This Saturdays Main Event between Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz matches up two of the most polarizing figures in all of Mixed Martial Arts. Iâ€™m far from ashamed to say that Iâ€™m a big fan of both from their boisterous quotes outside of the cage to their wrestling based talents in it. And both of them helped invigorate my passion for the sport at different times.
I watched the early days of the UFC and then fell out of the scene when they stopped televising it in my area. Iâ€™m not sure if it was the initial show back on my cable system or not, but Titoâ€™s first fight with Ken Shamrock was the first one I purchased and watched in quite a few years.
While Tito certainly talked a mean game and looked the role, I had no idea who he was and figured that the Worlds Most Dangerous Man was going to take him to task. When Ortiz dismantled Shamrock in gruesome fashion I realized two things: I loved the way he backed up his talk and the sport had evolved since I had last seen it. From there I watched what I could, including the ballet of violence that was Pride.
One thing I didnâ€™t partake in was the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. I canâ€™t really say exactly why. A good bit of it may have been The Contender which had the same type of format with Boxers except they included terribly edited fights that sucked the life out of the telecasts. Anyway, after seeing the Griffin/Bonnar epic later I did tune in for season two. And while Rashad caught a lot of criticism for not being able to finish fights, his heart and desire against much bigger opponents earned him a lifelong fan here. That drew my interest to even the smaller scale stuff instead of just the big events.
Itâ€™s difficult to draw much from their Draw four years ago. One thing that does stand out was how cautious Evans was early. Itâ€™s understandable considering it was his first huge fight against a legend. But when he settled in during that third round, he really dug deep into Titoâ€™s hind side on their feet and he took him down authoritatively. That stands out more to me than the point deduction that cost Tito the decision.
Ortiz finally appears to be healthy and his stand up game has improved even as his win column remained stagnant during a five year winless streak that he just ended a few short weeks ago. While he deserves kudos for stepping up and taking this fight on late notice, he really is playing with house money. This favor and his upset win over Bader have put his tenuous job stability in the rear view mirror. A win here probably garners him a title shot while a loss wonâ€™t hurt him at all.
One thing I havenâ€™t seen from him is the explosive take downs that were his trademark. He hasnâ€™t really gone for them in recent years and while a lot of that can be attributed to his back woes, it still doesnâ€™t completely excuse not even attempting them to keep his opponent honest.
I definitely think he is going to need to press the fight and will have to at least make some serious attempts at putting Rashad on his back. When Tito fights off of his back foot, he just isnâ€™t the same fighter. We will see if being healthy can overcome years of a different pattern or if the win over Bader was just a brief Renaissance for the aging warrior at the top of Light Heavyweight division.
For Evans, he looks absolutely elated to put a tumultuous year plus, on many levels, behind him and get back into the Octagon. Rashad will not only be dealing with the longest layoff of his career but coming off of a major injury. That coupled with a new camp is a lot to deal with mentally when youâ€™re putting your number 1 contender slot, and a fight against a huge rival for the title, on the line. So I think his mental preparation is the key for him. Physically Rashad is an improved fighter from the first time and I would give him the edge in most areas against Tito other than Submissions and chin. Rashad needs to keep his footwork fluid and use his speed for strikes, defense and to take Ortiz down. Can Evans handle the pressure? Or will the layoff and other distractions take him off of his game enough for Tito to spring another upset?
Itâ€™s hard to imagine Evans not having some rust, so I think Ortiz has a golden opportunity early to back him up with his jab and take an early lead in the fight. That will put all of the pressure squarely on Rashadâ€™s shoulders and the bet here is that he will respond in style and take the second and third rounds definitively to earn a hard fought decision and a shot at the Jon Jones/Rampage winner next year.
Iâ€™m just going to touch briefly on the under card. While this card may lack star power, these are precisely the kind of cards that have turned into the most entertaining shows. When the masses complain going in, look out for war after war. The Gustafsson/Hamill, Belfort/Akiyama & McDonald/Pyle fights are all intriguing contrasts of styles with the potential to be very close and unpredictable fights. The Belfort fight in particularly could be a firefight between two old Pride stalwarts that love to stand and bang. Iâ€™ll take the favorites in all three of them, Belfort by stoppage in the fight of the night with McDonald & Gustafsson taking decisions. All in all, Iâ€™m expecting a thrilling card.
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