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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
When Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz first squared off in the summer of 2007, it marked a major step up in competition for The Ultimate Fighter season two winner.
Undefeated at 10-0 after knocking out Sean Salmon with a head kick, Evans was taking on a version of Ortiz that had just fought for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship in what, at the time, was the biggest pay-per-view event in UFC history at UFC 66. Despite his loss to Chuck Liddell, Ortiz was still a major star in the UFC and a major opponent for Evans.
The two fought to a draw and then went on entirely separate paths. Ortiz would go on to lose his next three fights over a three-year stretch, while Evans defeated Michael Bisping, knocked out Chuck Liddell and then captured the Light Heavyweight Championship himself. Though he would lose in his first title defense to Lyoto Machida, Evans would also add two more wins to his belt over top ten fighters in Thiago Silva and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
So when the two fighters meet again at UFC 133 next weekend, it's more than safe to say that both fighters are in very different places than they were in that first meeting. For Evans, he's near the top of the heap, and he doesn't feel this fight is going to change that.
"Everybody wants to be where I'm at," Evans said in a pre-UFC 133 video interview for the UFC. "I wanna be fighting for the belt and they wanna be fighting for the belt. So when you get to this position, it's a dog eat dog world. Everybody wants to be the top dog. And no matter who I go against, they're always going to try to come and try to get at me."
Ortiz is just the latest, accepting this fight on just a few week's notice when Phil Davis was forced out of the event with an injury. But Evans doesn't feel threatened by the late change, or in anything that Ortiz might present to him.
"I think Tito's gonna try to get me down," Evans said. "I think he'll try to get me down, put me on my back, do a little bit of ground and pound. That was his game plan in the first fight and I think he's going to try to do it again this fight but I'm not a puppy anymore. I'm a big dog in the game now. It's not going to be the same."
"I'm that much faster than him. As long as I keep my movement going and keep using my speed, I think that he should be a couple steps behind me. He's going to be making a mistake even stepping into the cage with me, let alone [trying to] stand with me."
Though Ortiz is coming off an impressive upset win over Ryan Bader, it still was only his first win since 2006. That, and the success Evans has had over the last several years, has the number one contender feeling supremely confident heading into the rematch.
"I'm confident no matter where this fight goes, I'm going to destroy him," Evans said. "There's no doubt in my mind I will defeat Tito Ortiz. That I know for sure. As sure as my next breath, I'm going to defeat Tito Ortiz."
That fight will come in the main event of UFC 133 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Penn. next Saturday, August 6, airing live on pay-per-view.
Penick's Analysis: Evans has plenty of reasons to feel completely confident in this fight. Ortiz's injuries have had a major effect on his career and his performances, and Evans is a better fighter than Ryan Bader. The only negative aspects he's dealing with coming into the fight is a lengthy layoff and his own knee injury, but as a whole he's been fighting at a higher level than Ortiz since the two of them met in 2007. He's fully expected to win this fight, he fully believes that's just what he's going to do and following up on that confidence with a win will get him a title fight in the division. This is absolutely Evans' fight to lose, and he knows that, so he'll be out to do everything in his power to avoid falling short.
[Rashad Evans art by Cory Gould (c) MMATorch.com]
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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