Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
A lesson in the power of video editing: Selecting the right quote from a fighter and scrapping much of the rest can lead to the end of a friendship, the parting of ways for teammates and trainers . . . and one heck of a candidate for fight of the year.
The words used by Jon Jones about Rashad Evans a year ago in a television interview were innocuous by themselves. He merely said that if his boss, UFC president Dana White, told him to fight his teammate, he would have to do it.
That was March 3, 2011, 16 days before Jones won the UFC light heavyweight title, and he was already suggesting that if he was forced to fight Evans, then his teammate, training partner and "like a brother" at Greg Jackson's camp in New Mexico, then Jones would fight him. On the night Jones won the title, Evans left Jackson's camp.
And now here we are. Twelve months of water that may not fit under the bridge a week from now when the two mixed martial artists fight in Atlanta at UFC 145.
"People still haven't shown the full interview of how highly I actually spoke about Rashad," Jones said Friday on a conference call. "I was saying such nice things. The only part that made that show was it was Dana's call, and if I had to fight Rashad, that's what I had to do. But I just wish people knew the whole story."
Evans, one of the best talkers in the sport, dismissed what Jones said Friday, what he said a year ago and whatever came in between.
"Who cares about that interview?" Evans said. "It's really about what was said before, and about how Jon really, really feels. Jon always wanted to fight me. He never wanted to be teammates and like brothers. Jon came on the team so he could learn the way to beat me."
Yeah, dem's fightin' words, and while the "former friends" angle is about as old as they come in fight promotion, it is not too difficult to see that Evans was and still is hurt by the split. Evans now trains with the Blackzilians, a fight team in Boca Raton, Fla., run by former MMA fighter and NCAA wrestling champion Mike Van Arsdale. Meanwhile, Jones remains in Albuquerque, N.M., with Jackson, one of MMA's premier trainers.
The change in geography and climate hasn't soothed Evans' feelings.
"That team consists of 'I,' and the 'I' is Greg Jackson," Evans said. "It's about Greg Jackson winning coach of the year awards."
Jones attempted to defend his coach's schedule and expansive stable of fighters both famous and unknown. Evans wanted no part of it.
"That has nothing to do with what we're talking about," he said. "If you're going to jump in the conversation, you've got to keep up, man."
The fighters spoke to each other as much they spoke about each other on the call. Perhaps they are tired of the latter, what with this fight being hyped for more than a year. Injuries derailed its happening twice before.
Jones (15-1) is the new face and future of the UFC. He's young, charismatic and good-looking. The Rochester native also happens to invent new moves in the octagon with each fight. Evans (22-1-1), who grew up in Niagara Falls, is a former champion who has been the No. 1 contender for more than a year, only people easily forget his talents since he spent 14 months away from the cage because of injuries to him or would-be opponents.
The love is gone between Jones and Evans, but some level of respect remains.
"Jon has a unique style," Evans said. "It makes no sense to bring in someone to emulate him. Jon does his own thing."
To wit, Jones replied, "Aw, thanks, Rashad."
Another quote that sounds harmless but was far from friendly.