Tito Ortiz doesn’t mind being a third choice. He’s just pleased to still be headlining pay-per-views.
The main event of tonight’s UFC 133, a pay-per-view event broadcast from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, was supposed to be a grudge match between Rashad Evans and Jon Jones for Jones’ light heavyweight championship. When Jones pulled out with a hand injury, he was replaced with former Penn State wrestler Phil Davis.
When Davis withdrew with a knee injury in early July, UFC turned to Ortiz, who had resurrected his career on July 2 with a surprising first-round submission of Ryan Bader at UFC 132. And that is how Ortiz finds himself in the main event tonight, a rematch of a draw he had with Evans in 2007.
The interesting twist is that UFC’s third choice might turn out to be the most marketable (and profitable) opponent. The presence of the controversial Ortiz, appropriately nicknamed the Huntington Beach Bad Boy, has almost completely obscured the fact that UFC 133 has undergone more changes than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe.
In addition to the changes in Evans’ opponents for the main event, the scheduled co-main event between Rich Franklin and Antonio Rogerio Noguiera was scrapped due to injuries. That elevated the middleweight bout between Vitor Belfort and Yoshihiro Akiyama into the position of being the other featured bout.
Vladimir Matyushenko withdrew from fight against Alexander Gustafsson, so Matt Hamill stepped in to replace Matyushenko. Most recently, Alessio Sakara pulled out of his bout with Jorge Rivera due to an injury. Constantinos Philippou steps up to the main card to face Rivera, with Paul Bradley taking Philippou’s place against Rafael Natal (no, not the tennis player; that’s Rafael Nadal) in one of the preliminary bouts.
All those changes have been overshadowed by the presence of Ortiz, a 36-year-old UFC legend who, in recent years, has made more news outside the octagon than inside it. Ortiz has been involved in controversial decisions and heated feuds, most notably with Ken Shamrock, during his career. But he’s primarily been in the news the last few years for his rocky relationship with porn star Jenna Jameson. That relationship includes the birth of twins, arrests, Twitter wars and numerous other controversies.
Inside the ring, Ortiz hasn’t done much of note the last five years. Until upsetting Bader, Ortiz (17-8-1) hadn’t won since Oct. 10, 2006, when he successfully defended his UFC light-heavyweight championship with a second straight first-round knockout of Ken Shamrock, another UFC legend who was on the downside of his career. The victories over Shamrock completed a five-bout winning streak, which included a split decision over Belfort.
Ortiz’s winning streak came to an end with a third-round knockout at the hands of Chuck Lidell in a light heavyweight championship bout at UFC 66 in December 2006. Lidell, another charismatic UFC legend, also had stopped Ortiz in April 2004, the bout that preceded Ortiz’s five-fight winning streak. After the second loss to Lidell, Ortiz battled to the draw with Evans in July 2007. That was followed by three losses, all by decision, to Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin and Hamill.
A fourth straight loss, which would have extended his winless streak to six, probably would have ended Ortiz’s UFC career, especially if Bader had knocked him out or forced him to submit. But Ortiz stopped his slide and saved his UFC career with the submission victory over Bader.
Evans (20-1-1), also a former UFC light heavyweight champion, is unlikely to be psyched out by Ortiz. Evans has a degree in psychology from Michigan State. Furthermore, Evans has the skills to counter Ortiz’ preferred method of attack.
Evans is known as a terrific wrestler, excelling in takedowns and takedown defense. Ortiz established a well-deserved reputation as a relentless fighter. Once he gets his opponent to the mat, he applies a vicious ground-and-pound attack. The difficulty for Ortiz will be taking Evans to the mat.
In contrast to Ortiz, Evans only has one loss since 2006. In fact, it’s the only loss of his UFC career, a second-round knockout at the hands of Machida in a light heavyweight championship bout at UFC 98 in May of 2009. The only other blemish on Evans’ record is the 2007 draw with Ortiz, which he chalks up to relative inexperience.
Since the draw with Ortiz, Evans has defeated Michael Bisping, Lidell, Forrest Griffin (for the light heavyweight championship), Thiago Silva and, most recently, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 114 in 2010.
If there is a question for Evans, it’s ring rust. He hasn’t fought since defeating Jackson on May 29, 2010. He was supposed to fight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128 – Rua had defeated Machida – but a knee injury prevented Evans from taking that bout. Jones, Evan’s friend and teammate, replaced him and promptly defeated Rua to capture the title.
Evans needs to beat Ortiz to retain his No. 1 ranking and get his match with Jones, who is now a former friend and training partner.
Belfort (19-9-0), another former light heavyweight champion, is trying to get back into the middleweight title picture after being stopped in the first round by Anderson Silva in a title bout at UFC 126 in December. Prior to that loss Belfort had won five straight bouts, four for other organizations before returning to UFC on Sept. 19, 2009, when he dispatched Franklin in the first round.
Prior to defeating Franklin, Belfort’s most recent UFC bout had been a split-decision loss to Ortiz at UFC 51 in February of 2005. The loss to Ortiz followed a pair of 2004 title bouts with UFC icon Randy Couture, with Belfort winning the title in the first bout, then losing the belt back to Couture in the second fight.
Belfort’s opponent, Akiyama (13-3-0, 2 no contests), is also a powerful striker. He is coming off 2010 losses to Michael Bisping (decision) and Chris Leben (submission).
UFC 133 begins at 6 p.m. with four preliminary bouts, including Bradley vs. Natal. Those fights can be viewed on the Internet. For information, check UFC’s Web site. The Hamill-Gustafsson bout and a battle between Rani Yahya and unbeaten Chad Mendes (10-0) will be broadcast on Spike (cable channel) from 8-9 p.m.
The rest of the card – Evans-Ortiz, Belfort-Akiyama, Rivera-Philippou, Dennis Hallman vs. Brian Ebersole, Rory McDonald vs. Mike Pyle – will be available only on pay-per-view (the pay-per-view broadcast officially begins at 8 p.m.).