The Samurai Prince

How UFC's Rashad Evans gains his mental edge

With a record of 16-0-1, Rashad Evans is on one of the most impressive winning streaks in mixed martial arts (MMA). Among the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) top light heavyweights, Evans, 28, talked to MF about his near-death training regimen and the art of preparing for battle.

WHAT IS IT THAT ALLOWS YOU TO KEEP WINNING IN A SPORT THAT'S SO UNPREDICTABLE?
I really can't put my finger on it. I've been very fortunate to have a great coach and great teammates [Evans trains at Greg Jackson's Submission Fighting in Albuquerque, N.M.]. And it helps that I have a wrestling background. My wrestling coach used to say to me, "Always try to get yourself to suffer in practice so you won't have to in the match." You have to learn how to be mentally tough in training.

IT SEEMS LIKE YOUR WRESTLING BACKGROUND ALSO ALLOWS YOU TO DICTATE THE DIRECTION OF YOUR FIGHTS. IF YOU WANT TO GRAPPLE WITH YOUR OPPONENT, YOU CAN TAKE HIM TO THE MAT; IF YOU WANT TO STRIKE, YOU ALSO HAVE THE SKILLS TO AVOID THE TAKEDOWN.
That's basically what I do. I try to control the pace of the fi ght. My strength is really my takedowns, and sometimes that's all I need to show the judges—that I'm in control of the fight.

CRITICS ACCUSE YOU OF RELYING ON DECISIONS RATHER THAN FINISHING YOUR OPPONENTS.
I'm perfecting my technique, and I'm not a finished product. There are a lot of areas where I need to get better, but I win. And I'm not satisfied with the win if it's by decision. Fans are fickle. If you go out there and knock somebody out, you're the greatest thing since sliced bread—but you're still the same fighter. If I go out there and win a decision the next time, they say it's boring. But, you know, a win's a win.

WHAT'S YOUR STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING REGIMEN ENTAIL?
What I mainly work on is cardio. I do the Airdyne—that's the bike where you pedal and push—and I do intervals on the elliptical machine. I sprint for one minute every other minute. I go at level-10 intensity. In the gym, we'll do rounds, just like in a fi ght, only I'll go up against a fresh guy every round. If I've got a three-round fi ght coming up, I'll spar for six rounds in training.

WE'VE HEARD YOU ALSO RUN ON MOUNTAINS AT 5,000 FEET.
Yeah, I hate doing it. It's like hell. You get to a point where you say to yourself, "It might be easier just to die. Then that way I can stop." We'll do a mile-anda-half or two-mile run just to get acclimated. Then sometimes we sprint.

HOW DO YOU WORK TO DEVELOP MENTAL TOUGHNESS?
Coach Jackson is like a sports psychologist. He says, "When the Samurai is given the option between life and death, he always chooses death. So choose death right now. Don't hold back, because you can't do that in a fight." By the time the fi ght comes, you're so happy that the training is over, you'll fi ght anybody!

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