fight is very important to me but I’m not really too concerned with where it puts me in the rankings and things like that,” said Evans. “The rankings are for the media and for the fans.
“I don’t really look at the rankings. The rankings never helped me beat up anybody or stopped somebody from beating me up. But I do desperately want to win this fight.”