All that's left for Evans, Jones is to climb into octagon for UFC 145
The animosity behind the Rashad Evans-Jon Jones fight has all but disappeared
But a growing mutual respect doesn't make Saturday's fight any less attractive
Evans is the underdog, but is expected to offer Jones his stiffest challenge yet
ATLANTA -- All fights have storylines. The best ones have elevator pitches.
When Jon Jones defends his UFC light heavyweight title Saturday against Rashad Evans, it will mark the first time in organization history that former teammates under the same trainer have fought one another for a championship. It's the type of internecine plotline -- meaty enough for connoisseurs but accessible to newcomers -- that surely has Dana White blinking dollar signs.
But if the press conference held Wednesday to kick off fight week proved anything, it's that Saturday night can't get here fast enough.
There's nothing left to say.
Like a fighter that's overtrained, the animosity underpinning the main event of UFC 145 peaked ahead of schedule and now feels perfunctory and, worse, obligatory. The responses seem more and more canned as Jones and Evans face the same line of questions about brotherhood and betrayal with every media obligation. Those who came Wednesday expecting fireworks were met by a display as somber as the dreary weather outside, with two smartly dressed fighters exchanging observations in civil, almost academic discourse.
"We've talked about this to death," Evans said, fielding his umpteenth question on the messy divorce with a hint of resignation. "When you talk about something over and over again, it kind of loses a little bit of the emotion behind it and you can make peace with a lot of things. We've been going back and forth -- saying this, saying that -- it's just been a long process. We both are just tired."
Jones, the youngest champion in UFC history, echoed Evans' ennui.
"It's funny because the more you hear the story, the more we all go at it and talk about the coaches and try to figure out who is telling the truth, it's almost therapeutic for everybody," Jones said. "So I think this fight will be like the last counseling session for the whole situation."
It's been six weeks since the UFC's last numbered card -- March was the first calendar month without an event since January 2006 -- and the promotion is feeling an atypical lull in momentum, a drag reflected by the languid ratings for The Ultimate Fighter: Live, its signature reality TV show. The circumstances have led to an overextended buildup to a fight that was bound to be overcooked anyway.
"It's been frustrating at times, I'm not going to lie," said Evans, who is looking to regain the 205-pound title he won in December 2008 and lost five months later. "I could sit here and say I'm not bothered by any of it, but I'm bothered. I'm sick of talking about it. I'm sick of talking about Jon. I'm sick of looking at him. I'm sick of everybody asking what happened. I just want to get in there and fight."
Truthfully, Jones and Evans don't seem to hate each other all that much -- not nearly to the degree the ceaseless promotional assault would have you believe -- at least not anymore. Seated in a pair of personalized director's chairs at the front of a long, rectangular room at Atlanta's Park Tavern restaurant, Jones and Evans fielded familiar questions -- from a gallery of several dozen media members and a mass of Twitter followers worldwide -- for nearly an hour. The mutual respect, once deeply repressed, seemed impossible to conceal at times Wednesday, as both fighters discussed the circumstances that wrought a title clash both men said for years could never happen.
None of this means Saturday's fight is any less attractive. Evans is a 5-to-1 underdog, but he's widely expected to offer a stiffer challenge than anything Jones has faced during his meteoric rise from prospect to contender to champion to the pound-for-pound short list.
Since winning the title with a one-sided victory over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, the 24-year-old Jones has dominated three former champions in succession. He's never been taken down in 16 career fights, and he's spent just 12 seconds on his back since joining the UFC. But Jones' ability in deep waters has never been tested, which could make Saturday's main event one to remember if the 32-year-old Evans can find a way to take him there.
That, of course, is three more agonizingly long days away. With nothing left that hasn't been discussed or mined or dissected or subject to pop-psychological analysis over the past three months, the fighters can only wait for Saturday's reckoning.
"It's time to play the game," Jones said Wednesday.
Not yet, but soon enough.