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UFC 156:

Despite Anderson Silva talk, Rashad Evans prefers Jon Jones rematch

Evans returns to the octagon Saturday against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

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Sam Morris

Rashad Evans talks to a reporter during the news conference for UFC 156 Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013.

UFC 156 News Conference

Jose Aldo carries his lightweight championship belt during the news conference for UFC 156 Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Word travels as fast as a Jose Aldo legkick in UFC circles.

Last week, when Jon Jones labeled Rashad Evans as the fighter he would most like to rematch so he could “finish him this time,” the light heavyweight champion knew it would get back to Evans immediately. Evans had plenty of time to digest the remarks before arriving in town this week for his UFC 156 bout against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Evans’ response, predictably, included a defiant smirk.

“He wouldn’t finish me, first of all,” Evans said. “But that just gives me a lot of props that he’s still thinking about me. I’m still in his head. That’s a lot of love right there.”

Never at a loss for confidence, Evans’ mouth has again made his future a point of intrigue as he heads into his first fight since losing to Jones by unanimous-decision last April. And not just because of what he said about Jones.

Evans also declared that not only was he open to facing middleweight champion Anderson Silva but that he could beat him. Questions about Silva dominated Evans’ media session Thursday, even though it’s not the fight that interests him the most.

Evans is still after Jones above everyone else.

“If I had a choice to pick either of them, I would pick Jon Jones because I just lost to Jon Jones,” Evans said. “That would be the emotional choice because I feel like I need to fight him again. That loss doesn’t sit right with me.”

The build-up for their meeting at UFC 145 exhausted Evans and caused him to lose his love for mixed martial arts. Evans didn’t use that as an excuse for “getting my (butt) whooped” — he said Jones went through the same thing — but cited it as the reason for his 10-month layoff from fighting.

It took the 33-year-old former champion time to remotivate himself for another run at the title. He knows it will be grueling.

If he beats Nogueira, Evans is still at minimum a couple wins away from re-establishing himself as the top contender.

“The road I’m going to have to take to get the belt back is going to make me a better fighter in a good way,” Evans said. “I’m not sure if (Jones) is going to get better in a good way. Being a champion like he is, it has a tendency to get you reversed more than it does to get you even better.”

The only advantage for Evans to fight Silva is expediency. Silva remains without an opponent, and UFC President Dana White said Evans would be a worthwhile challenge for the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

But there’s a caveat: White’s only interested in the fight if Evans moves down to middleweight. White doesn’t like the idea of a catchweight between the 205-pound light heavyweight division and 185-pound middleweight division, something Evans suggested because he’s unsure how much weight he could drop.

“How would that make sense to make them fight at a catchweight, or 205?” White asked. “Anderson Silva is the 185-pound champion. Why would Rashad move down unless it was for the title? He wants to fight for the title. If he’s going to fight him, he needs to move down.”

Evans doubts Silva wants to fight him anyway, noting that he’s “a bad matchup” for the champion. It’s rare that someone comes back from an extended break to chatter about meeting the two best fighters in the world in the near future.

Evans wouldn’t have been ready for it right after losing to Jones, but the time to decompress refreshed his outlook.

“When you’re doing something for so long, you have a tendency to get complacent or lose a little bit of passion for it,” Evans said. “I feel like I lost some passion for the sport. I was not doing all the things I needed to do to get to the next level to be a champion. I took some time off to do some things that would make me come back even hungrier.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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