Rashad Evans was first introduced to UFC fans four years ago, when he was one of the 16 aspiring mixed martial artists competing on the second season of the UFC's reality show The Ultimate Fighter. That went well for him -- he won the season and the UFC contract that went with it -- but Evans says his experience as a coach on the current season was more rewarding.
"I got more out of coaching because I had the previous experience fighting," Evans said in an interview with FanHouse. "I knew what I wished I had -- I knew what it was to be the guy who's just trying to make it and hoping to get instruction from a professional fighter, and I tried to give these guys the coaching I wanted when I was in their shoes."
Evans praised his own coach from Season 2, Rich Franklin, as having been instrumental in his development as a fighter. But he noted that the opposing coach that season, Matt Hughes, was less than helpful. According to Evans, Hughes drove his fighters to exhaustion in workouts, leaving them spent, sore and beaten down by the time they stepped into the Octagon.
"Hughes trained his guys too hard and wore them out," Evans said. "Rich Franklin was an excellent coach because he knew that when you're coaching guys, you should ask them how they're feeling. Especially heavyweights -- they can't jump around like welterweights can or else their joints are going to break down. I was very conscious that heavyweights are fragile in training."
One of the most memorable moments from Evans' stint on The Ultimate Fighter came when he defeated Tom Murphy in a fight that brought a sharp rebuke from Hughes, who ripped Evans for showboating in the Octagon. Evans says he bears no hard feelings toward Hughes for that, even as he also says he used Hughes as a model for how not to coach.
"Matt and I are cool now," Evans said. "I just don't agree with the way he did things."
Comparing his own season on the show to the current season, Evans noted that the UFC's approach to recruiting fighters this season was quite a bit different than it was in Season 2 -- and not just because Season 10 includes Kimbo Slice, the first Ultimate Fighter contestant who was a big name before appearing on the show.
"The guys this season are better athletes -- they're bigger, stronger, more explosive in the gym," Evans said. "But I think my season, we were technically superior fighters."
But that's not a knock on Season 10, which Evans says is more focused on MMA than his own season was.
"As the show has progressed, it has become more about actually fighting," Evans said. "Before they got distracted by thinking they had to follow what reality shows usually do. Now the focus is more on what our sport is all about."
Evans said he particularly enjoyed coaching his friend James McSweeney, who is one of this season's contestants and served as one of Evans' sparring partners before his fights with Forrest Griffin and Lyoto Machida. McSweeney beat Wes Shivers on last week's episode of The Ultimate Fighter, but Evans wasn't effusive with praise for his friend. He said that as McSweeney's MMA career progresses, he wants to see him fight with more consistency and a greater sense of urgency -- and he added that McSweeney needs to bulk up so he won't be out-muscled by bigger heavyweights.
Overall, Evans said he's thrilled to be back on The Ultimate Fighter -- and grateful that his previous experience with the show put him in position to make a living in the UFC.
"If you do something you love," Evans said. "you never work a day in your life."