Nothing gauges popularity quite like Twitter, so a survey of the social media site confirms that the UFC light heavyweight division has become the marquee class of mixed martial arts.
And, at the moment, one of the faces of the UFC light heavyweight division is Niagara Falls' own Rashad Evans. The former wrestling star at Niagara-Wheatfield High School and Niagara County Community College -- known on Twitter as @SugaRashadEvans -- was scheduled to meet Phil Davis this weekend at UFC 133 in Philadelphia. But when Davis pulled out due to injury, the UFC tapped one of its light heavyweight legends, Tito Ortiz as his replacement.
But it's been Evans who has been front and center in the promotion of Saturday's pay-per-view event. In the last few weeks, Evans has done countless interviews, photo shoots and appearances, culminating with last week's appearance on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Evans also took some time out of training to chat with his hometown newspaper, the Niagara Gazette. Here is an edited transcript of the interview.
Niagara Gazette: How's your training going Rashad?
Rashad Evans: The training is going well. Great camp so far. Just trying to be sure I finish on a high note.
Gazette: I was checking out some of the video content on your website, RashadEvans.tv. Could you tell our readers about your training methods and some of the things your doing to prepare for this fight?
Evans: My training methods are pretty standard, compared to what I've been doing. I've taken a little more time to work on the areas I need to work on.
Really worked on my physical strength a lot and my standup and my ground work, my jiu jitsu and stuff like that. Pretty much I've just been doing what I do, because I've been doing it for so long, but just taking it to the next level.
Gazette: You're featured in the UFC Personal Trainer video game? Obviously those aren't the same workouts you do to train for a fight, but how similiar is
that to what you do to train yourself?
Evans: The workouts for the UFC game are pretty similar. Some of the combinations they have you do is what I do to get ready for my fights. But it's still a
video game. I do a lot more sprinting and a lot more contact, a lot more striking, ju-jitsu,
wrestling and stuff like that. But the game is definitely pretty challenging in that respect. It was a fun game to be a part of and to work on with UFC. I
think they've got a big hit in that game because kids can get the idea of what it's like to have the UFC experience.
Gazette: You've also been a part of other UFC video games. How much fun is it to work on those projects?
Evans: It's a lot of fun to be a part of those projects. Because when you're doing it, you don't really know how it's going to come out and then you're kind of surprised when you get a glimpse of what it's going to be like and you're like, wow, I'm glad I was a part of it. I remember when I was doing the voice tags and I felt stupid doing it. But after I got done doing it, they gave me an idea of what it was going to sound like, and the vision they had for it, I was excited.
Gazette: Back to the fight. What are your thoughts on facing Tito Ortiz again and him being a late replacement?
Evans: I'm glad that he stepped up and took the fight and I'm glad that I'm getting a chance at a little bit of redemption. The first time we fought it ended in a draw. I'm looking to get out there and get some redemption and just get back out there and fight again. I've been out for so long that I'm going to just try and find my rhythm again. So it's going to be a good fight to go out there and do that with.
Gazette: He's training on short notice. Do you think you have an advantage there, since you've been preparing for such a long time?
Evans: You know, I'd like to have an advantage, but really when it comes down to it, that remains to be seen on fight night. He's coming off his last fight, with Ryan Bader, he looked pretty good, so he's coming in with the momentum off that and the mentality that he's back and he's going to be a force to be reckoned with. So when somebody believes in himself like that and feels good again, they can be dangerous.
Gazette: Are you excited about fighting in Philadelphia?
Evans: Yeah, I am. It's pretty close to where I'm from, compared to fighting in Vegas most of the time. It's a lot closer for my family coming from Niagara Falls, New York to come check me out. I expect to have a lot of family and friends coming from Niagara Falls. A lot of people have hit me up and let me know they are going to be out there because it's just a drive away.
Gazette: New York State lawmakers recently ruled against sanctioning mixed martial arts fights, at least at this point. Are you disappointed? I know you were an advocate of getting that law changed?
Evans: Yeah. I went out to Albany and chopped it up with some of those guys out there. It's tough, you know. Maybe next year we'll get it on the ballot.
We'll see. I was doing my part, I was doing my due diligence. I think we have the best sport in the world and the fastest-growing. It's just a matter of time for New York State. It's really hard to understand what the holdup is. But I guess everything is going to be in due time. You know, MMA doesn't need New York, New York needs MMA. And I say that with all due respect to New York. We're a sport that has pretty much proven and solidified where we are going. And we are the future.
Gazette: If that law gets changed at some point, do you expect to see a card in Buffalo? Do you think this is a market that could support a UFC event?
And just to get an idea, a glimpse, of what they were able to do, it's a good showing that if we put a show in New York, we can get that money too. I don't understand why we constantly have to give money up to the Canadian side when we can make money on the American side. It's just a shame.
Gazette: Eric Knuutila recently retired after three decades as the Niagara County Community College wrestling coach. Could you talk about the impact he had on your wrestling career and how he may have helped you get to the point you are at now?
Evans: Eric Knuutila had a big impact on my wrestling career. I still think about some of the things and lessons I learned from training under Coach Knuutila.
Coming into community college, I wasn't sure of where I wanted to go in my future. But Coach Knuutila, he believed in me, he always made me set my standards higher than anybody else, you know what I'm saying? So if we were out there training, he would say, "What are you going to do extra to set yourself apart?" He was one of those coaches that not only told you, but could get down and do it himself. And he was old at the time too. So, I respect that a lot in Coach Knuutila. He had a lot of faith in me, and he always knew how to talk to me and keep my mind right so I could perform on the highest level.
Gazette: We appreciate you taking some time to talk to us Rashad. Any final thoughts for the people back home?
Evans: I want to thank everybody back home for supporting me. Sometimes it doesn't always say Niagara Falls there, but you better believe, I represent Niagara Falls every time I step in the octagon.