Like training partner Georges St-Pierre before him, Rashad Evans has learned firsthand the difference between winning a title and keeping it.
It's a painful lesson. But one that St-Pierre has used to make himself a better mixed martial arts fighter.
Some seven months after losing the UFC light-heavyweight championship to Lyoto Machida in his first title defence at UFC 98, Evans returns to the cage at UFC 108 looking to prove that, having picked himself off the floor, he is a better man for it.
Evans, who meets Thiago Silva (14-1) on Jan. 2 in Las Vegas, acknowledges that as champion he was not prepared for the intensity of challengers like Machida.
"They go all out, man," he said from his training camp in Denver. "If you're not ready to go all out and meet them with the same intensity, then there's going to be some problems. And I've definitely got a great deal of respect for those champions who go out there and do it time after time, like a Matt Hughes, like a Tito Ortiz, like a Georges St-Pierre, and a B.J. Penn. Guys that go out there and always rise to the occasion, always have great fights.
"You really don't know what it's like and it's easy to get lackadaisical about it," he continued, "because there's a little bit of time between your first title defence and you kind of get used to it, and everybody's pulling and prodding for your attention and you're kind of like 'Yeah, I am the best' and you slowly start, reluctantly start believing it. But then there's somebody else building up, getting better and better, and getting hungry and their appetite is ferocious. They want to destroy you, you know what I'm saying, they really want you in the worst way. And if your mind is not ready to deal with that, then it can be a bad night for you."
It was a bad night for Evans on May 23 at the same MGM Grand Garden Arena where he will face Silva.
Evans (18-1-1) was unable to get on track against the elusive Machida. And it turned ugly with 90 seconds left in the second round when Machida crumpled him with a straight left.
The Brazilian southpaw battered him for the next 30 seconds, throwing more than 30 strikes. Evans showed great resilience, going down three times and staggering back up before Machida finally put him away at the fence, tagging him with a right before hammering him with a left that sent Evans flopping backwards.
Both Evans and his camp have acknowledged their strategy was flawed. To make matters worse, Evans say he executed the errant game plan poorly.
"I think there were different things I could have and should have done," he said, while noting Machida deserves credit for bringing his A game that night.
Evans said he has also learned to trust himself more and cut out "outside distractions."
"When you become champion, then everybody thinks they can add to your game, help you out, this, that and the other," he said. "And sometimes they can, but sometimes it just gets a little bit overwhelming and distracting. You can have too many people in your ear, telling you to do this and do that. When essentially you pretty much know what to do."
The 30-year-old Evans says he is looking forward, not backwards. The May defeat left him "humbled big time" but may actually have been a positive.
"I think having a loss was probably the best thing for me, because (for) one thing it helped me refocus and get my mind set on the way that I need to fight. I think sometimes when you have success at doing something, no matter if you do it good or bad, sometimes you kind of get out of what you would normally do. And I think that was the case with me ... I was getting out of my fighting style and it took a loss to see things clearly."
Which could mean future opponents may see more of the former Michigan State wrestler's skills than just striking.
"I was starting to fall in love with the power," he said. "It's a very intoxicating thing when you knock somebody out and the fight's over in a round or two rounds. You're just like 'Man I wish every fight was like that.' So you go in there and try to recreate the same thing every single fight and really try to push it sometimes when the openings may not be there. And that leads to a lot of frustration and sometimes it leads to you not being able to get off and not being able to adjust when the game's not going your way."
Evans credits St-Pierre, who lost his welterweight title first time out to Matt Serra at UFC 69 before reclaiming it three fights later from Serra at UFC 83, for helping him see the light.
"Georges has been really good with me as far as helping me out with experience, giving me some advice, some words of wisdom that he went through himself. It feels good to know that somebody overcame something like that and look where they're at right now. He's probably the most sought after fighter in mixed martial arts. There's a lot of hard work that goes into it. But he's definitely been where I've been so it helps when he says encouraging things . . . I know he's already done it, so I can follow his steps."
Evans was slated to fight Quinton (Rampage) Jackson at UFC 107 in Memphis earlier this month. But the battle of coaches on Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter" was put off after Jackson elected to take a role in the movie remake of "The A-Team."
The two former champions sniped at each constantly during the TV show, setting the stage for a grudge match.
"Just too much foreplay, man, I wish it would have happened already," lamented Evans.