It wasn’t too long ago that Rashad Evans was rooting for the man he meets in the main event at UFC 133 from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Penn. this Saturday night, Tito Ortiz.
In fact, it was nearly a month ago to the day when “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” submitted five-to-one favorite Ryan Bader at UFC 132 on July 2. Evans, who battled Ortiz to a controversial draw at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif. at UFC 73, watched the longest reigning light heavyweight titleholder in UFC history earn his first win in nearly five years.
“I like Tito. I like the dude. The fact that he had a five-year losing streak, I don't want to see anybody lose like that. It was good to see Tito Ortiz get that win, but, he's not gonna get that win on the 6th [of August],” the once-defeated Evans told Bleacher Report.
When a knee injury unraveled Evans’ headlining bout with undefeated light heavyweight Phil Davis at the next pay-per-view, the rematch with Ortiz came together. The 36-year-old was far removed from the 205-pound title reign between 2000-2003 that made him one of the UFC’s pioneering stars, but finishing Bader in the opening frame restored his credibility in the division—even in the eyes of his most hardened critic, UFC president Dana White.
Evans was still fresh from defending Ortiz on Twitter to New England Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. The NFL star textually crashed Ortiz’s victory celebration on the social networking site when he heard the news of his new opponent.
“It's funny because Chad Ochocinco, he tweeted me and he said he was gonna smash Tito. I tweeted him back and was like, 'Listen, let him enjoy his win a little bit before you beat him up too bad.' Then, here it comes, I have to go and ruin that win for him,” said the former Michigan State University wrestler.
“Sugar” commends Ortiz for staying in shape enough to accept a rematch four years in the making on three weeks' notice. Ortiz’s job-saving performance against Bader also impressed the 31-year-old. After three opponent changes during a tumultuous 14-months away from the Octagon, Evans welcomes an opponent with a history to bring to the cage.
Much has changed since their first outing.
Evans scored 2008’s Knockout of the Year against the man that stopped Ortiz with punches twice, Chuck Liddell, and closed out the year by seizing the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship from Forrest Griffin.
After failing to defend his belt, he notched back-to-back victories. He was last seen emerging victorious from a feud documented on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter and a three-week UFC Primetime series with former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 114 in May 2010.
Meanwhile, Ortiz remained winless until a week before accepting UFC 133 headlining duties.
Still, one significant victory for a fighter as storied as Ortiz is enough to justify meeting a solidified contender in Evans. The unfinished business of a draw sells the bout, but it’s the drastic contrasts in momentum—Evans’ 14-month layoff versus Ortiz’s four-week layoff—that can determine its outcome. The playing field is even in Evans’ estimation despite the difference in activity.
“I don't believe in ring rust,” commented the former UFC 205-pound champion. “I don't believe in the Boogeyman either.”
While Evans admits to enjoying the war of words typically associated with fighting Tito Ortiz, the short build up has left little room to talk. Drama in the form of a highly publicized falling out with Greg Jackson’s MMA—namely former teammate and current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones—has Evans simply looking ahead to cage time and to having fun.
More importantly, victory against a reemerging Tito Ortiz means holding his position as the No. 1 contender at 205 pounds—a tag he earned by besting “Rampage,” but was unable to cash in because the of fight game’s roller-coaster luck.
“I'm gonna make it through this fight, that's the most important fight right now. That's where my mind and focus is, just on that fight. After that, it'll take care of itself,” he said. “I'd love to get a chance to face Jon Jones, but if that don't happen, Rampage will suffice. After being out for 14 months, I'm just happy to have a chance to compete again.”
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