Van Arsdale, 46, spent years coaching at Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, N.M. in a role, he says, he was rarely paid for. He viewed the experience as “an internship.”
Even though he was highly involved in the camps of major fighters, Van Arsdale paid his bills with money made from personal training sessions with non-fighting clients. Instead of sitting cageside during his fighters' bouts, he watched on TV.
That role changed forever for Van Arsdale in May 2009, after Evans lost his UFC title to Lyoto Machida at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Today, he says his stable of fighters in Boca Raton, Fla., is 30 strong and he'll be in one corner one of the most anticipated fights of 2012 when Evans meets Jones at UFC 145 this weekend.
In an interview with ESPN.com, Van Arsdale discussed his perspective on the grudge match between the former teammates, his team and that moment in 2009 that he believes led him to becoming a head coach.
ESPN.com: What would you say your role was at Jackson’s and did you ever receive credit for it?
Van Arsdale: My role was to coach the team. When you’ve got a head coach that the gym is named after, obviously he gets all the credit. I understood that. I basically did it as an internship. Did I get credit for it? No. I don’t think people even knew I was there. I don’t remember doing any interviews or anyone saying, “Mike Van Arsdale is training anyone.” It was tough not making a living for what I did, especially with five children. But as far as feeling good about fights? I remember training fighters 10-12 weeks, getting up in the morning with them, then jumping in the air when they won from my spot on the couch because I wasn’t in their corner. I still felt good about it, though. I learned a lot from that experience and now it’s my time to coach.
ESPN.com: Did you always plan to be a head trainer in the future?
Van Arsdale: I was content not coaching fighters until I went to visit Rashad after he lost to Machida. I went to the room prior to the fight to see him, but there were so many people in there. Security was patting me down saying I couldn’t get in. Then after the fight, I went in there and it was just him and his wife. I said, “You mean to tell me there was a full room before and now there’s just you and your wife? What a bunch of fake people. And I’m not trying to talk about the coaches in there. There were people in there calling themselves his friends, too. After the fight -- nobody. The very next day he asked me to coach him.
ESPN.com: What is your relationship like with Greg Jackson?
Van Arsdale: Greg and I have a good relationship. I used to live at his house and was one of his fighters. After that, I helped him run his gym. I don’t think he was happy when I left because I was doing a lot of work but he’s fine now. He’s fine, I’m fine. I like and respect Mike Winkeljohn. He was like my ally at the gym. I’m pretty sure they plan on winning this fight and I plan on winning, too.
ESPN.com: How has it been preparing for a fight against a Greg Jackson fighter, a trainer you know so well?
Van Arsdale: There’s nothing different. I don’t think about the coaches. I think about the guy we’re fighting. He has a lot of talented fighters but as far as being able to predict things -- none of us are able to predict anything. You can only prepare for battle. You don’t win your fight on fight night. You don’t sit in your corner and tell them how to win the fight. Nobody is the coach of the year. Nobody is smarter than everyone else. The only smart coaches are the ones that don’t over-train guys.
ESPN.com: You know Rashad. How has he been during this camp?
Van Arsdale: The only thing that’s different is the media won’t leave him alone. Other than that, we’re training how we always do. Does he want to win this fight? Of course, but he doesn’t want to win this one more than he wanted to win the last one.
ESPN.com: At one point, Rashad said if Jon held the belt he’d move to middleweight or heavyweight. Was that ever realistic?
Van Arsdale: Moving to 185? Absolutely not. Heavyweight -- probably not a good idea. That just shows you, though, the level of loyalty Rashad Evans actually does have. He would have never fought this kid just because he made a commitment not to. This is a different generation. The new school generation is a little more ruthless than the old school generation. The old school generation would actually honor something like that. The new school is thinking, “I’m going to make it no matter what.” I’m not saying [Jones] is a bad guy for doing that.
ESPN.com: How confident are you in this fight?
Van Arsdale: I never say that nothing can happen or there’s no way we can lose but I’m in the 90 to 95 percentile we’re winning this fight. The only reason there’s any percentage there that we won’t is because this is MMA. As far as knowing Rashad and what he’s capable of and how he’s prepared -- I think it will be a good fight but I don’t see how Jon can win. There are a couple ways he could, but I don’t see those scenarios going down. I know everyone is thinking Rashad is going to lose but that is just another lesson for all the people to learn.
ESPN.com: Talk about training Rashad in Florida this past year.
Van Arsdale: The funny thing is I never try to make him the best Rashad he can be. I just make sure he beats the guy he’s fighting. You don’t want to give everything away if you want to have a long career. Athletes can’t peak over and over again, especially drug-free athletes. I asked him how many fights he wants to win and we’re not halfway there yet. So, unless he tells me we’ve only got one more fight, I’m not trying to get everything out of this guy. Example, for Phil Davis, he didn’t have to be in the best shape to beat that guy.
ESPN.com: Have you peaked him, though, for this fight specifically?
Van Arsdale: No. I don’t have to, to win this fight. It’s not the last one. We did enough to beat this guy.