Rashad Evans makes his long-awaited return to the Octagon this weekend at the UFC 192 pay-per-view when he takes on Ryan "Darth" Bader.
Evans hasn't fought since his TKO win against Chael Sonnen in November 2013 after undergoing two knee surgeries, but has occupied an elite spot within the light heavyweight ranks.
Evans, a former 205-pound champion, has been staying busy during his 23-month absence as a commentator for the home of the UFC on FOX, but has also helped training partners Anthony Johnson and Vitor Belfort prepare for their respective title shots at UFC 187.
SIGN UP NOW
Want to become a GMS writer? Sign up now and submit a 250 word test article: http://gms.to/haveyoursay4
The extra training has also helped "Suga," and he knows that every bit of training counts as the bout gets closer:
"The hard thing is when you travel a lot, it's just staying at it and making sure you do something every single day -- even if it's not what you typically do because you don't want to have any setbacks. You don't want to get weaker," Evans told SB Nation's MMAmania back in April.
"I've just been diligent about doing something every single day and getting my drills in."
Injuries have kept the Blackzilians fighter out longer than expected. Opting for a second surgery on an injured knee last February, Evans is determined to show the world he's still one of the very best in the division:
"I want to go out and show I'm still at the top of the division. I need to find my rhythm and find all the things I need to do to win so I can sleep at night," Evans said during the UFC 192 media conference call.
"Ryan Bader has been looking good lately. [Beating] Ryan puts me in-line to get to DC [Daniel Cormier]."
Referring to current Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier, who defends his gold against the Swedish giant Alexander Gustafsson on the same card at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas:
"I'm excited to show everyone what I've been working on the last two years besides being injured," Evans said. "The biggest key was training smart with the same intensity. I had to reform some things in my training, but I completed this camp without any injuries."
In order to get that shot at "DC," Evans will have to beat NCAA Division 1 wrestler Ryan Bader. Bader isn't messing around, and expressed his disappointed at the UFC when it was announced July that Gustafsson will fight Cormier for the belt in front of him, after riding a four-fight win streak.
However, Bader insists he isn't dwelling on that disappointment, and is focused on top contender Rashad Evans:
"You know, I'm not one to kind of dwell and cry about it. I got over it pretty quickly when I learned I had a fight and I was fighting a name like Rashad.
"It does suck to have the last two guys get title shots off a loss. But if I look at it on the positive side going into this fight, win or lose I still have a shot at getting a title shot."