My training camp for UFC 170 consisted of 2:30am wake up calls, headlamp guided bicycle commutes, afternoon naps, twitter, and coffee.
God I hate coffee.
After a week of being employed as a barista in a drive-thru window at a local coffee shop, I distinctly remember seeing my apron-clad reflection in the window of a customer’s car and thinking, “What has my life become? I’m 33 years old, I’ve never tasted a cup of coffee in my life and ironically I’m working in a place that stinks of coffee just so I can keep chasing my goals. Or are my goals just dreams?” Looking back, this is the moment where I hit rock bottom, but somehow, something kept pushing me forward.
I was recently reminded of a story about two miners who start at opposite sides of a mountain, both unbeknownst of each other start to dig for gold for years without success. Finally, just inches from hitting gold, one of the miners runs out of money, energy, patience, and the will to take one more swing of the pick. The other miner is also drained financially, physically and emotionally, but somehow perseveres and summons the strength through pure heart and determination to take one more swing and hits gold.
Three weeks after hitting rock bottom, I got a call that will forever change my life and eventually allow me to look back on those hard times with a smile.
It all started with a text message, a screen shot from my manager of an article entitled “Evans out with leg injury, UFC 170 co-main vs. Daniel Cormier cancelled”. I knew Daniel Cormier very well and I also knew that I could beat him, so I immediately jumped on twitter and started making some noise, about as much noise as someone with less than 400 twitter followers can make.
Apparently my tweets found their way to the right people because at about 8:30 the next morning my manager burst through the front door of the coffee shop in his pajamas and shoved his phone in my face. All of the sudden I was having a conversation with Dana White. In a few minutes time I became unemployed as a baker/barista, and the UFC’s newest employee headlining a Pay-Per-View event that was 9 days away. Holy shit.
Things seemed to go a thousand miles per hour from that point on. That day I signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC, did about 20 phone interviews while heading to and from training, had two photo shoots, and went up to FOX studios for my first live interview on FOXSports1. I got home around 10pm and couldn’t sleep a wink.
The rest of the week was a lot more of the same, interviews, UFC All-Access, last minute doctor appointments to complete medicals, making sure my weight was under control and oh yeah, preparing for the biggest fight of my career.
The next thing I knew I was flying to Vegas. When I checked into my hotel room and sat down on the bed I remember things slowing down for the first time. I could finally take a breath. Fight week is pretty hectic; I don’t think I had another moment to myself like that until the day of the fight. Not exactly something I’m used to dealing with when getting ready for a fight, but I did my best to put it all aside and focus on the task at hand.
Throughout my career as an athlete, I’ve competed in front of some pretty big crowds and felt a lot of pressure to perform. Most of the time the few minutes before a competition are filled with nerves, but once the time on the clock starts running I can block out everything and go execute. This time around I felt oddly calm, I didn’t feel any pressure of the situation and when the round started I got right to work. I felt great! After about thirty seconds into the round I remember thinking that our game plan was working and I was winning.
As soon as I had that thought, I was no longer in the moment, I stepped out of the zone and started watching what was happening instead of living it. For the next thirty seconds I tried desperately to reset and get back to that place in the moment, but I couldn’t regain my focus. After that, things got ugly.
A theater professor of mine once offered this to me, “When you’re on stage, be in character, be in the moment until the scene cuts. When the curtain closes you can be yourself, but until then you are someone else.” I used his advice once while performing the song “Teenage Dirtbag” by Weetus in class and again in a small play at the end of the year that no one attended, but I used it much more during athletic competition. I haven’t thought of him or his advice since I’ve been in college. Maybe I need to get back to my roots.
Fighting is very much about capitalizing on mistakes and when you’re fighting to be the best of the best sometimes all it takes is one small mistake to create an opening that will change the fight. I opened the door, and to Daniel’s credit, he walked right though it.
Looking back after letting a few tough weeks pass, I still believe I can win that fight. A few very small adjustments, a little experience, and a reasonable amount of time to prepare are all I need to take that next step. At first I was really hard on myself, but after a few friends forced me to talk and more importantly, listen to them, I started to look at the situation objectively. They helped me see what I trained my mind to overlook. I’m moving forward and looking ahead to the next opportunity to preform. Eventually I’ll have a chance to make a run for the title and when I do, I’ll be prepared because of this very experience.
Up until this point I couldn’t imagine myself losing a fight, but now, in a way I’m glad it happened, I’m glad it’s out of the way. There’s only one place to go from here and that’s up. I feel pretty good about that considering I know what it feels like to hit rock bottom and never give up.