UFC 214’s Tonya Evinger: Never Scared

Unless you lived under a rock this weekend, you know that UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes had to withdraw from her fight against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 213 after falling ill during the weigh-in ceremony.

Multiple fighters offered to step in and replace Nunes, including UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and fellow bantamweight Lauren Murphy. Another fighter who seemed to offer her services? The newly-signed Tonya Evinger, who was previously the reigning Invicta FC bantamweight champion.

That may not be newsworthy on its own, except Evinger is already signed to face Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino for the UFC featherweight title at UFC 214 on Saturday, July 29. But Evinger’s apparent willingness to step in for her friend Nunes is just an example of Evinger’s attitude towards fighting, which she shared while discussing the UFC’s decision to strip former featherweight champion Germaine De Randamie after she refused to fight Justino.

“You can’t turn down fights as a champion,” Evinger said. “I don’t shy away from fights. If you have a title, then you should fight everyone. I’d rather take my chances and go out and surprise myself, and put faith in what I know.”

Justino was originally scheduled to face Invicta FC featherweight champion Megan Anderson at UFC 214. However, Anderson had to withdraw due to personal reasons. It was a no-brainer for Evinger to step in and face “Cyborg,” she said.

“I talked to Shannon [Knapp, Invicta FC President] and my manager, and when my manager called me and offered the fight, I took it right away,” Evinger said. “I said ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’”

The prospect of facing “Cyborg,” with a record of 17-1 and 15 knockouts on her resume, as well as ongoing suspicion about possible use of performance-enhancing drugs, has made it difficult for Justino to find competition in the UFC since she debuted in the organization in 2016. But Evinger (19-5) isn’t most fighters.

“I don’t get butthurt about who fights me,” Evinger said. “I’m a competitor – I’m here to fight and I want to compete. We’re the two most dominant Invicta champs, and we’re similar in style and go about our fights the same way. But we’re also opposites. She gets hit a lot, and I don’t get a hit a lot. I don’t know why people say that about me.

“I will be a test for both of us, but I won’t be scared,” Evinger said. “I don’t let myself fall to fear and going to the later rounds favors me more. I can grind out rounds and use my unorthodox ground-and-pound. People have trouble when they find that out.”

Evinger has previously been critical of the UFC and matchmaker Sean Shelby in particular, after Shelby allegedly told Evinger she was an “unimpressive” fighter. Even though the UFC has now signed Evinger to face Justino at UFC 214, Evinger continues to use the perceived slight as motivation.

“It is what it is, but it lit a fire under my ass and made me more aware of what I can do and what I can be, and put everything in perspective,” Evinger said.

Evinger successfully defended the Invicta bantamweight title twice and hasn’t lost since 2011. Although she’s thrilled to finally make it to the UFC, it didn’t make leaving Invicta and relinquishing her belt any easier.

“I hated giving up that belt,” Evinger said. “I loved Invicta and I was super-blessed to fight there. I could have fought there for the rest of my career, but unfortunately you can’t do both. But when one door closes, another one opens and I’ll continue to be a super fan of Invicta. It was heartbreaking to leave, but you have to do it.”

Whether or not Evinger defeats “Cyborg” at UFC 214, she would still like to try her hand at fighting at bantamweight in the UFC, even if it meant squaring off with her friend Nunes. But she’s still rooting for Nunes to defeat Shevchenko, whenever those two fighters finally meet.

“She fought for a long time to get that belt when it was held up by Ronda [Rousey] picking her opponents,” Evinger said. “I’m glad to see her do well, and I think her fight with Valentina is a really good fight stylistically. I want to see Nunes win, but I would totally fight at 135 pounds. I make friends with everyone, but I’m here to fight. You should be willing to fight everyone.”

Photo Credit: Sherdog

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Chris Huntemann
Chris Huntemann writes about mixed martial arts in the state of Maryland. He also opines on all things UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting and any other MMA topics he cares to bloviate about. You should check out his blog, or his Twitter. Or both. When he's not watching MMA, he's an avid fan of other sports, such as football, baseball and college basketball. He may or may not do other, non-sports-related things as well.

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