In the main event of the evening at UFC 133 on Saturday night, former UFC light heavyweight champions Rashad Evans (15-1-1) and Tito Ortiz (17-8-1) collide in a rematch of a UFC 73 encounter that ended in a draw a little over four years ago. The bout was originally scheduled to pit Evans against NCAA Division I champion Phil Davis after Jon Jones was forced to withdraw due to injury. Unfortunately, Davis was forced out of the bout due to a knee injury roughly three-and-a-half weeks before the bout was scheduled to take place, causing a highly publicized scramble to find an opponent for Evans.
Lyoto Machida and Tito Ortiz were the front runners to fill in, but Ortiz initially declined the bout. Ortiz was the perfect substitute on paper. He was coming off a heroic performance against Ryan Bader at UFC 132 only ten days beforehand, and he had history with Evans. Most fans opined that Ortiz should strike while the iron was hot. Ortiz didn't agree, and there were concerns that he may not have the time to peak for the fight.
Machida served as an alternative to Ortiz, but negotiations to get him into the cage fell through when Machida verbally agreed to the fight, then came back asking for more money. Dana White refused. Luckily for the UFC, Tito Ortiz had a change of heart, accepting the fight and creating a match-up that has some heat behind it due to their previous encounter.
That isn't all of the intrigue surrounding this bout however. The intangibles are hard to ignore, namely that Evans hasn't fought since May of last year, choosing to wait for his chance at the title against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua instead of fighting after his unanimous decision victory over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 114. Injuries suffered by Evans and his opponents kept him out of the Octagon until now.
Ring rust will be a huge issue for Evans. Can it still overcome a Tito Ortiz who has seen better days? Despite the quick win over Ryan Bader, there is still an enormous amount of skepticism that he has the skills to defeat a much more improved Rashad Evans. Evans is quicker, the better striker, and possesses solid wrestling skills. Ortiz, in my opinion, is a technically deficient striker, and while his back has healed up from past injuries -- I'm not fully convinced he has the wrestling skills to control Rashad for three rounds.
Many fans are hoping to see a career resurgence by Tito Ortiz. For what reason? It's hard to say. Maybe it's the nostalgia of Ortiz, or perhaps the idea of Ortiz, a fighter nobody thought would be where he is right now, playing the role of spoiler. Whatever the reason, fans are intrigued at the possibility. Unfortunately, I think fans will find that Ortiz doesn't have the skills to compete with Rashad inside the Octagon on Saturday night. Rashad should be able to edge Ortiz on the scorecards via unanimous decision, although I don't believe it will be closely contested. Evans should cruise to victory.