UFC 133 Fight Card Preview: 5 Underdogs Who Could Pull Upsets
This Saturday at UFC 133, Tito Ortiz will headline the main event in a bout where few believe he can win, but which many would not be surprised by should he pull off the upset.
Originally set to square off against newly crowned UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, Jones was forced out of the fight due to a lingering hand injury, forcing Rashad Evans to find a new opponent.
Jones was then replaced by up-and-coming prospect Phil Davis; that was, until Davis was forced out with an injury of his own.
Now, Evans will be engaging in a rematch of a 2007 bout at UFC 73 against former champ Tito Ortiz.
The fight ended in a draw and left a sour taste in Evans' mouth, but even more so for Ortiz, who would have most likely won the match had he not been deducted a point for holding the fence.
At the time, Ortiz was coming off the loss of his light heavyweight title to Chuck Liddell while Evans was on the brink of transforming into the superstar he would eventually become.
Fast forward to this Saturday and now the roles are reversed, with Evans now in a relatively stagnant position following his absence for over a year and Ortiz riding high off the momentum of his first-round submission victory over Ryan Bader at UFC 132.
Underdog or not, its hard not to count out Ortiz, especially after defeating a youngster in Bader, who many believe will become an eventual title contender.
And he doesn't seem to be the only fighter hoping to beat the odds this Saturday, as middleweight Yoshihiro Akiyama hopes to avoid a third straight loss while welterweight Mike Pyle plans to halt a young lion in Rory MacDonald from surging up the divisional rankings.
In the birthplace of the sports cinema's most famous underdog, Rocky Balboa, the biggest stories coming out of UFC 133 might end up being a few dramatic upsets.
Here are five underdogs going into UFC 133 that would pull off an upset this Saturday.
In a bout that pits two fighters both coming off of tough losses, its hard not to give the slight edge to the former WEC Featherweight Champion Mike Brown against former Ultimate Fighter 12 contestant Nam Phan.
However, while the 35-year-old has the slight nod over Phan, his back is against the wall as he is most likely fighting for his job against Phan.
Phan himself is coming off of a broken foot which kept him from his much anticipated rematch with Leonard Garcia at the Ultimate Fighter Season 12 Finale, a bout which many felt he would have won.
Now the two featherweights will meet in the Octagon to decide whether Brown gets his walking papers or Phan gets handed his second loss in a row.
For Phan however, the upset isn't as hard to pull off as some of the other fighters on this list due to a variety of reasons.
At 35 years old, Brown is more of the veteran than Phan and possesses a wealth of experience as a former champion. However, a younger, fresher Phan doesn't have his back against the wall like his opponent.
Tough losses to Manvel Gamburyan, Diego Nunes and Rani Yahya have Brown in a pretty deep hole since the loss of his title to Jose Aldo.
Against Phan, a former lightweight who has competed against much larger and stronger opponents, Brown's wrestling and strength might not factor in as much as everyone thinks, especially against a fighter like Phan who has a set of heavy hands of his own.
Both black belts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, its hard to see Brown dominate the fight on the ground against Phan nor standing where Phan is durable enough to trade blows with Brown, but powerful enough to knock him out.
Expect Phan to at least put up a very worthy underdog performance, especially in his first fight back from injury.
In a bout that predicts an overwhelming favorite to come out on top, Chad Mendes vs. Rani Yahya is a classic clash of styles.
Mendes, a Team Alpha Male representative, is a wrestling powerhouse, much like his teammates, and is expected to walk right through Yahya on his way to his eventual title shot against UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo.
However, the unbeaten prospect might not have the easiest time in his second UFC bout, especially against a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert of Yahya's level.
Yahya, who is coming off a victory over Mike Brown at UFC Fight For the Troops 2, is a submission wizard on the ground and has the uncanny ability to weave submissions together, something not surprising from a ADCC World Submission Wrestling Champion.
While it may seem like an arduous task for Yahya to even get Mendes into position on the ground for a submission, its clearly not impossible for a grappler of Yahya's caliber.
So as the fight begins standing, Yahya's shown at least a high enough level of durability to get in close enough to perhaps pull Mendes into his guard, but even off of his back Yahya could pull off a flash submission and that seems to be his best chance.
Finding himself up against yet another young up-and-comer in Rory MacDonald, Mike Pyle is one veteran who definitely has experience with taming the youth.
When he found himself matched up with fast rising John Hathaway back at UFC 120, Pyle was expected to be a sacrificial lamb of sorts to the hometown native Hathaway.
However, Pyle flipped the script and ended up walking away with the unanimous decision victory, frustrating the youngster in front of his home crowd and handing him his first career loss.
He then defeated Ricardo Almeida at UFC 128, where Almeida was a favorite and negated his takedowns en route to another unanimous decision victory.
Now Pyle finds himself faced with yet another young lion in MacDonald, to whom Pyle is more than ten years the senior.
"Quicksand" remains undaunted, though, and if there is anything to be learned from his 29-fight career, it's that he is no stranger to upsets.
A powerful wrestler, Pyle will have to work to defend the takedown much like he did against Almeida, in order to avoid being tossed around like a rag doll, like MacDonald did to Nate Diaz at UFC 129.
Expect Pyle to come out with a patient game and in his case, hopefully lure MacDonald into making a mistake against which he can capitalize.
Despite establishing himself as one of the most entertaining fighters in the UFC, Yoshihiro Akiyama is most likely fighting with his job on the line at UFC 133.
Unfortunately for him, he has a tall order in front of him in Vitor Belfort.
While Belfort himself is not the shining example of consistency, he does possess, on a good night, striking ability capable of demolishing almost anyone in the division.
Akiyama, on the other hand, has showcased some remarkable durability seen in all of his three fights in the UFC, which have earned him Fight of the Night honors.
A world-class judoka, Akiyama is instead known primarily for his preference to stand and bang with opponents.
Against Belfort, though, that sort of gung-ho mentality is the exact sort of thing Akiyama wouldn't want. He doesn't possess the talent or finesse for dodging strikes and throwing flash front kick knockouts of pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva.
Akiyama's judo would much better serve him than his brawling against Belfort, and that will essentially be his key to winning the fight.
With Belfort headhunting and looking for the knockout, Akiyama's only chance of winning is to either land a wild strike flush on Belfort's chin or take the fight to the ground and use his judo.
Coming off of his first win in nearly five years, Tito Ortiz has been reborn in the fans' eyes after his spectacular first-round submission victory of light heavyweight prospect Ryan Bader.
Now he'll be facing the toughest test of his career at 36, taking on Rashad Evans in the main event of UFC 133.
While the bout has been heralded as the return of the Tito Ortiz of old, it really is hard to picture Ortiz walking away with the "W" this time around, especially if he wasn't able to secure it back in 2007 when the two fought to a draw.
Understandably, Tito would probably have won the fight had it not been for his point deduction for holding the fence; however, this time around, Evans is way different.
After already showcasing a pair of dangerously fast and powerful hands since their bout, the likes of which demolished Chuck Liddell and stripped the title away from Forrest Griffin, Evans has since evolved from their last encounter.
In order for Ortiz to come away from this fight victorious, a large part of his game plan would have to revolve around "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" capitalizing off of Evans' possible ring rust.
Ortiz would literally have to hope that Evans is rusty after his year or so away from the cage and then his odds would increase.
If not, then Ortiz would have to be in nearly perfect form as "the Tito of old" and hope to use the same clinch work and strength he used in their first fight in order to keep Evans tied up and on his back.
Even though Ortiz was working with Bernard Hopkins for this bout and was focused on improving his hands, its unlikely he'll catch Evans with any sort of punch like he did with Bader; he's just too fast.
Instead, his hands would be better served for level changes and to position him for the clinch or to set up a takedown.
By far, Ortiz is the biggest underdog on this card, but unlike Evans, he really has nothing to lose and the world to gain.