Bellator 120: "Rampage vs. King Mo" takes place this Saturday night (May 17, 2014) at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, and there's a main card attraction that is gaining quite a bit of hype.
But, it could be for all the wrong reasons.
After recovering from what seems like 306 surgeries, former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz will be making his Bellator debut against the organization's current middleweight champion, Alexander Shlemenko.
"Storm" expressed his desire to challenge the 39-year-old legend and he will be moving up in weight from his regular home of 185 pounds. The Russian is one of the best European fighters in the game today, winning 13 fights in a row since losing to Hector Lombard in 2010.
"The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" has been through his fair share of wretched experiences as of late, from his fallout with Jenna Jameson (in which the former adult film mega star uploaded pictures of drugs and needles Ortiz was supposedly using) to his arrest for driving under the influence (DUI).
Ortiz has a chance to redeem himself and get his mixed martial arts (MMA) career back on track after suffering a neck injury in November 2013, which canceled his fight against Quinton Jackson and forced the promotion to move their Bellator 106 pay-per-view (PPV) to free television on Spike TV.
Ortiz has a record of 1-7-1 since 2006, with the lone win being a massive upset over Ryan Bader at UFC 132 in 2011. He hasn't fought in almost two years.
Let's break down both fighters below:
Big Wins: Brennan Ward (Bellator 114), Doug Marshall (Bellator 109), Maiquel Falcao (Bellator 88)
Crushing Losses: Hector Lombard (Bellator 34), Jordan Radev (Fight Festival 26), Ronaldo Souza (Jungle Fight 6)
What He Needs To Do In Order To Win: "Storm" is known for running through his opposition like a monster truck and his game plan should be no different here. He's younger, faster and he's been more active in the past two years, winning a championship and defending it three times.
He needs to attack Ortiz like there's no tomorrow, drilling him right from the get-go in order to make his foe feel tired and cramped. Shlemenko has devastating power in his strikes, but he also has a good submission game, too. The problem is his opponent hasn't been submitted in over 15 years, so he shouldn't rely on trying to make Ortiz quit with a choke.
The Russian could be patient and look to break down "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy," but if the finish is there, he might as well go for it. Plus, he brings a furious pace to his fighting style, so he should be looking to take his opponent out with shots to the dome and body. He could have a lot of success by planting hits to the aging fighter's liver, like he did to Doug Marshall and Maiquel Falcao.
What He Needs To Avoid: The additional weight could be an issue for "Storm," but if he plays his cards right and has a healthy camp, it may not even be a factor.
In the Russian's last fight against Brennan Ward at Bellator 114, "Storm" was taken down a little too much for his liking. He's not the worst grappler, yet a high-level wrestler could trouble him.
He needs to stay away from his adversary if the Californian wants to lock up and grind his way to victory. Shlemenko has been taken down by fighters who weren't as powerful as Ortiz, so he needs to be careful.
Apart from that, as long as he doesn't get caught with a miracle shot, he should be good.
Big Wins: Ryan Bader (UFC 132), Ken Shamrock (UFC 61, UFC 40), Forrest Griffin (UFC 59)
Crushing Losses: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (UFC 140), Rashad Evans (UFC 133), Chuck Liddell (UFC 66, UFC 47)
What He Needs To Do In Order To Win: Ortiz needs to focus on taking Shlemenko down and forget about looking for the knockout. He needs to pretend like it's either the early 2000's or the mid-2000's and smother Shlemenko on the mat. Ortiz has this vision that he's going to entertain the masses and treat them to the best fight they've ever seen in their lives, but it's just not going to happen. His job is to enter the cage and dominate, whether it's fun to watch or not.
With that being said, his cardio needs to be intact. He's lost four bouts via decision during his horrid record of 1-7-1, and the third round really hasn't been kind to him. He needs to keep up against a combatant who's been able to win a five-round fight in the past year.
What He Needs To Avoid: Ortiz can't enter this fight thinking he's a prime Mike Tyson. The days of him standing in front of his opponent while bobbing and weaving are long gone, so you best believe Shlemenko is going to make him pay for his eagerness to box. The former UFC superstar did surprise Bader with a good shot, which led him to a submission win, but "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" didn't have any business winning that fight.
Apart from having to avoid anything Shlemenko throws at him, he does need to weather the "Storm" (pun intended) and stay away from body shots. In two out of his last three bouts, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Rashad Evans destroyed Ortiz due to hits to the body, and we all remember the huge yell he let out when Lyoto Machida decked him low at UFC 84 in 2008. Since his opponent likes those types of shots, it could be bad news for the Bellator debutant.
Final Assessment: This is definitely Shlemenko's fight to lose, since Ortiz would be bragging for the next five years about how he's the lineal Bellator middleweight champion and how he could give Jon Jones a run for his money.
It's not necessarily the safest fight to book, yet observers are still interested. It's sort of like how our generation can't stop watching violent street fights or celebrity meltdowns, even though we know they're detrimental to our society.
This isn't going to be the make-or-break fight that decides if the PPV purchase is worth it or not, but it is the bout that will tell us if Ortiz has a few fights left in him or if this is indeed his swan song. Upsets can happen and Ortiz can shock the world yet again; however, chances are you wouldn't pick him if you had to put money down on this fight.
Let's hope it's competitive for both the sake of the sport and Bellator's reputation.