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Breaking down UFC 108: Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva

After a winless 2009, Evans looks to start new year off on right track

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Tiffany Brown

Rashad Evans, left, and Thiago Silva stand off after weighing in on Friday for their light heavyweight bout in UFC 108 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

UFC 108 weigh-in

Rashad Evans, left, and Thiago Silva stand off after weighing in on Friday for their light heavyweight bout in UFC 108 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Launch slideshow »

UFC 108 fighters arrive in Las Vegas

Fighter Rashad Evans arrives for UFC 108 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Tuesday, December 29, 2009. Launch slideshow »

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Rashad Evans did a lot of things in 2009. Winning a fight wasn't one of them.

After suffering his first professional loss in May to Lyoto Machida, Evans never got a chance to redeem himself last year. His only other scheduled fight, a clash with Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson in December, was canceled when Jackson pulled out.

For a guy that entered 2009 as the undefeated, UFC light heavyweight champion, Evans says going an entire year without recording a win has been hard on him.

"It was tough, I've never not won in a full year before," Evans said. "To be dominated the way I was, it's the most humbling, worst feeling in the world. And not having a chance to out and prove yourself again, not only to the fans but to yourself, that's what hurt me so bad."

Evans (18-1-1) will look to put the winless year behind him when he takes on Thiago Silva (14-1) in the main event of Saturday's UFC 108 card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

There's the saying that it's always a long fall from the top. Evans probably would have to agree.

Not only was the loss to Machida the first ever on for Evans, it also cost him the 205-pound championship belt he had worked so hard for.

The nature of the loss was hard on Evans, as well, as it proved to be one of the top knockout finishes of the year. Evans had his back to the cage after getting rocked by Machida and eventually caught a blow flush to his jaw, sending him crumpling to the mat.

After spending time at the top of the world in the light heavyweight division, Evans initially had a difficult time accepting everything he lost that night.

"I've never seen Rashad like that before," said his close friend and training partner, James McSweeney. "It was a big loss and it hurt him in more ways than people thought. To lose for the first time and give up his belt, it was devastating for him."

Every fighter approaches getting over a loss differently. For Evans, it was the unique offer to become a coach on the reality television series "The Ultimate Fighter" that worked out to be the perfect therapy.

It was clear from the very first episode of the show that Evans was taking his role as a coach seriously.

Leading up to Saturday's fight, Evans says he's become a new fighter because of the experience as it allowed him to see his own fighting mechanics from a different perspective.

"I think it was definitely good for me being on 'The Ultimate Fighter', it was a rejuvenating process," Evans said. "It gave me a chance to tough up on things. That time off also helped me to get focused and find that hunger that I need to pursue the title again."

Strangely, Evans says the single thing that may have helped him get over the loss to Machida was Jackson constantly kidding him about it on the show.

Many of the season's memorable moments were of the two opposing coaches ripping on each other, with obviously some of Jackson's best material relating to Evans's loss.

Instead of it getting under his skin however, Evans says that having someone turn that disappointment into something funny actually had a positive effect.

"That was probably the most healing part for me to get over the loss," Evans said. "When you've got somebody constantly making fun of you — the way you looked when you get knocked out and doing the 'stanky' leg — it kind of got you to laugh a little at the whole situation.

"Sometimes laughing at yourself is probably the best medicine because it gets you to look at something serious. To you it's very serious, but somebody else makes light of it."

With the rivalry between Evans and Jackson still fresh on everyone's mind from the television series, many storylines leading up to Saturday night's fight have questioned whether or not Evans would be able to get up for the fight like he would have if it were against Jackson.

What's been forgotten is that the former champion has plenty of motivation left that has nothing to do with settling a personal dispute.

"It didn't take long coming off that loss until I wanted to get in and fight again," Evans said. "Having lost your last fight and then not have another one all year kind of sucked a little bit. Thiago is just a blank slate. It didn't matter what his name was, I just want to get in there."

Quick Hits:

Evans and Silva are similar in that they both are considered to hold plenty of skills on the ground, but prefer to fight on their feet.

For Evans, his wrestling and ground-and-pound were what initially made him successful in the sport. He's landed 58 percent of his takedown attempts in the UFC but has only attempted one in his last three fights combined.

Silva holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but is far better known for his striking.

With both fighters very dangerous on their feet, Evans said he actually believes Silva may look to change his game plan and catch him off guard by using his superior grappling ability.

"I think he's going to try and use his jiu-jitsu," Evans said. "He's said before he doesn't think my jiu-jitsu is very strong and he's going to try and use his jiu-jitsu to his advantage. It's a hole I think he sees in my game."

Maybe. But chances are both fighters are confident enough in their striking to keep this one off the mat.

Last Time Out:

Evans: Second-round loss by knockout to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98.

Silva: First-round win by knockout over Keith Jardine at UFC 102.

The Lines: Evans, minus-200; Silva, plus-170

Final Words:

Evans: On if he believes 'Rampage' Jackson may be secretly cheering for him in this fight. "I think so. He was rooting for me in my last fight, that's what threw me off. This dude is sitting there ringside, yelling, and I can hear him over my corner. And he was actually giving me good advice."

Silva: On whether or not it bothers him that most of the attention has been towards Evans leading up to the fight. "It doesn't bother me. I'm here to fight. Rashad is one of the best here and it's a great opportunity for me. I'm very happy I'm here and I just want to fight. That's it."

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected]. Also follow him on twitter: LVSunFighting.

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