Rashad Evans and Jon Jones were teammates in the recent past and now they will fight over Jones’ newly acquired UFC light heavyweight strap, a match up that has fostered dissension in their once-shared camp under coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn.
When Jackson sought to bring Jones into his camp, Evans initially protested. Though he eventually relented and gave his blessing, “Sugar” couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling he had concerning the situation and he began to distance himself from the camp by spending more time at the Jackson’s affiliated Grudge Training Center. Following Jones’ public assertion that he would be willing to fight Rashad, made prior to his title fight against “Shogun” Rua, and the subsequent booking of that match, Evans made his split from Jackson’s MMA official by forming a new team with coach Mike Van Arsdale in Florida.
Despite the rift that now lives between them, Jackson has said that he will not prepare Jones — who remains on the Albuquerque, New Mexico-stationed team — for a fight against Evans, opting instead to stay out of the entire mess until it blows over. Mike Winkeljohn, on the other hand, recently told MMAFighting.com that he sees no reason why he shouldn’t train Jones considering that Evans has effectively fired him from being his coach.
“I wasn’t discouraged, and hey, I like the guy,” said Winkeljohn of Evans’ gradual distancing from the camp. “But Jon Jones has wanted to work with me and his stand-up has come a long way. He’s looking tremendous. But in my mind, if I was fired by Rashad, I don’t think I should take myself out of another job just because I used to work with the guy that fired me.”
Winkeljohn pointed to Evans’ title-relinquishing knockout loss to Lyoto Machida in 2009 as the starting point where “Sugar” started to drift from and distrust the team, asserting that Evans’ choice to leave was his own and that he was not victimized by the Jackson camp.
“Greg, I think, will step out of it,” Winkeljohn said. “That’s his philosophy, and bless his heart. But the sides were chosen a ways back. I feel bad saying that, but I don’t want to look like a bad guy and I don’t want [the Greg Jackson team] to look like a bad guy. Rashad lost to Machida, and he basically left. I know he left me, so that’s how I feel. Choosing sides? I don’t know if that’s the term for it, but he made that choice. I didn’t make that choice.”
In addition to describing Evans as the being one of the “most intelligent, respectful guys I’ve ever met,” Winkeljohn told MMAFighting that he did his best to let Evans know that he and Keith Jardine (the camp’s other resident light heavyweight) came before Jones, but that his message fell on deaf ears. He also expressed remorse and regret over the whole situation and admitted that he’ll have his work cut out for him in coaching Jones against Evans.
“A lot of us are to blame,” said Winkeljohn. “I think it’s an unfortunate series of events that’s going to happen more and more. Everybody wants a title. Bringing Jon Jones in, you know, if we would have known ahead of time that this would happen, we might not have brought him in. I don’t know, it’s tough. But I don’t know if that’s why Rashad left, or if it was because he didn’t trust us after he lost to Machida. Maybe it was a combination. I don’t know. I care about both guys and if there’s anybody out there who has the tools to beat Jon Jones, it’s Rashad Evans. If he uses them and he shows up mentally prepared, Jon Jones is in for a long night.”