Rashad Evans remembers the day in 2010 when Jon Jones first walked into his MMA training camp in New Mexico. Jones was gangly but promising, and Evans, the former UFC light heavyweight champion, was leery about working with a kid nearly a decade younger who was chasing the same goal he was: to become the best 205-pound fighter in the world. "But I ended up falling for him," Evans says. "Jon would run up to me and say, 'What's it like when everyone is taking your picture? What's it like when everyone wants your autograph?' I feel like I helped raise Jonny."
Jones remembers when he and Evans used to pound on each other all day and then hang out together all night. He smiles when he talks about their mutual love for family, fighting and singing R&B together. "I considered Rashad my big brother," says Jones, who at 24 is eight years younger than Evans. "Did I love him?
Jones pauses for a moment before giving his answer: "Yeah, I loved him."
THAT WAS HOW they felt 18 months ago at a time when the two men swore they were too close to face off in a locked cage with the title on the line. Then, with a nudge from UFC president Dana White, everything began to change. Jones climbed through the light heavyweight division faster than anyone imagined to a position right behind his mentor. Evans injured his knee, losing a chance to fight against champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in March 2011. White replaced Evans on the card with Jones.
Still, as top contenders, both men continued to say they could never fight each other, that they were teammates, friends, brothers. Evans even insisted he'd move up or down in weight rather than fight Jones for a title.
Yet on April 21, in what could be one of the UFC's biggest pay-per-views ever, the two will fight in the culmination of what's rapidly becoming a bitter feud -- and a Dana White masterstroke. White is as good as anybody in sports at manufacturing heat between fighters and selling PPVs. But he's also presided over sagas like Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz, where he only had to step back and let two former good friends and training partners trade enough heartfelt, ugly insults that a megafight was inevitable. As seen so often across sports, there is nothing nastier than a rivalry that ensues from a messy divorce -- be it between former friends, a mentor and a pupil or, in the case of Evans and Jones, both.