Four years ago, at UFC 73, Rashad Evans met Tito Ortiz in the center of the UFC Octagon. Evans, the winner of the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, was perhaps in a little over his head. He had never faced a fighter of Ortiz's caliber - Tito, after all, had been the promotion's long time poster boy and one of its most iconic fighters. Almost as importantly, Evans had never main evented a UFC pay per view. He didn't know about the pressure to perform, the huge crowds, the increasing media obligations.
In the end, Ortiz was docked a point for grabbing the fence on a takedown attempt and the deduction turned an Ortiz win into a draw. When the decision was read, Tito looked crushed. Evans, it seemed, couldn't have been happier to escape with his undefeated record intact.
After the first fight, the two men went in markedly different directions. Evans exploded to the top of the sport, beating Chuck Liddell, winning the UFC Light Heavyweight championship from Forrest Griffin, and spanking Quinton Jackson in a high profile grudge match. Ortiz lost three in a row and was one more losing effort away from being cut outright. A win over Ryan Bader reinvigorated his career and a series of calamities led Ortiz into a rematch with Evans -just weeks after his UFC 132 star turn.
This time Evans was the prohibitive favorite. Did Tito still have what it takes to compete with the best? Would ring rust from a 14 months layoff stifle Rashad's game? We'll answer these questions and more as we take a detailed look at the UFC 133 main event.
5:00-4:00: "Why is Ken Shamrock yelling at Tito?" some asked on Twitter as Ortiz made his way to the cage. Sure enough, a giant muscle bound man who vaguely resemble Shamrock was indeed yelling sweet nothing in Tito's ear. Who knows what to make of this crazy sport? Ortiz carries his trademark America/Mexico flag with him as announcer Mike Goldberg tries to tie Ortiz's patriotism to the tragic loss of life in Afghanistan. Awkward.
Ortiz has no one I recognize in his corner. That may not be a good sign. Sometimes older fighters enter a comfort zone and like to run their own show. But the fighters who win tend to have significant training partners and relevant coaches. Goldberg says "He's looking to extend his winning streak." I'm not sure one counts as a streak.
Before Rashad ever steps into view, the crowd is booing. Inexplicably, he's the sport's biggest villain despite being charming, smart, and an entertaining fighter. Rashad's rocking a nice looking Jaco hoodie, a Pretorian hat, and a TapouT t-shirt. Is sponsor polygamy allowed? Joe Rogan gives a shout out to Tyrone Spong, the K-1 star who helped Rashad work on his striking at his new home at Imperial Athletics in Florida.
Ortiz leaps high into the air as Bruce Buffer gives his normal frantic introductions. Evans looks like a different fighter physically, cut up like he's never been before. Dan "Tan" Mirgliata is the third man in the Octagon, looking like he's on the Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake tanning plan, and watching Evans crouch in his corner like a wild beast. The fight begins with a plug for the movie Conan The Barbarian 3D, literally the first thing out of Goldberg's mouth as the fighters approach the center of the cage.
Before he can finish, Ortiz unleashes a kick to the body that Rashad sidesteps nicely. Rashad throws a few jabs, landing one, as Ortiz calmly looks for an opening. Ortiz lunges in with a right that Evans blocks as he circles away from Tito's power hand. At 4:24, Ortiz attacks again, this time with a left hook that a slow motion replay shows misses by a hair but that causes Joe Rogan to exclaim "Oh, he caught him with a left hook! Tito caught him!"
A follow up right misses as well, as does Evans's counter left. Rashad switches briefly to a southpaw stance before landing a leg kick that Tito is able to partially check. Very even fight in the opening stanza. Ortiz is stalking Evans, definitely the aggressor as the minute comes to an end.
4:00-3:00: Evans fakes a shot, following immediately with a jab. It doesn't land, but it demonstrates what makes Evans such a dangerous fighter. He does a spectacular job using his wrestling to set up strikes. The threat of the takedown forces opponents to pay attention to his slightest level change - and he uses that to his advantage to sneak in a punch or three a round.
Ortiz charges wildly with a right hand and tries to sneak a left in as well. It's an awkward attempt and Evans easily avoids it. An Evans that doesn't have 14 months of ring rust probably ends the fight there. Ortiz made no effort to protect himself as he lept into attack mode. At 3:46, Ortiz paws with a jab and Evans answers with a right hand that clips Tito on the side of the head. Evans immediately grabs a clinch and looks for a takedown, but Ortiz took the punch well and is able to defend. As they break away, Ortiz throws a right that misses and a left that hits the retreating Evans in the armpit. "Tito is confident in his hands," Rogan notes.
Evans is moving lightly on his feet, a mesmerizing dance that distracts the viewer - and presumably his opponent as he is able to land a crisp jab. Ortiz refuses to be distracted for long. He continues to stalk Evans, eventually cornering him near the cage and shooting for a takedown.He secures a double leg and puts Rashad on his butt. "Tito 101," Goldberg says.
3:00-2:00: Evans, however, refuses to concede the position. He makes his way to his feet, never allowing Ortiz to commence the kind of ground and pound attack that made him famous. It takes him almost a minute, but Rashad is able to get to his feet, his back never hitting the mat. He lands a few slaps and light punches for good measure. Ortiz is too focused on position to do any damage. "Breath and relax," Ortiz's corner yells. Sometimes being in front of your team is a huge advantage for a fighter. They can analyze what's happening and offer technical advice. Here? Not so much.
2:00-1:00: An inspired Evans attacks as soon as he has distance, pouncing with a quick left hand. It's a stinging blow and he just misses a follow on right. There were opportunities to put Tito away early. Rashad is just missing them, and I can't help but think an extended absence from the cage may be the culprit. Ortiz lands a right of his own, back against the cage and suddenly the two are going to toe-to-toe. "Slugfest," Rogan exclaims.
Evans lands another good left, but Ortiz grabs a Thai clinch and responds with a knee. Evans throws two lefts, one of which connects, and mixes it up with a right to the body. He's quicker to the punch than Ortiz, but Tito was still in the fight until a second right to the body seems to stun him. "I think Tito is hurt Mike," Rogan says. "I think he got tagged."
Rashad turns up the heat with two hard rights to the head. Ortiz has his hands up, but these are thudding rights that are doing damage despite an intelligent defense. Another right, an uppercut, and a left smack into Tito's guard as the veteran has no options but to hold on. Evans is relentless, landing another powerful right to the body before Tito pulls him into a clinch. "Frenetic pace early," Goldberg says and it seems to have taken a toll on Evans, who seems happy to get a rest.
Ortiz throws a nice knee to the body, but it's not enough to make Evans step back. At 1:15, Rashad switches things up and lands a brutal elbow to the head. Ortiz comes back with another knee. This is a pretty darn good fight. Evans comes in again behind a big right hand smoothly transitions to a double leg, dumping Ortiz on the mat as the clock shows one minute remaining in the first round.
1:00-0:00: "Oh my!" Goldberg screams as Evans immediately transitions to ground and pound. He doesn't take a beat to get his bearings. He landed in half guard and starts pounding away without pause. Evans throws 10 blows, but Ortiz is covering up smartly. "He's got those big long arms," Goldberg points out. Rather than punch himself out, ala Shane Carwin in his famous fight with Brock Lesnar, Evans regroups to consider his options.
Perhaps following Joe Rogan's ringside advice, he looks to improve position. He quickly moves to side control and tries to pin Ortiz's right arm down so he can land undefended elbows to the noggin. It's a promising tactic, but with less than 30 seconds left in the round, there may not be time to execute it. Ortiz knows what's going on and continues to defend. Evans has to settle for some short right hands as Ortiz spins into guard. The round ends with Evans stacking Ortiz up and dropping down a left hand, scoring an additional seven or eight punches before the bell tolls.
5:00-4:00: Both men are cautious out of the gate to start round two. Ortiz, like in the first, throws and misses a kick to get things rolling. Evans is following a jab with a left hook, but misses the combination twice. It's a good idea though, as many fighters never remember to set things up at all. Rashad again briefly assumes a southpaw stance, doing what appears to be a tribal dance of some kind. At 4:08, Ortiz has seen enough, again closing the distance with a sprinting right hand, throwing a three punch combination that all miss the mark. "When he's attacking, he's pushing his punches," Rogan explains.
4:00-3:00: Evans again follows a jab with a hook, this time landing the left as the clock hits 4:00 on the nose. A left-right combination backs Ortiz up to the fence where Evans dives in with a right hand that he slickly turns into a single leg. No one transitions better from striking to wrestling than Rashad Evans. Ortiz counters the takedown with a guillotine, but Evans is immediately able to get to half guard, lessening the pressure and the danger immensely. No one told Mike Goldber though, as he screamed "Tito is trying to finish the fight!"
"The only thing that's saving Rashad is that Tito is not in full guard," Rogan tells his partner and the world. At 3:28 Evans pops his head free, much to the chagrin of the crowd and anyone who loves a good comeback story. Suddenly the tables are turned - Evans is in control, on top in half guard. He traps Ortiz's arm under his left knee, but Tito squirms free.
Evans, however, uses Tito's frantic defense to move to side control and land more ground and pound. "A lot of time on the clock Joe," Goldberg says.
3:00-2:00: Evans maintains position, throwing a few punches, but mostly looking for a mounted crucifix that would allow him to pound Ortiz out. He gets knee to belly on Tito, threatening the mount, and lands 15 punches to Ortiz's head. The rapid fire punches aren't fight enders, but they are solid enough that Ortiz wisely gives Mirgliata a thumbs up. "He is teeing off on Tito here," Rogan says. Ortiz struggles to escape, but Evans takes advantage of the opening to finally get the crucifix he's been looking for.
2:00-1:00: Evans is in control, landing some short elbows to an exhausted looking Ortiz. Rashad is being very disciplined on top, not throwing anything without an opening. The veteran Ortiz uses his feet, firmly on the fence, to push off and escape. Evans sticks with him though, continuing his assault. At 1:05 Rashad looks to take Tito's back, but Ortiz rolls for a kneebar instead. Even a battered Ortiz is still dangerous on the ground. Evans grabs the fence to maintain his control - but hey, as we say in the Army, if you're not cheating, you're not trying.
1:00-0:00: Evans is still, remarkably, in side control, and lands a big elbow. He softens Ortiz up with a left to the body, one of the few times he's gone away from a concentrated assault on Tito's mega dome. Evans again looks for the crucifix and Ortiz uses the chance to explode. He makes it as far as his knees and the two men trade punches there, with Rashad standing above Ortiz. With 24 seconds left, Evans lands a brutal right knee to the solar plexus. Tito collapses to the ground and the rest is academic. "Tito is hurt," Rogan says. "That one hurt him badly."
Thirteen punches follow. Ortiz is covering up, but not truly defending. Mirgliata stops the fight with 18 seconds left in the round. "It's all over," Goldberg shouts, getting his patented line in at the end. Evans, after a fourteen month absence, will fight the winner of the Jon Jones-Quinton Jackson title fight at UFC 135.