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MIKE WINKELJOHN: "IF I WERE FORREST, I WOULD BE A LITTLE SCARED RIGHT NOW!"

By Percy Crawford | September 18, 2008
MIKE WINKELJOHN:

"One thing about Rashad is that he's got tree trunk legs. He looks small, but he's a running back. We're doing sprints up the Alps and working on explosive things and he gets so much power from his legs. On the ground, he has a lot of weight down there in his hips and Forrest cannot outwrestle Rashad. If I were Forrest, I would be a little scared right now. The thing with Forrest is if he's not the toughest, he's one of the toughest fighters out there. That man will walk through fire to get the job done. I think he's great. It's weird because just like against Chuck, Rashad gets to face him after Keith Jardine has beat him so that gives us an edge in strategy. We kind of have an idea of what he does," stated Mike Winkeljohn, one of the coaches for Rashad Evans, as he talked about a fight with UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. Check out what else he had to say as he talks in depth about Rashad's gameplan that got him his impressive win over Chuck Liddell and much more.

PC: Congratulations on the big victory over Chuck Liddell.

MW: Thank you! Rashad did well. I'm lucky to work with a guy that's so talented who's a great athlete.

PC: You guys obviously had a great gameplan going into the fight. Did Rashad follow it to a tee in your opinion?

MW: Almost to a tee. There were a few little things that I wasn't real happy with. He started exchanging a little bit with Chuck. I felt he was tighter than Chuck, but it really wasn't my idea to stand there and start exchanging punches with him in the pocket unless he was at closer range. Instead of a straight punch range or long punch range, he needed to be in Chuck's chest if they were going to start exchanging and we'd own him there or he needed to be stepping off to his right and then letting those go. So there were a couple of things that he didn't do, but everything else was great. He got Chuck out of his gameplan and coming to Rashad and we told Rashad, "If the crowd starts booing, then things are going your way. Give it time and Chuck's going to get frustrated and want to hit you and as soon as he steps a certain way, you know where his weight's at and you know where he's trying to attack." All of those little things.

PC: I'm sure you watched countless footage of Chuck leading up to the fight. What did you feel were his biggest weaknesses?

MW: I trained Keith Jardine as well so as far as Chuck's weaknesses, Rashad had different assets than Keith had, but I always thought Rashad had a better style to beat Chuck. Chuck is the best at keeping his eyes open against wrestlers shooting and being able to sprawl and not be taken down and then working from some angles off of that sprawl. Wrestlers are sometimes a little open and a little wild and Chuck is usually able to zero in and land some punches. He could do that with his hands where they are and his angles where they were. When I looked at him with Keith, it was a matter of basic kickboxing and going to Chuck's left shoulder if we were going to win the fight and Keith did that real well. With Rashad, it was a matter of using Rashad's speed and quickness to where we would have Chuck thinking Rashad was going to take him down. I think Chuck spent a lot of time thinking Rashad was going to do like other wrestlers have done with him and try to take him down. Rashad never had to depend on that.

PC: Were you comfortable with the idea of Rashad possibly standing with Chuck for 3 rounds?

MW: I don't think I would ever tell Rashad to just shoot in because he would be shooting from far away. Shooting long range against Chuck is not a good thing to do. Why go towards his strengths? What a lot of people didn't know about Rashad was he's got Tyson-like abilities as far as his quickness in his hands and that's knockout power. He hadn't had time standup-wise to show people what he can or cannot do. He was trying to rush things and he really didn't have enough time because it's hard to master so many things in a certain amount of time.

PC: Rashad said over and over that you told him the overhand right would be the punch that put Chuck out. What did you see to know that punch would be available?

MW: Of course Chuck has his left hand low, which would be fine if you had the footwork like a Muhammad Ali where you can just box; then you can pull that off. But without the footwork and the ability to back out at an angle and roll your shoulder up, that arm being down low just wasn't going to cut it. Rashad was fast enough that I believe he could sit in front of Chuck and throw and be gone before Chuck could do anything about it. So given Chuck's speed, I think the uppercut followed by a hook was part of the plan, but the uppercut came slow and the overhand right was just there and plus Chuck's stance, the way he plots and his footwork, he just couldn't adapt to Rashad's footwork and some of the things that we do.

PC: Being that you are on both sides, boxing and MMA, is it safe to say it was a MMA boxer vs. a boxer boxer and Chuck has more of a MMA boxer style and Rashad is more like a typical boxer?

MW: Chuck is definitely more of a MMA striker, although most MMA fighters can't strike like Chuck can as far as keeping accuracy and focus. Rashad is developing an over under being that he is shorter and stockier and more of a compact style of boxer. I can't put Rashad in the category of some of the great boxers out there yet, but I shouldn't have to because in MMA, there's so many things going on that these guys have to perfect so it's hard to focus on just that given the amount of time we have. I mean, he has to go wrestle, kickbox and do other things and you have to wait so long to strike in MMA because you have to worry about not being taken down. It's funny because I told him, "You're going to knock him out with an overhand right and it sucks because they are not going to let me in the cage to celebrate with you until Chuck wakes up!" So it's such a surreal thing and Rashad has done that a couple of times. When he kicked Sean Salmon in the head, we worked that kick I don't know how many times. You could see that guy ducking off to that side so many times. Rashad was like, "Come on coach." I think he was just being nice doing it for me because he didn't want to argue with me. It's just a good thing I'm big on repetition because we do it over and over enough to where it becomes a conscious confidence and people can do it naturally. Rashad is just starting to hit his targets and we still have a little ways to go, but the sky is the limit for this kid.

PC: Knowing Chuck was guaranteed a title shot if he had beaten Rashad, did you not want this fight to go to the scorecards?

MW: Oh yeah! I feared...because of the fact that we were going to stick and move, Muhammad Ali did it and people thought he was great, but because of the fact that we were going to move a lot and Chuck was the UFC guy, he's their boy and they wanted to put money behind him, I figured there was no way we could win a decision. It's happen a lot of times to our other fighters. If you're not the one that the money is behind...well, it's just like boxing. It's the same so I definitely wanted the knockout and I figured it would happen. If Rashad wasn't able to knock him out, we weren't going to win the fight.

PC: I like to see celebrating and emotions expressed when necessary. What do you think of some of the criticism Rashad received for his celebration?

MW: I don't think Rashad was disrespectful at all. If Chuck had not been such a big challenge, Rashad would not have been so excited about the win. It's out of respect for the man that he just knocked out with a record like we had never seen before and Rashad beat him at his own game. He should be excited. He spent how many years of his life not focusing on Chuck, but getting higher in this game. He is supposed to be excited. He checked on Chuck and said, "I hope Chuck is okay." I think his celebration was minimal compared to what we've seen Chuck do after he's knocked someone out. After he knocks somebody out, he does, I guess they call it the "Iceman". I know they had a name for it, but he's bending back, sticking out his chest...Tito Ortiz pretends he buries people. Rashad was like, "Yeah, I did good," and then he did a "Sanford and Son" deal and that wasn't a bad thing. He wasn't pointing at Chuck or getting in his trainers face or anything like that. It was like, "Yes, I did it." Honestly when these guys get these knockouts, whether it's Chuck, Rashad, Tito or Anderson Silva, those guys are under a doctor's care and it's nothing they could do about it anyway. Of course you're concerned, but you should be able to celebrate the job that you did. After these fights, these guys have the ultimate respect for one another and that's what matters.

PC: We've seen some boxers be pretty bad off after their career is over and fortunately we haven't seen that in MMA yet. Would you like to see Chuck retire now?

MW: That's a scary one. I would hate for Chuck to continue his career and continue to get hit, but I don't want to say that because of his abilities. He could still beat a lot of guys. You know what, boy it's tough to go out on a loss, but yeah, I think I'd like to see him retire. He's got enough money. How many boxers do we see and they were superstars and didn't know when to stop? Even if they weren't superstars, they have a pretty substantial amount of brain damage and if they would have just stopped and celebrated life...there's so many other things for them to do out there. Gosh, it's hard for me to say that man because it takes a certain style to beat him and I think Rashad just had that.

PC: Chuck landed some nice shots on Rashad. I think Rashad has a very underrated chin. Do you think that is an accurate statement?

MW: I agree. I saw Chuck land a pretty hard right hand one time and he landed a few shots and when I saw Rashad was alright, it put me at ease for the rest of the fight. Rashad has a good chin.

PC: Chuck made Rashad look really small so I'm sure Forrest will tower over him. How do you feel about that matchup?

MW: One thing about Rashad is that he's got tree trunk legs. He looks small, but he's a running back. We're doing sprints up the Alps and working on explosive things and he gets so much power from his legs. On the ground, he has a lot of weight down there in his hips and Forrest cannot outwrestle Rashad. If I were Forrest, I would be a little scared right now. The thing with Forrest is if he's not the toughest, he's one of the toughest fighters out there. That man will walk through fire to get the job done. I think he's great. It's weird because just like against Chuck, Rashad gets to face him after Keith Jardine has beat him so that gives us an edge in strategy. We kind of have an idea of what he does. If I had to one up him, I'm thinking, "How can Forrest slow down Rashad?" If he fights us with the same gameplan as he fought Quinton Jackson, I feel really good about it. I'm sure he's going to change up some things so I have to sit down with Greg Jackson and Rashad and say, "If you were Forrest, what would you do differently to get ahead?" Otherwise, it's back to the basics.

PC: Rashad seems like a great kid and family man. What would it mean for you to see him capture the UFC light heavyweight title?

MW: It would mean a lot. I get goosebumps with you just asking me that. He is a very good man. I don't know if he got it from his momma some way, but he's one of those guys who has true traditional values. He's courteous, respectful and I don't know if he got it in Taekwondo or wrestling in college, but he has a work ethic. He is a good guy and is real likeable. You really want to see him make it. He's articulate and smart and this is just the beginning. We actually had the discussion because I was trying to take his mind off of the fight and I told him after fighting, he has a career in leading people. He's a leader in many ways. I know he wants to help out in the community; other young people in the country. I want to get him in and out. I want to get him in, win and take over the sport and retire without any injuries and be a leader for our country in some way. I'm not sure if it would be in politics or being a spokesperson, but Rashad could get people involved.

PC: Mike, thanks for your time. Congrats on this win and good luck against Forrest. Is there anybody you want to thank?

MW: Keith Jardine helped Rashad out and I know it's a tough thing for Keith because for him to help Rashad go to the top, it knocks him down a level in the division. He wants to knock out Forrest and Chuck and have the title so it's kind of a peculiar situation for Keith because he's helping out a friend, but at the same time, by helping out a friend, it's putting him even farther down the ladder so if there is anybody you can credit with helping Rashad out, and he was right behind my shoulder yelling out instructions to Rashad, it was Keith Jardine.



[ Follow Percy Crawford on Twitter @MrLouis1ana ]

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