UFC standouts and friends Rashad Evans and Tyron Woodley will appear opposite each other on the latest installment of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, which features two of the very best gyms in mixed martial arts today, American Top Team and the Blackzilians. 

What goes down on the 21st season of TUF will be the furthest thing from a manufactured rivalry. ATT and Blackzilians owners Dan Lambert and Glenn Robinson weren’t friends coming into the show and that will likely remain the same by season’s end. The backstory behind the duo’s fiery feud is best described through an MMA maneuver — a knee to one’s groin — and the below trailer. 

“Lambert felt as if Glenn set up his team by using his fighters,” said Evans.

Robinson and several former ATT members defected from the South Florida-based gym in 2011 and created the Blackzilians camp about 20 miles away in Boca Raton.

Team’s of eight welterweights are coached by their respective clubs and will go head-to-head for a $500,000 prize, in addition to the standard six-figure UFC contract associated with the long-running series. Fighters will also train at their respective camps; not the accustomed TUF gym. The testosterone-fueled UFC hopefuls will be caged inside this behemoth of a mansion in the Miami area. 

Evans, himself, was once in the very place that these men find themselves in right now. A veteran of the second installment of TUF — where he fought as a heavyweight — Evans worked his way up the 205-pound ladder and found championship gold his third year fighting in the Octagon.

“These were our guys that we brought up and we know them really well,” said Evans. “Fighters work better with different people. I was with most of the wrestlers. It was all about what made that fighter comfortable.”

A top-5 talent before nagging knee injuries trounced him from the UFC’s official rankings, Evans previously coached before, anchoring an all-heavyweights version of TUF in 2009 with Rampage Jackson. The difference between both roles, Evans says: “They weren’t some guys I had to get to know that were put in my hands in Las Vegas. That was the biggest difference.”

“I felt like I had a better hand and was able to reach them better,” added Evans.

Woodley, the No. 3 ranked welterweight in the UFC, once missed the cut on season nine of TUF. Then, “The Chosen One” only had two amateur fights to his credit. 

“I did it the old school way. I had to go through the ranks. I had to go through Strikeforce and I had to earn my keep and I think that’s more rewarding,” said Woodley. 

The 32-year-old is a former Strikeforce welterweight champion, who is now awaiting his 19th professional fight. Woodley and Evans were both high-level wrestlers from college — Woodley at Missouri and Evans at Michigan State — and have shown appreciation for each other’s skill-sets. 

Both men spoke about their friendship, TUF 21, injuries and more in the following Q/A with Muscle and Fitness. 

Who is the better MMA wrestler between the two?

Rashad: [laughs] I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to say. Stats might say myself, but Tyron is a really good wrestler too. It’s a tough question.

Tyron: It’s tough to say. Collegiately, I watched Rashad a lot. Him and Frankie Edgar are two guys who I’ve followed and are multiple-time national placers, maybe even the champ. You know, Rashad beat Greg Jones, who was an undefeated three-time national champion in NCAA. He just never put together a great NCAA tournament and he cut a lot of weight. Rashad used to wrestle at 174 pounds.

I was named All-American a couple of times. We’ve been pretty competitive in terms of being able to implement wrestling into MMA. He might have a few more takedowns and strikes in MMA than I do, but we’re comparable styles. It’s kind of tough to say. I mean I could just say me because it sounds cooler, but it’s hard to tell.

When did you both meet for the first time?

Rashad: We wrestled in college; not wrestled against each other but I wrestled against Missouri in college probably in like 2002 or 2003. Most likely 2002. 

What has your relationship been like throughout the last several years?

Rashad: When Tyron got into the sport, I was really happy to see that because he’s somebody that I was watching in college. I followed his career in college. I’ve always wanted to have a chance to work with him. I still want to get a chance to work with him because I still think there are some things in his game that I can help him sharpen up on. It’s not like I’m all knowing or anything like that, but I feel like if we work together it can definitely help both of us out. I’m a big fan of him and he’s like a smaller version of me at 170.

Tyron: We have a great relationship. It’s unfortunate that he’s with a different camp, and there’s no crossing the line. It’s completely bitter in that aspect but he was a little bit older than me; a couple of years older than me in college. I remember watching him wrestle. He was really fast and college wrestling — at the time I was wrestling, everyone was so uptight and nobody was having fun and laughing. He was one of those guys that would always be cracking jokes and making it a little bit easier.

When I started fighting in MMA, I was coaching at Mizzou. I was punching a bag everyday, just kidding around. I started watching guys like him and other guys; they were doing great in the UFC. I was like ‘Man, I want to get into that. I think I can do that.’ If he can do it, I think I can do it as well. He’s always given me great criticism and said ‘Hey, you need to do this and quit doing that.’ Being compared to a smaller version of him is a big compliment. He’s had a great career so far and he’s still one of the top guys in the world. He fought Tito Ortiz when it was time to fight him, he fought Chuck Liddell when it was the time to fight him; so as far as your career, fighting the right people at the right time; I don’t think many people have had the rubric like he has had. Won a show, dropped down to his proper weight class. I watched him with close eyes. 

Have you been able to put friendship on hold with the both of you on opposite sidelines?

Rashad: Well, not really. He’s ATT, but he’s not like one of those people that are so strongly like ‘I’m only ATT.’ Tyron is very good at opening up his box to train at different places and get different experiences so I don’t totally see him as just an ATT guy. I’ve got friends on the ATT team, but when the competition is going the friend zone is gone.

Tyron: You know, it’s just a sense where you basically — the loyalty with your team owners and the team we fight for is so strong and those guys have done — Dan Lambert has done so much for me as a human being; as a man; as a businessman; as a fighter. A lot of the resources and opportunities I’ve had have come through him. It’s been a blessing; I consider him like a dad. With that said, I’ve got to ride with Dan when it comes to Blackzilians versus ATT. I think he feels the same way. You’ve got to get the job done at the end of the day. I’m friendly with him probably more than any of those guys, but I’ve also worked with Glenn. I worked with Glenn when I used to be a Jaco athlete at the beginning of my UFC career. I would have Jaco shorts on. I had to get that cleared through Dan before I can do that. It’s been really cool and crazy. I was kind of hoping that maybe at the end of the season, people could say ‘Bygones be bygones’ and just move forward. You just have to watch the show and see what happens. 

Can you talk about your roles on TUF 21?

Rashad: The way it works, we kind of just like rotate in and left it up to the fighters. Fighters work better with different people. I was with most of the wrestlers. Most of the time they said ‘Hey, I want you in my corner’ or just like you know, I felt where I needed to be. It wasn’t like a set schedule. If you gravitate towards one fighter [more] than the other, then you corner them. It was all about what made that fighter comfortable. 

Tyron: My role was really just inspirational. I was that guy; young and hungry. I’m one of the few guys who’s never been with a different team. From the first time I fought, I’ve been with ATT since day one — amateur; to pro; until now. One guy, Nathan Coy, I’ve competed against. He’s probably [been] my toughest fight so far; the closest decision I’ve ever been a part of. It’s great to see these guys finally get some exposure and the credit they deserve. Cause a lot of the time, you only hear about the stars: Robbie Lawler; Me; Thiago Alves. You hear about people at ATT — Bigfoot Silva — you don’t hear about these guys who are working equally as hard, if not harder, cause they’re hungrier. It’s up to them now. You asked for this. You want to be in the UFC so bad, now you’ve got your chance. What are you going to do with it?

Speaking of Nathan Coy. How was it to be able to look at him and see his growth over the last several years?

Tyron: He’s always been tough. He’s always been a very hard opponent to compete against — a very unorthodox style. Lots of pressure and strength. He just keeps coming like a zombie. In my opinion, he’s been a coach — I went from fighting him, to him being one of the wrestling coaches at ATT — so I’m taking instructions from him. I’m a martial artist and I’m humble. You’d be silly not to learn from anybody. 

Tyron, you’ve actually appeared on reality television in the past on MTV’s Bully Beatdown. Can you talk about what that experience was like?

Tyron: Man, Bully Beatdown was fun. They let us have fun. We actually did not see that person until I walked into the cage. I said ‘This poor dude is about to get his butt whooped.’ We got a chance to see them and the crap they talked and they told us to beat him up — whoop them for real. They said don’t make it last because the longer you take, the longer time you’re going to have on television. I think I just started Facebook or whatever. I maxed out my followers literally the month after that episode aired. It was raining in and I’m not a big Facebook person so I haven’t created a fan page or anything. I’ve been capped out for like 5-6 years. That was because of the show. That one episode I did on Bully Beatdown has 1.5 million views. It helped me out to get recognized a little bit more. 

We’ve seen the blood spilled in the Octagon before. What can we expect when we tune in on April 22nd?

Rashad: The animosity is real and to understand the rivalry is to understand the fact that it start with the owners of the team. Dan Lambert felt as if Glenn Robinson set up his team by using his fighters and they have a big disagreement about that whole thing. That whole attitude kind of trickles down through everybody on the team and the fighters because everybody is so connected to the owners. Their beef is their beef. By the end of the season, it was so tense in there man, if anybody did anything or got crazy, a whole brawl would’ve ensued. 

Tyron: They should tune in because it’s authentic. People can talk up a fight, they can be entertainers. They can pump it up and try to sell a PPV but we’ve got two owners, who up to this point have been mythical beings that nobody has seen before. You’re going to see Dan Lambert and Glenn; how much they can’t stand each other. You’ve got two teams that are not only competing to be the best in South Florida, but the best in the world. They’re so close in proximity. You know this is for all the marbles; for the 500 stacks. This is for the bragging rights. There’s so much on the line. They want to make sure their team is victorious. The type of animosity is meant for reality TV. I think it’s going to be the best TUF so far. 

No incidents like the infamous brawl between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier?

Rashad: No, but it was hot like that. It definitely got really, really heated. It was kind of like when I went against Rampage.

Do the owners eventually duke it out?

Rashad: No they don’t. Not yet [laughs]. I wish they would duke it out. That would actually be kind of fun to watch.