The sparks are expected to be flying tonight (August 6, 2011) from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as two former UFC light heavyweight champions, Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz, collide in the main event.
Evans has sat on the sidelines, frustrated from an injury and then helpless when his teammate, Jon Jones, not only leapfrogged him to win the title, but then said he'd be willing to fight him after months of saying otherwise. After switching training camps to Imperial Athletics in Florida, Evans is focused and raring to return to the Octagon.
Who'd have thought two months ago that they'd not only see Tito Ortiz in the main event, but see him with an opportunity to explode to the top of the light heavyweight division with a win? Even "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" can't believe his luck. Now healthy for the first time in years, he's gearing up for one more run at the belt he lost nearly eight years ago.
Will "Suga" be too sweet for Ortiz? Is there any possibility we'll see another "gravedigger" routine when Tito's fight is over? Which former UFC champion will take one more step towards reclaiming their belt?
Let's find out:
Record: 15-1-1 overall, 10-1-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Lyoto Machida (UFC 98)
How he got here: After a good but not great career wrestling at Michigan State, Rashad Evans, under the wing of former UFC tournament champion Dan Severn, won his first five professional fights. This earned him an opportunity to compete on season two of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
Despite fighting at a weight class heavier than normal, Evans tore through the heavyweights on the show, eventually working his way to the finale where he earned a split decision victory over the significantly larger Brad Imes to become The Ultimate Fighter season two champion.
After some less than dominant split and majority decision victories over Sam Hoger and Stephan Bonnar, Evans finally found his groove, earning a technical knockout (TKO) over Jason Lambert with ground and pound and then scoring one of the UFC's all time nastiest finishes with the head kick knockout of Sean Salmon.
Evans would go on to have his now infamous draw with Tito Ortiz and would follow it up by defeating Michael Bisping via decision, sending him to the middleweight division. The victory would earn "Suga" a number one contender match against former champion Chuck Liddell and one massive overhand right would change his life forever, flooring Liddell, earning "Knockout of the Year," and earning him his first title shot against champion Forrest Griffin.
After a shaky first couple rounds against Griffin at UFC 92, Evans took advantage of a slip, pounced and pummeled his way to victory to take the title and standing atop the division. His title reign would be short, though, halted by Lyoto Machida in his first defense just five months later.
Since losing the championship, Evans has rebounded nicely by defeating Thiago Silva and "Rampage" Jackson via decision, but an ill-advised choice to sit on the sidelines and wait for Mauricio Rua's knee to recover cost him badly. After nine months on the sidelines, "Suga" injured his knee while training and had to watch teammate Jon Jones crush "Shogun" and win the belt he'd had his eyes on for over a year.
After cutting ties with Jackson's MMA and feuding with Jones, Evans had to deal with opponent change after opponent change from Jones, to Phil Davis and now late replacement Tito Ortiz
How he gets it done: Evans' secret weapon ever since losing his title was going back to his roots in the wrestling department. He was able to completely dominate Silva positionally, even if he didn't do much damage in the fight and he used a mix of everything to defeat Jackson.
That's not to say Evans doesn't have power. His ferocious knockouts of Liddell, Salmon and his title victory over Griffin should be a testament to that. He was also the only person in the UFC thus far that has really hurt "Rampage" Jackson in the stand-up, landing a huge right hand in the opening minute of their grudge match.
Expect "Suga" to dance around Tito early, utilizing his speed and movement but his primary goal will be to put "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" on his back and keep him there. This won't be the same fighter that was gunshy and simply held Thiago Silva down for a little over two rounds. If Evans puts Ortiz on his back, expect violence, lots of violence.
Record: 16-8-1 overall, 15-8-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Aside from one fight in 1998, Tito Ortiz has spent his entire career fighting in the UFC. He debuted at UFC 13 as an alternate, smashing his first opponent in 31 seconds before stepping in to battle Lion's Den fighter Guy Metzger in the finals, losing via guillotine choke.
Ortiz returned in 1999 and seemed unstoppable, defeating Ken Shamrock protege Jerry Bohlander and avenging his loss to Metzger to earn a shot against Frank Shamrock. He would fight valiantly but eventually tired and would lose the bout late in the fourth round.
When Shamrock retired after the fight, Ortiz fought and defeated Wanderlei Silva for the vacant belt. With the victory, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" would begin his reign of terror in the division which included five consecutive title defenses as he became the face of the promotion.
When Ortiz refused to fight Chuck Liddell for the title, he was offered a fight against the older and wiser Randy Couture. Seemingly overconfident, he was outwrestled and literally spanked while losing the belt to "The Natural." With a fight against Liddell now unavoidable for the number one contender position, the Team Punishment fighter would face his fears and be knocked out by "The Iceman" early in the second round.
An incensed Ortiz proceeded to go on a five fight winning streak, earning big wins over Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin and two against an aging Ken Shamrock along the way to earn one more shot at Liddell's belt. He put up a great fight and stood toe to toe with the champ for over two rounds but again would be stopped by punches, this time in the third.
This began a horrible stretch for the former champion, where he would suffer a series of injuries and proceeded to go 0-3-1 over the next four years. His name seemingly tarnished, Ortiz was given one last opportunity against top light heavyweight prospect Ryan Bader at UFC 132 and he stepped up in a big way, hearkening back to his old school style, he dropped Bader and proceeded to force a tapout in less than two minutes.
Since he'd taken no damage in the fight, the resurgent ex-champ stepped in on late notice to face Rashad Evans for the second time, hoping to avenge an old draw and steal some of "Suga's" spice.
How he gets it done: Despite saying he's as healthy as he's been in years, Ortiz will still be the slower, less powerful, less explosive and worse grappling fighter in the cage tonight. No matter how rejuvenated he feels, he's still 36 years old and has been fighting professionally for 14 of those years.
While the California native isn't primarily known for his striking, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to try to force Evans to stand and trade with him. If Tito's got one thing going for him, it's the fact that he's very difficult to finish. Only Chuck Liddell has been able to stop him standing and he hasn't been submitted in well over 10 years.
Evans has been rocked in all three of his last fights, so if Ortiz can do the same, he might be able to capitalize on the situation like he did against Bader. It's not likely, but it's still a possibility.
Another interesting situation would be if the Team Punishment fighter strikes first with his wrestling and actually is successful. We really haven't seen Evans on his back much and Tito is one of the greatest ground and pound fighters of all time. He had Evans in a bad spot the first time they fought and with no injuries, he could do it again.
Lastly, the clinch is likely Tito Ortiz's friend. If the staredown picture is any indication, he'll likely be the bigger man when they finally step in the cage tonight. Evans has faded late in fights and if Ortiz can lean on him and tire him out, he could be able to secure an advantage in the endurance department as well.
Fight "X-Factor:" The most important "X-Factor" for this fight is how Rashad Evans has recovered from his injury and his time away from the cage. He can talk all he wants about how great his training camp was and how badly he wants this, but cage rust is a real thing and it's especially relevant when a fighter is coming off a knee injury.
We've seen it with "Shogun" Rua, "Rampage" Jackson and many, many more.
If he fades or is a step slow, that could be all the opportunity Tito needs to come away with a victory.
Bottom Line: This is a must-see rematch between two of the biggest names in the UFC today. Somehow, in 2011, Tito Ortiz is relevant again and he's going to do everything in his power to stay that way. Rashad Evans has been the number one contender for the light heavyweight title for 14 months now and this is the final step he has to take before earning another shot at the belt he lost over two years ago. Evans has a huge money fight against the winner of Quinton Jackson and Jon Jones so that is even more motivation to perform well. Expect to see two very focused and determined men give it everything they've got inside the Octagon tonight and don't expect to be disappointed.
Who will come out on top at UFC 133? Tell us in the comments below!