For a brief time, Rashad Evans and Jon Jones shared the best life had to offer. The two were training partners at Greg Jackson's Submission Fighting facility in Albuquerque, N.M., working to become two of mixed martial arts' most promising light heavyweights. The fighters shared a friendship and bond hardened by their daily rituals.
"We used to have a lot of fun training together and competing against each other," Evans recalled. "We would just have fun just doing stuff like, 'I bet I can touch your knee more times than you can touch my knee,' or, 'Let's see how many takedowns you can get. I bet I can get more takedowns than you.' I mean we would just have fun, and that's what I miss most. Just that we'd have fun and then even after we got done from practicing, we'd sit and chop it up a little bit. And then we'll go over different moves and different setups and all kinds of stuff."
Evans eventually left Jackson's tutelage to strike out on his own, and the relationship with Jones morphed from friendly to adversarial. For much of the past year, the duo -- destined to fight as two of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's top light heavyweights -- exchanged verbal barbs with one another in various interviews and appearances.
Their showdown, strung along for nearly a year due to a series of injuries in both fighters, finally happens Saturday night in the main event of UFC 145 when Jones defends the UFC light heavyweight championship against Evans, who held the belt for five months in 2008 and 2009. The event, held at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, is available live on pay-per-view at 10 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. PDT.
Evans, a 32-year-old native of New York, is taking the fight -- and its buildup -- personally.
"I think this one ranks above everyone else because I felt like with the whole connection with Greg and everything else that it brings a different kind of edge to it," said Evans, 22-1-1. "Plus my relationship with Jon brings that different element to it. ... One thing I learned about when you talk, you know you've got to back up. I already know how the game works."
While neither fighter expects a renewal of their friendship, both believe they can achieve a level of respect for one another following the fight.
"I would like to be able to be at a UFC event and not feel awkward in the same room with Rashad," said Jones, a 24-year-old New York native with a 15-1 record. "It would be cool to be able to be like, 'Hey, good fight, you know, blah, blah, blah,' and just keep it moving. We're adults here, and it's not like I don't know Rashad, so to be like men after the fight, we'll be cool."
The remainder of the pay-per-view card includes welterweights Rory MacDonald vs. Che Mills; heavyweights Brendan Schaub vs. Ben Rothwell; bantamweights Miguel Torres vs. Michael McDonald; featherweights Mark Hominick vs. Eddie Yagin; and lightweights Mark Bocek vs. John Alessio.
The preliminaries, which can be seen live on FX at 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT, include:
-- Heavyweights Travis Browne vs. Chad Griggs; welterweights Matt Brown vs. United States Stephen Thompson; lightweights John Makdessi vs. Anthony Njokuani; and lightweights Mac Danzig vs. Efrain Escudero. Two additional preliminaries -- welterweights Keith Wisniewski vs. Chris Clements and featherweights Marcus Brimage vs. Maximo Blanco -- can be seen at www.facebook.com/UFC an hour earlier.
-- Former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez will headline Bellator Fighting Championships 66 on Friday night against Japan's Shinya Aoki. The event, which will be held at the I-X Center in Cleveland, Ohio, will air live on MTV2 and EPIX at 8 p.m. EDT and on tape delay at 8 p.m. PDT.
The card will also feature the middleweight tournament semifinal bouts -- Vyacheslav Vasilevsky vs. Maiquel Falcao and Bruno Santos vs. Brian Rogers -- and the lightweight tournament semifinal bouts -- Brent Weedman vs. Thiago Michel and Lloyd Woodard vs. Rick Hawn.
Preliminary bouts, which can be seen live on spike.com at 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT and continue at 10 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. PDT, include: women's 131-pounders: Jessica Eye vs. Anita Rodriguez; bantamweights Donny Walker vs. Frank Caraballo; lightweights Tyler Combs vs. Jason Dent; light heavyweights Dan Spohn vs. Attila Vegh; light heavyweights John Hawk vs. Marcus Vanttinen; and lightweights Julien Lane vs. Joe Heiland.
This week's fight on The Ultimate Fighter Live will match John Cofer against Vinc Pichel. TUF can be seen live every Friday at 10 p.m. EDT and on tape delay at 10 p.m. PDT on FX.
-- Eduardo Dantas defeated Zak Makovsky at Bellator 65 last week to win the promotion's bantamweight title.