On a recent trip to Denver I was helping Shane Carwin prepare for his heavy weight championship match at the famed Grudge Training Center when I ran into Rashad Evans, whom many regard as my TUF 2 nemesis,. The thing is, we are all working hard in this sport and won't survive if we can't appreciate and even make friends with our competitors. Rashad is truly one of the kindest and most generous guys I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and it was great to meet up again.
As one of the co-founders of Warrior Roots, when I train I always try to bring the company's message along with me. Giving fellow athletes our science is really a gift. We have the opportunity to help our great sport grow in a way that no other sport on the planet has, utilizing DNA testing to reveal both our ancient heritage, and also what our future athletic potential has in store for each of us.
While at Grudge I tested guys like Rashad, Eliot Marshal, Brendan Schaub, and Mike Van Arsdale for both our Athletic Panel, which gives a genetic blueprint of athletic potential, and for a Warrior Roots ancestry test at the same time. We always come up with a couple of fun surprises when we do this because ultimately, none of us know where we are really from.
One of the tests Warrior Roots provides is the Y-chromosome test. These can only be taken by males because only men have Y-chromosomes in our DNA. On that Y-chromosome are genetic markers which trace our ancestry back over thousands and thousands of years. Because it is on the Y-Chromosome it only gets passed down from father to son, generation after generation being unchanged through the generations. We can make a good estimation of where your ancient ancestors lived and how they fought to survive so that we can compete today in MMA.
Once our lab had finished our test results for Rashad I met with him to talk about his results. The lab test showed that Rashad had inherited the E3a haplogroup marker, which from Warrior Roots estimates makes him a descendant of the Kushite Warriors. The ancient Kushites lived in what today would be parts of southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Just as today, the land was dry, save for the Nile River which flows through the area. It was a harsh landscape to live in, with hostile neighbors to the north and south, and the great Sahara desert to the west. The Kushites needed to be tough and organized to thrive. The style of the Kushites was similar to the ancient Egyptians. They built pyramids, temples, and massive statues. They were looking to make sure that their legacy would last. They fought hard, even ruling all of Egypt for a time, but as history unfolded even the Kushite kingdoms were eventually overcome but still their legacy persists in the descendants of the Kushites.
On a recent episode of Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior, we watched Rashad help test out different ancient fighting techniques and weapons. Among them we saw Rashad skewer a pig with a massive spear. While the Kushites were renowned for their use of the bow and arrow, the Egyptians called the land of the Kushites “the land of the bow”; they also used spears in warfare. While I'm pretty sure that the only thing Rashad has been stabbing things with is a fork, if he went back around 90 generations, from father to son, he'd find an ancestor in the land of Kush fighting hard to survive, making good use of that spear. If his ancestor had not, Rashad wouldn't have been born.
Rashad couldn't personally know the man that fought in the sands of Egypt over two thousand years ago, one among many generations of men who made it possible for him to be alive today, however he did know his father. When I talked with him he was able to reflect on his immediate past. Most readers might not know this but Rashad’s father, Nathaniel Evans, was an athletic man with tremendous physical stature. Nathaniel sadly passed away at 43-years of age when Rashad was only seventeen. This is where our story takes an unanticipated turn. The original intent of this story was to look back at Rashad’s ancestry, his genetic endowment, and the man that never got to see his son skyrocket to stardom and success. What I discovered while journeying back into Rashad’s DNA results was a much more recent past that is not as easily talked about as his rise to becoming a champion of the world.
Most of us can reflect back on our childhood with fond and heartwarming memories, and that is what I had expected to uncover when I spoke to Rashad about the man who passed on to him his genetic marker, and which Rashad has now passed onto his own son. Not only did Rashad get his ancestral marker from his father, but he almost assuredly owes a great amount of his success to him as well.
Rashad described Nathaniel Evans as an imposing man that was always in great shape, “My dad was a great basketball player and he might have even went pro if his life had taken different turns. He was that good.” There is no doubt that the genetic endowment of his father is one of the reasons Rashad is the athlete that he is today. However, the history of genetic roots would run into a psychological wall as our conversation went on. “You know I really did not have a relationship with my father unfortunately. Now that I am a man with my own son, I think about this a lot and it hurts. However, if I really examine who I am, I really believe that this pain is what ultimately drove me in sports. I have many wonderful memories of my father, simple things like when he would take me for rides in his Cadillac and we would end up at the gorge, throwing rocks in the water, just talking for hours,” Rashad recollected. “The reality is that as I grew into a young man, a lot of that was lost and anger filled my heart. I can see that now as a father and a man. I guess I owe him a lot, for better or for worse. I never had the chance to work things out with my father. I would tell the world not to wait until it is too late because life is way too short.”
Rashad discussed how he now understands as a husband and father that life isn’t always easy and he sees how his mother and father struggled. “I know that my mother and father loved each other, but I also realize that they were young and life was hard for them,” he explained.
Rashad is the proud father of 3 wonderful children and the pain and struggle that he has gone through in growing up has certainly not been easy, but in the end it may have helped to create this champion and great ambassador to mixed martial arts. Rashad also has garnered some valuable lessons through his early struggle and he tries everyday to become the father that sometimes he wishes he had. “Life is certainly not easy in my shoes either, being away from home so much, but I will let my kids know that I will always be there for them and that I love each of them.”
It was truly gratifying to hear the story of a boy who was raised in a single family home, with seven other children and overcame the odds stacked against him to become a celebrity, a success, and most importantly a man that is planting his own positive and powerful warrior roots deep within his family.
Warrior Roots began testing only men because of the Y-chromosome test that we started with; however we recently started offering an additional test which looks at a different set of genes, the mitochondrial DNA. This bit of DNA is only passed on by the mother and so it can be used to determine ancient ancestry through the thousands of mothers that came before us. Though Warrior Roots has not run this test on Rashad, I thought it only fitting to ask him about the other 23 chromosomes that he carries into the cage. “Oh my mom, Shirley Evans, that is one tough warrior. She raised eight of us on a single income. You know I have a hard time comprehending that.”
Rashad admits, “I might have gotten a lot of my athletic ability from my dad and I might have channeled my relationship issues with him into sports, but my mom taught me how to work hard and win. She is the one that truly created the warrior I am today. I really would not be here now without her, thanks mom!”
Warrior Roots is a company that did a simple mouth swab to scientifically uncover a secret that has been locked away in Rashad Evan’s DNA for thousands of years, but what we discovered was much closer to the surface. The story of a boy growing into a man who has learned that the hand you are dealt is not nearly as important as the way you play the cards; and regardless of the hand you have, anyone can become a champion in and outside of the cage by loving and taking care of the family around them. When you combine the recent past with the ancient past the view becomes much clearer. If you work hard and learn to adapt to life's challenges you are not only helping yourself and your children, but also you’re grandchildren, your great-grandchildren and future generations there after. Each generation is doing its part to grow, survive, and thrive. In the year 3000 around 30 generations will have passed since Rashad's days and his future descendants will be able to thank him for his own hard work and for giving them their shot at being a champion.