It has been more than a year since fans last saw Tonya Evinger in the cage, but the former Invicta champion is ready to show fans her capabilities at UFC 229.
The last time fans saw Tonya Evinger, she had stepped in on short notice to make her UFC debut against Cris Cyborg for the featherweight championship. Injuries and scheduling have kept her out of the cage since then, but she will finally be making her return on the biggest stage of the year at UFC 229 against the undefeated Aspen Ladd.
One would imagine that making your UFC debut in a title shot against the greatest female fighter of all time would be a daunting task. For Evinger, however, such a monumental event and experience was par for the course for a fighter who’s competed against the best in the world for more than a decade.
“It wasn’t anything crazy out of the ordinary. Obviously, I’ve fought for the Invicta title multiple times before and that in itself is a huge stage to fight for. The only issue I had with (Cyborg) was the weight and being able to prepare for the fight on short notice. I took the fight on a three-week call and a two-week training camp for the biggest fight of my career and that was tough.”
There is a portion of the fanbase under the false illusion that “Triple Threat” materialized out of nowhere to give Cyborg an adversary last July. The reality is that Evinger is a veteran of the circuit who was in marquee female bouts years before the formation of Invicta. She faced Gina Carano in 2007 under Elite XC and names such as Alexis Davis, Sara McMann, and Cindy Dandois throughout her career. Coming into the UFC, she had also defeated current UFC bantamweight and former featherweight title challenger herself Yana Kunitskaya to defend her Invicta FC bantamweight championship.
Outside the cage, a search for Tonya Evinger quickly brings up her moment of notoriety. Following a victory in Invicta FC, Evinger kissed reporter Laura Sanko during the broadcast in a viral moment left viewers buzzing. Many felt that Evinger should be reprimanded, stating that had she been a man that there would be an uproar. Evinger says those who are offended don’t know the story:
“I obviously am good friends with her. She wasn’t offended. Her husband wasn’t offended. So all the idiots who are talking bullshit, they’re not going to sue me. They’re not going to beat my ass, that’s just some nonsense. Literally, it was a funny situation. It was a publicity stunt to get a little attention. And we got moment of the year. I mean the year before I got beat by a girl wearing a costume and she got moment of the year and that’s stupid. We decided to do it right before and it was cool.” Also, Evinger clarifies that she only dry heaved into the bucket before the infamous kiss, not throw-up as has been the popular assumption.
While her UFC debut came to much fanfare, getting another fight in the Octagon proved to be a more difficult task. She would eventually sign a deal for a fight later in 2017, only to suffer a knee injury that has since kept her sidelined. The experience of surgery was one of the worst of Evinger’s career and one even she doubted she would ever recover from.
“I was telling my coaches I would never fight again. I just had such a bad time with the first surgery and it didn’t heal up like we planned. I didn’t realize I was having an issue. I just thought that was the way it went. It hurt so bad that I just thought I couldn’t fight anymore, I couldn’t imagine it getting any better than it was. I ended up going into another surgery and it was like ‘holy shit’ it was a brand new me. Finally, my leg works like it normally does and it’s been progressing from there. After that, I was begging for a fight with anybody.”
In her time away, Tonya Evinger stepped over to the business side of the sport and put on her own MMA show in her home of Houston called Indominus 1. “My girlfriend and I put it on. We set up every aspect of it. I dealt with the commission, the matchmaking, all the fight parts of it. She dealt with setting up the rest. We ran the concessions, we ran the liquor, we ran the entire show. It was a big project. We put a lot of time and money into it. I want to build something out here that becomes goes somewhere. There’s not a lot of competition for MMA out here besides some goofy-ass guy who puts shows on. I’d love to push my show to be the best one in Houston, or at least past that douchebag. I really feel that’s my main goal with the promotion at this point.”
When her return was finally announced, it was in a huge way. Top-ranked contender Ketlan Vieira accepted a fight with Evinger in her native Brazil for the recent card in São Paulo, but unfortunately pulled out with an injury. The promotion moved Evinger forward, to face undefeated Aspen Ladd this weekend at UFC 229. On the opponent change, Evinger said “It really doesn’t matter. I just want to fight. It doesn’t matter who I’m fighting or where. I am happy to be fighting in the U.S instead of out of the country. I wasn’t excited about fighting over there. But the change of opponent doesn’t matter to me. I get an extra two weeks to train and prepare.”
On the perceived step down from Vieira to Ladd, Tonya Evinger explains. “She (Vieira) is obviously not the title challenger or she would have gotten that shot already. I really think people get caught up in where they are or what they think they deserve but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been fighting longer than both of these girls and I still haven’t gotten a title shot. So for me to be worrying about where they are in the division doesn’t really matter. I’m Invicta world champion and I should be up there and going for a shot. I don’t understand why everybody is so worried about who’s next in line. It’s definitely not how you do or who you beat up because the UFC just puts whoever they want up there. I’ll just take my turn and fight whoever I can and as much as I can until I get there.”
Being on the undercard of the most anticipated card of the year, Evinger also has her pick for the main event between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor. “I got Khabib. I just think he’s going to take him down. I think if he takes him down he’s going to finish him.”
Tonya Evinger will face Aspen Ladd this Saturday at UFC 229, live on FS1.