Mixed Martial Arts

Sonnen, Evans put friendship aside at UFC 167

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The Canadian Press
11/15/2013 9:19:43 AM
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LAS VEGAS -- It was the first question for Canadian Rory (Ares) MacDonald at the UFC 167 public workouts.

If the third-ranked MacDonald and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre win on the weekend, will the two training partners have to fight each other.

"No," said MacDonald, before pausing. "Next question?"

Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen, however, will put friendship aside Saturday when they face off in the co-main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

The two are no strangers to working in close quarters. When they are not fighting, they sit next to each other as TV analysts on UFC shows on Fox.

After their fight, they will be reunited two weeks later to do coverage on a UFC weigh-in show.

The 34-year-old Evans, a former light-heavyweight champion, is currently ranked the No. 4 contender in the 205-pound division ruled by Jon (Bones) Jones. The 36-year-old Sonnen, who has competed for the title at both 185 and 205 pounds, is ranked No. 6.

Sonnen (29-13-1) is coming off an August win over former light-heavyweight champion Mauricio (Shogun) Rua. He had lost two straight title shots before that -- to Jones and then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

Evans (23-3-1) beat Dan Henderson last time out in August. That followed losses to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Jones.

Sonnen-Evans may be a case of be careful of what you wish for.

When Sonnen heard St-Pierre was headlining UFC 167, a marquee card that celebrates the UFC's 20-year anniversary, he asked to fight Wanderlei (The Axe Murderer) Silva in the co-main event.

"Then I asked to be put in it with anybody but Rashad," he said. "But I ended up with Rashad, so I got half my wish."

Sonnen and Evans were doing commentary work at a UFC show in Indianapolis in August when UFC president Dana White texted Sonnen to say he needed to talk to him about his next fight.

"And I said as long as it's at 205 and it's not Rashad, I'm in. And he wrote back 'It is Rashad.' So I held the phone up to Rashad -- we were on a commercial break -- and just let him read it. And I didn't say anything. He read the whole thing."

A few minutes later on the show, Sonnen had to turn to Evans to set him up for the next segment. "I could feel him sizing me up the whole rest of the show. And I felt myself doing the same thing to him."

"That's the way it goes," he added. "It's not the fight either of us wanted but we're both leaders within the locker-room with the guys at the back. We can't set an example that you pick and choose your fights. You don't. You've got to compete with everybody."

Evans recalled the moment, noting the two had believed they wouldn't be pitted against each other.

"Just because we have such good working chemistry (on TV) and I thought maybe they wouldn't do that just because it would bring a little bit of awkwardness. But we were both wrong."

Evans says he usually sees his opponent and starts thinking "Oh, man I'm going to punch him in his face."

Not this time, although Evans believes that when the bell rings he will be able to "hit the switch and just make it a fight."

White, who rarely sees a matchup he can't make, says Evans-Sonnen was simply the right fight at this time.

The UFC boss, for the record, believes MacDonald will leave GSP's gym after this fight and start training on his own, setting the stage for an all-Canadian welterweight showdown.

Both Sonnen and Evans have elite amateur wrestling credentials. Sonnen was a U.S. Olympic team alternate and NCAA all-American while Evans was a national junior college champion and NCAA all-American.

Evans has landed 49 takedowns, the most in the UFC light-heavyweight division. Sonnen has 35, the most as a middleweight.

Sonnen believes their wrestling skills might cancel each other out.

"I anticipate that from a fan's perspective, it will be a different fight than anyone has seen either of us have before," said Sonnen.

"We'll both have to go to some other hold ... This isn't a new spot but it's a tough one. And I'm going to have it figure it out on the fly," he added.

Evans isn't buying it.

"Let's be honest here. Chael Sonnen has one way of fighting and that's coming straight at you. It doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter what your game plan is. He has one game plan and that's to impose his will."

Sonnen is like a blanket and looks to envelop his opponent from the get-go. And once he gets you down to the ground, he looks to punish and finish.

Evans, meanwhile, combines speed and power, above a good wrestling base.

Sonnen has got some intel from Henderson, his good friend and sometime training partner, on Evans.

"He commented on how quick Rashad is and how difficult he is to hit, with his movement."

Evans is also back on his game, after his UFC 145 title loss to Jones that saw a bitter break with his former camp at Jackson's MMA where Jones also trained.

"Those guys were family for me for a long time before he (Jones) came into the picture. So it was kind of a sense of me losing a piece of my family and that hurt and that stung more than anything, than the fight itself."

Evans formed his own camp, known as the Blackzilians, in Boca Raton, Fla., and says he has benefited from moving forward and ridding himself of past resentment.

"No longer did I have those feelings of betrayal that I had before. I had a different understanding of the whole situation, which is the fact that sometimes in life people just have to go in different directions. And sometimes it's good, and sometimes it's hard to do. But at the same time, nevertheless we all have to go in (our) own direction at some point."

Sonnen has also changed.

At times in his career, especially when hyping up his two fights with then middleweight champion Anderson Silva, Sonnen has veered between carnival barker and pro wrestler in his on-camera persona as a fighter.

But he has been a gentleman in recent times, both candid and cerebral.

Asked about his first-round submission win over Rua, he was gracious in victory.

"I don't think Shogun was ready to go that night. I think he was too much of a sportsman to make any excuses, unlike most guys. I think he let me have my moment. I don't think that was the real Shogun that I faced."

And Sonnen played down any idea of good-natured trash-talking if he wins Saturday.

"I'm a pretty good winner, a pretty good loser," he said. "I understand it's competition. Either way I'll shake his hand when it's done and we'll walk away. But I won't bring it up ... bit of a low blow if I did."

Same for Evans.

"I wouldn't rub it in. I wouldn't overtly rub it in, I guess," he said, drawing laughs.

"I wouldn't make a big deal out of it but every once in a while I'd give him the look like 'You know what happened."'

Rashad Evans Chael Sonnen  (Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images)
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