Rashad Evans was on top of the world.
He had never lost -- the lone blemish on his resume was a draw with Tito Ortiz. He was the UFC light heavyweight champion, and his last three wins were against a murderer's row of fighters: Michael Bisping, Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin.
Then he stepped into the cage against fellow unbeaten Lyoto Machida at UFC 98 in May. Not only did he lose his belt in a devastating highlight-reel second-round knockout for the ages, he got a dose of humility.
"I was humbled big time," Evans said Tuesday. "When you're winning and things are going good, it just seems like that's how it's always going to be. Things that you know you should do (in training), you kind of neglect because you've been getting away with it and winning anyway. But then when you get your butt kicked, it's like, 'Dang, if I just would've tightened this up here or listened here, maybe this wouldn't have happened.' So it definitely humbled me."
Now Evans finds himself on the comeback trail -- but it's a trail that took a couple odd twists and turns to get him to his UFC 108 main-event bout against Thiago Silva on Jan. 2.
Evans (18-1-1) coached Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality competition against opposing coach Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, and the plan was for the two rivals to meet at UFC 107 in Memphis earlier this month. But Jackson dropped out to make the "A-Team" movie, and a subsequent verbal sparring match with UFC president Dana White had Evans wondering for a while when he might fight again. And the MMA world is wondering if Jackson will stay true to his word that he's done with the UFC.
But in stepped Silva (14-1), a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who also has just one loss on his record against -- yep, you guessed it -- Machida, which makes for an interesting main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Evans, whose primary training is with the Greg Jackson camp in Albuquerque, N.M., is a former Michigan State University wrestler who now makes his home in Chicago. And as part of his early training for Silva, he spent some time in Hammond working with WEC bantamweight Miguel Torres.
"Miguel's my little homey, and his gym is about 30 minutes from where I live in Chicago," Evans said. "We had been doing the ESPN (MMA Live) show together and we were talking and we figured out that we lived so close together, and we always talked about getting together and training. So when I was at home, I went and had a training session with him. We got some work in and we had a good, fun training session. He's really little, but he's really talented -- so we had a good time training together."
Evans said he plans to continue working with Torres when he's in Chicago, even after the Silva fight.
For both Evans and Silva, their losses to Machida, the current light heavyweight champ, made them perhaps even hungrier than they were before losing.
"It's painful, it's nasty to lose to somebody," Silva said through his translator. "But you learn from your mistakes and your losses. It's up to the UFC (if I get another chance at Machida). Definitely I'd be looking forward to a rematch -- but it's not up to me. I want to fight the best. I want to be a champion. If Lyoto is the champion, that's who I'm going after."
For Evans, the long layoff between this fight and his last, the Machida loss, means he's anxious to get back in the Octagon.
"I'm more eager just because I'm excited to fight -- it's been a long time," Evans said. "One thing the loss has made me do is just be a little more in tune to fine details. I'm always just looking back and fine-tuning everything."
Despite a lot of buildup and trash talk back and forth between him and Jackson, Evans insists his sole focus is on Silva.
"For me, not one single part of me is looking to a fight with Rampage," Evans said. "There's so much with that whole situation -- is he going to let the fact that he's mad at Dana interfere with the fact he might not fight me, or is he gonna come back -- all these up and down games, it's just mentally draining. Right now, my focus is 100 percent on Thiago and I'm not looking past him in any kind of way. Right now, he is my first, he is my last, he is everything. There's nothing beyond this fight to me."
UFC 108: Evans vs. Silva
When: 8 p.m., Jan. 2
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
TV: Spike (8-9 p.m.), pay-per-view ($44.95, 9 p.m.)
205: Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva
170: Dustin Hazelett vs. Paul Daley
155: Joe Lauzon vs. Sam Stout
155: Jim Miller vs. Duane Ludwig
Hwt: Junior Dos Santos vs. Gilbert Yvel
Spike TV Preliminary Card
170: Martin Kampmann vs. Jacob Volkmann
155: Cole Miller vs. Dan Lauzon
205: Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Steve Cantwell
185: Mark Munoz vs. Ryan Jensen
170: Mike Pyle vs. Jake Ellenberger
155: Rafaello Oliveira vs. John Gunderson