PHILADELPHIA -- How you perceive the UFC 133
main event between Rashad Evans
and Tito Ortiz
correlates to how you view Ortiz's last fight. Was his recent win over Ryan Bader
a fluke, as some have suggested? Or is it the sign of a rejuvenated, retooled fighter?
The answer to those questions will no doubt color your projection of how Ortiz and Evans will match up on Saturday night.
So what is the truth about Ortiz? Perhaps it falls somewhere in between black and white. The truth might be that he was never quite as washed up as some suggested, and not quite as revitalized as others believe. A look at his five-fight winless streak shows a fighter that was dominated just once, in his UFC
66 TKO loss to Chuck Liddell
. Aside from that, he fought one draw, one split-decision and lost two unanimous decisions. During that stretch, he faced four men who at some point in their career held the UFC light-heavyweight championship.
The bout with Evans marks the fifth time in his last seven fights Ortiz has faced a former title-holder, a challenging stretch for anyone, let alone a 36-year-old with constant back problems.
Both fighters base their styles off their wrestling backgrounds. Takedowns and ground & pound were the hallmark of Ortiz's early success, while Evans first came to prominence as primarily a wrestler, and added striking to his arsenal as he developed.
But both fighters have had so much turmoil in their careers over the last 12-18 months that it's hard to tell what exactly they'll be on Saturday night.
Take Evans, for instance. As we noted, he's a wrestler at heart. So much so, in fact, that his 44 career takedowns ranks him in the top 10 all-time among UFC fighters, according to FightMetric stats
. Ortiz (16-8-1) may have a reputation as a wrestler, but even though he has twice as many UFC as Evans (24 to Evans' 12), he doesn't even crack the top 10 in total takedowns. FightMetric stats show that Evans (15-1-1) averages 4.62 takedowns per 15 minutes, almost double Ortiz's average of 2.39.
Yet when Evans fought Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in his most recent fight, he elected to stand with the heavy-handed Jackson for over 11 minutes of their 15-minute fight, out-landing him 32-19 on their feet.
Yet between then and now, Evans has made a major shift, taking his camp to Florida, where he has trained under the watchful eye of former teammate Mike Van Arsdale, a former UFC fighter who wrestled on the international scene. Van Arsdale told me this week that he spent significant time sharpening up Evans' wrestling, making me wonder if that was an omen into how Evans will attack.
Ortiz may have the reputation of a great wrestler but the stats tell a slightly different story. FightMetric research shows he's been successful on just 34 percent of his career takedown attempts, and that opponents have taken him down on 44 percent of their tries. Compustrike stats show that
over his last 15 fights, Ortiz has fared even worse on his takedown defense; 62 percent of opponents' tries have gotten him to the ground.
Their first encounter was heavy on wrestling. The two tried a combined 17 takedowns between them, connecting on five. The second encounter is likely to be similar.
Like Evans though, Ortiz has had heavy changeover in his camp, making his style a bit more unpredictable than it has been for years. Under the tutelage of coach Jason Parillo and after drilling tirelessly on footwork, angles and power over the last few months, he seems to have a newfound faith in his striking.
Given that, it's possible Ortiz will attempt to stay upright and engage Evans in the striking game, something that would have been unthinkable even two years ago. In the heat of battle though, fighters often tend to revert to their roots, and Ortiz has lacked the explosiveness on his shot to properly threaten his opponent. Although he says his back and neck are fully healed, it's hard to take him at his word as he's said that before and later admitted he was posturing. Those types of injuries tend to linger.
One thing you could visually see in their workouts this weekend is that Ortiz is markedly bigger than he used to be, with one of his coaches saying he got up to 235 pounds after working with a new strength and conditioning guru. That power can pay dividends in a lot of areas, but only if his energy level stays constant. Evans has never really had a problem with his gas tank, while Ortiz has historically been a quick starter but of late has struggled in fights. Because of that, it's almost imperative that Ortiz either win by early stoppage or take the first round and hope to steal one of the last two. Evans is nearly guaranteed to be the fresher of the two in the late going.
In the standup, Evans is faster on his feet, but Ortiz may pack more wallop in his shots. For all his movement, Evans is fairly mediocre when it comes to accuracy, landing only 39 percent of his strikes by FightMetric's count. That number is a bit misleading though as Evans used to fight so far away from his opponent that he couldn't possibly hit him. He has a much better idea of spacing these days, though he still tends to do his best work holding his opponent against the cage and working him over, or from the top position on the ground.
Even given Ortiz's new confidence in his hands, Evans has always exhibited the stamina and handspeed that could give him problems. Add in a few more years of seasoning since his first encounter with Ortiz, a solid wrestling base and the poise that comes from big-fight experience, and he's going to be hard to beat. Ortiz has to start quick and end quick. The longer the fight goes on, the more it trends in Evans' favor if the recent past is any indication. Of course, the recent past would have suggested that we bet the house on Bader over Ortiz, too. You never quite know, and that's the fun of it all. But Evans is younger, faster and fresher, so I assume he will win this fight. He won't finish Ortiz like his coach suggested, but he'll take the three-rounder by decision.