On Saturday 1st June 2019, the UFC return to Stockholm, Sweden for the first time in two years with a card headlined by local superstar, Alexander Gustafsson, as he looks to rebound from a second defeat at the hands of Jon Jones when he takes on recent title challenger, Anthony Smith. The event takes place from the Ericsson Globe, which will host its fourth UFC show, and will feature a plethora of European talent looking to take steps up in their respective divisions. One fighter travelling into enemy territory on the evening’s preliminary card is the American, Tonya Evinger (19-7 1NC), who will be looking to pick up her first UFC win against Sweden’s own, Lina Lansberg (8-4), in the bantamweight division.
Evinger last competed back in October when she was stopped by rising contender, Aspen Ladd, in the first round. At the start of the fight, Evinger opened up with some big strikes before a failed trip attempt enabled Ladd to get on top of her opponent. From there, Ladd landed some damaging strikes which opened up Evinger’s back so she improved position and flattened Evinger out. The 37 year old couldn’t recover from that position and succumbed to a number of unanswered strikes three minutes into the round. Evinger wasn’t pleased with her performance during that bout but there was a major factor at play which resulted in the disappointing showing.
“I just fought too soon after surgery for the Ladd fight,” said Evinger. “I had two surgeries back to back so was really limited in terms of what I could do both leading up to and during the fight. Nothing could have changed my performance that night except from having more time to heal and strengthen.”
Evinger first began her professional MMA career in 2006 and has competed 27 times across a range of different promotions. She arrived in the world’s leading MMA promotion on a 10 fight winning streak which had seen her pick up the Invicta FC bantamweight title in the process. The woman known as ‘Triple Threat’ has only competed in the UFC twice since being signed to the promotion in June of 2017 so she would have preferred to have been far more active than she has been. Her lack of octagon appearances and below-par displays have disappointed Evinger but she mostly puts this down to her bad luck with injuries and not being fully prepared for her fights.
“My surgeries were a huge part of not being active since my debut in the UFC as well as the company only using fighters they like to sell for the most part,” explained Evinger. “I’m not one of those fighters. Hopefully I’ll prove them wrong but I have to get back to where I was first. I had a really bad injury that set me back on many levels and my debut was up a weight class against ‘Cyborg’ on three weeks notice so that was never a fight that I was meant to win.”
This upcoming clash is the first time during her MMA career that Evinger has competed overseas in Europe. In fact, she is yet to step into the cage outside of the US so the whole fight week experience will be different to what she has been through before despite being a veteran of the fight game. Many competitors travelling to Europe from different continents often talk about how the change in time zone can take a while to get adjusted to which means many choose to fly out early to have longer to adapt to the conditions. However, Evinger doesn’t envisage these factors causing her any issues and even though she has never fought in Europe for MMA, she has travelled over here for previous competitions.
“I’ve competed in France when I wrestled so this isn’t totally new to me,” stated Evinger. “I haven’t been to Sweden before but I don’t have a problem fighting overseas. I’ve done it many times. Just for my usual training schedule, I practise all over the place at many different hours of the day so I’m not concerned by the time difference either. I feel like the plane ride alone will be tiring but I will be able to get some rest after I’ve trained once I land. I’m sure I’ll adapt well so this isn’t something that I’m overly bothered by.”
Her opponent in Stockholm is five fight UFC veteran, Lina Lansberg, who has alternated between wins and losses to go 2-3 in the promotion. Similarities can be drawn in their UFC careers as both faced Cris Cybrog in their debuts and both have suffered losses at the hands of Aspen Ladd. The Swedish native has finished 50% of her victories by knockout but in her four losses has been stopped three times due to strikes. Evinger, who herself has a 79% finishing rate in her victories, could well be in a must-win situation after the promotion has recently undertaken a series of roster cuts. However, Evinger doesn’t feel any extra pressure and believes fans will see the best version of herself yet in the UFC come fight night.
“I’ve seen Lanberg fight many times and she’s a good fighter,” discussed Evinger. “I expect her to have good conditioning, as will I, and we are both in the same situation of needing a win so this should be a good one. My plan is always the same and that’s to win the fight. I feel the same pressure to win for every fight because losing sucks and nobody wants to experience that. I’ve worked on all of my weaknesses from my surgeries and I feel like I’m pretty much back to feeling good and performing like I have done in the past.”
Despite being closer to forty than thirty, Evinger has no plans beyond competing in MMA as it stands. The Texas native currently operates a drilling rig in oil fields as her day job which she admits is very tiring so fighting gives her a welcome break from that. She simply plans on fighting for as long as she can get paid for doing it which is what she believes is the case with most fighters. Her previous two UFC opponents have been right towards the top of the food chain so she will hope to get back to winning ways on Saturday night to remind fans of what they have been missing.
UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson v Smith can be viewed at 6pm on BT Sport 3 and the preliminary card kicks off on the same channel at 4pm on Saturday night.
Image courtesy of Esther Lin.