When you're coaching one of the top light heavyweights in the world, a former world champion who has only lost once in his career, a man who is looking to regain his championship form, how do you lead him?
What tricks do you teach a dog that has seen in all in this sport? How do you prepare a perennial main event competitor who has worn UFC gold? What can you say to prepare him any more than he has ever been for any other fight in his life?
This is the puzzle that Blackzilian coach Mike Van Arsdale is solving one day at a time as he leads former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans back to the pinnacle of the division he once ruled, however briefly.
Including losing his UFC strap, Evans has had his fair share of ups and downs ranging from leaving Jackson's MMA, sustaining and recovering from injury, seeing a once-blooming friendship with Jon Jones become a heated rivalry—all the while watching him take advantage of opportunities that very well may have been Rashad's to seize.
Looking back one can point to much adversity in the recent career of Rashad Evans. The one bright spot was defeating Tito Ortiz, who quite frankly is not the same man that once fought Evans to a draw and who is one of only two men to ever fight Evans and not lose outright.
Mike Van Arsdale is coaching one of the most promising talents in recent memory who has fought through adversity and overcome drastic change to emerge as one of the top light heavyweight mixed martial artists in the world.
Evans' time to take back his place as one of the best fighters in the division has come. If he can topple Phil Davis—an almost mirror image of who he once was—Evans will find himself in a position to right many of the complications that have plagued his recent career.
This is the task Mike Van Arsdale has taken on, but, again, how has he gone about preparing Rashad Evans? It is simpler than many fight fans might think. As they sit back and contemplate how Evans may rise or fall this weekend, many fans may be surprised at the approach and thought process Evans and his coaching staff are bringing to the table.
Van Arsdale recently spoke with Todd Jackson of Hurtsbad MMA, and he shared some very interesting insight into how they have prepared Rashad for this fight and others moving forward.
How do you prepare one of the top light heavyweights in the sport to regain his championship form?
It's simple really. To hear Van Arsdale tell it, you turn him loose.
Van Arsdale told Hurtsbad MMA his thoughts about what sets Evans apart from not only the field of competitors but, more importantly, from Phil Davis.
He explained, "Some people are fighters, and some people aren't. I think the fighter in Rashad is coming out, and that's what you're going to see. I don't even have a game plan. We are just going to go out there, and whatever happens is what happens. That's how I've been doing it over his last few fights, and that is why he has been doing better now."
That might not seem like much of a game plan or science. But Van Arsdale elaborated, and when he explains further a light goes off, and it all makes much more sense. When applied to Evans, it really tends to come together as a solid approach to preparing a fighter of his caliber to shine.
The Blackzilian coach went on to explain, "If you just practice everything until it is there and available to you so when the fight starts you don't have to think about it you leave the door open. You can focus on this and that but then you close the door on everything else. If you keep all your tools available to you then you can use them. That's the mentality we take into the fight."
Looking at the impressive performances over the seven-year UFC career of Rashad Evans, that actually makes a lot of sense.
Perhaps dissecting and over analyzing is not the answer for a fighter of his ability. Perhaps unleashing his full potential is really the answer. To make an unlikely comparison, it has worked wonders for Jon Jones hasn't it?
"I know Phil Davis has a specific game plan, and that is great, but a lot of times when a bout like this happens, game plans go out the window. If you're not ready for that your guy is in trouble. I'm just not going to put my guy in a box and tell him he can't do anything. I'm going to keep preparing him to use whatever tools he is going to need at the time."
Preparing Rashad for fight night is more than just preparedness in theory. Rashad is bouncing back from an injury that forced him to withdraw from the epic title bout with his newfound rival Jones. How has that injury influenced Rashad?
Van Arsdale gave a frank perspective on the matter: "It's never easy when you get injured. You can ask Phil Davis about that too because he had to pull out of the last fight with an injury. You have to overcome things like that, but in this game nothing is perfect. You just take things as they come and deal with them as best you can, move forward, and the best guy will win the fight. That's how we see it."
In closing, he told Hurtsbad MMA, "Nobody promised us a rose garden; it's not easy; there are always injuries; there is always something standing in the way. So you have just got to suck it up and drive on. That's what we are doing."
Hearing the approach of the man who has laid the foundation for the rebirth of Rashad Evans may not strike every fan as what they might have expected. Yet when you look a bit closer and open your ears it really begins to make a lot of sense.
It will be extremely compelling to watch how the theories play out both inside the Octagon on Saturday night against Phil Davis and also in the career of "Suga" as it continues to take shape moving forward.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA. Follow us on Twitter @HurtsBad.