By Zach Arnold
Two bitter rivals. One has major name-recognition around the world and the other is a rising star in his sport. The guy with the mustard-colored hair is a big star to the general public and his opponent is a young upstart with a lot of promise, potential, and dedication. Millions of people are paying close attention to see who will come out on top and find out which athlete will end up with a reversal of fortune.
Oh yeah, we're not talking about Takeru 'food fighter' Kobayashi versus Joey Chestnut. However, if this weekend's Light Heavyweight contest at UFC 73 in Sacramento between Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans is as dramatic and colorful as what took place on the 4th of July on Coney Island, then we should have a hell of an entertaining spectacle on live television.
"The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" Tito Ortiz comes into his fight as the established veteran, winning his last five out of six fights. However, the record may appear to be somewhat misleading. Ortiz got two of those wins against Ken Shamrock plus got decision wins over Patrick Cote (an ugly fight), Vitor Belfort, and Forrest Griffin (who pushed Tito to the limit). Ortiz claimed that he had a knee injury in the fight against Griffin, but it certainly had to be discomforting that the young Ultimate Fighter upstart gave him problems in the Octagon.
Ortiz's last fight was against Chuck Liddell at UFC 66. It was a fight that showed Liddell imposing his will on Ortiz. It was such a dominating performance for Liddell that suddenly Ortiz's mental toughness was being questioned. One thing we do know about Tito Ortiz is that he brings it every time he fights. Ortiz looks for takedowns and is ready to ground 'n pound his opponents into quitting. He likes to impose his will on his opponents. We know what Tito Ortiz brings to the table. There are no surprises.
Ortiz heads into UFC 73 facing another success story from The Ultimate Fighter, this time being opponent Rashad Evans. Evans trains with Greg Jackson's camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is taking a step up here in competition at the 205 pound weight class. Evans shocked everyone by destroying amateur wrestler Sean Salmon with a high-kick on Spike TV in January at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Seminole, Florida. Salmon was knocked out cold by the kick and taken to a local hospital. It was pure devastation by Evans, showing a new side to his game that we had not seen in previous fights.
Like Ortiz, Evans likes to use his amateur wrestling skills in fights. The difference is that Rashad Evans is a world-class amateur wrestler from Michigan State University and is as tough of an amateur wrestler as Tito Ortiz has faced in a long time.
"This is the illusion of what wrestling is and what wrestling isn't," explained Sherdog.com writer Jordan Breen. "This fight is simple. The guy who ends up on top wins this fight on the ground."
As in the case of the Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell fights, the question is whether or not Evans can impose his will and mentally frustrate Ortiz early on. IFL personality "The Fight Professor" Stephen Quadros thinks Evan can do just that.
"Tito will come in with his usual bluster hoping for the takedown. Top position, elbows, repeat and rinse," analyzed Quadros. "The longer the fight goes, the better Rashad's chances are. All Evans really has to do is go out there and throw his jab, then step left for a round and-a-half. Tito will dive over and over again for a takedown, and eventually he will get tired. That is when Evans should uncork one of the high kicks that he used on Sean Salmon."
Evans is becoming a very popular pick amongst the fans to win the fight. The stakes are high for both Ortiz and Evans. The winner will likely face Chuck Liddell or get a Light Heavyweight title shot. The loser is back to square one, with a fight against Forrest Griffin perhaps on the horizon. Ortiz has much more to lose than Evans does coming into their fight at UFC 73.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Hometown: Huntington Beach, California
Weight: 205 pounds
KO/TKO wins: 8
Current streak: Won last 5 out of 6 fights
Strengths: Takedowns, ground 'n pound
Noteworthy: First fight since losing to Chuck Liddell in December 2006
Hometown: Lansing, Michigan
Weight: 205 pounds
KO/TKO wins: 3
Current streak: Hasn't lost yet
Strengths: Great amateur wrestling, improving stand-up game
Noteworthy: Won last fight with a devastating high kick for the KO
A 'Stacked' undercard
For the general viewing audience, UFC 73: Stacked is considered a one-match show for the casual fan. Ortiz vs. Evans is the glamour fight with two recognizable personalities who have had major television exposure on Spike TV. However, the undercard for UFC 73 features some intriguing fights for the hardcore fight fan, including two title fights that could definitely bring some late-Holiday fireworks.
Anderson Silva, UFC's 185-pound Middleweight champion, will be defending his title against seven-time King of Pancrase Middleweight champion Nathan Marquardt. Marquardt has the resume and the skills to make this a very difficult fight for Silva, who is coming off of a non-title match against Travis Lutter from February in Las Vegas. While many casual UFC fans will remember Marquardt's excruciatingly boring fight a while back against Ivan Salaverry, don't expect a similar performance in the upcoming title fight against Anderson Silva.
"Nate's past opponents were all methodical, tentative, and counter-based in their attacks," stressed Jordan Breen. "Anderson is an aggressive fighter and he has a flimsy all-around defensive style. It's good for Marquardt."
Silva's first two UFC fights were dominating performances against Chris Leben and Rich Franklin. However, in the Travis Lutter fight last February, Lutter showed that Silva could be taken down to the ground. Going into the Lutter fight, Anderson was having an issue with his knees and surgery was done to fix whatever was ailing him. Whether or not that health factor comes into play is yet to be seen.
What we do know, based on all of Anderson's previous fights, is that he loves to keep the pressure on his opponents and rattle their cages. Attack and move. Breen argues that if Marquardt can get Silva onto the ground, he has an outstanding chance of winning the fight.
"Nate's approach on the ground could be varied. Does he want to work from side-mount or mount position? If he moves to the mount, Nate can look for the choke or the armbar. Nate is huge in the upper body area, is very strong, and has tons of grappling skill."
Sean "The Muscle Shark" Sherk, who won UFC's 155-pound Lightweight title last October in Las Vegas against Kenny Florian (on the same show that Anderson Silva defeated Rich Franklin to win the Middleweight title), is back and ready after rotator cuff surgery. He will make his first title defense against wild-punching BJJ fighter Hermes Franca. Franca earned his title shot by defeating Spencer Fisher at UFC Fight Night 8 last January. In the fight against Fisher, Franca displayed unorthodox looping right-handed punches. He caught Fisher with his wild punches and won the fight by TKO.
That style of punching, however, is unlikely to work against a very-technically skilled striker like Sherk. Sherk comes into the fight as a multi-tooled fighter. He extremely strong and will be hard to stop from taking down his opponent. Sherk also posses great stand-up skill and is much more accurate in punching. He also has a never-ending gas tank, as displayed in his 25-minute fight against Kenny Florian last October.
While the deck may be 'Stacked' against Franca coming into this fight, The Fight Professor thinks the encounter will be a lot more competitive than the experts proclaim it will be.
"Sean isn't known as a finisher as of late, but he can dominate by out-hustling his opponents," stated Quadros. "The past three opponents Sherk has faced are all BJJ black belts who can strike on their feet. Franca is the best power puncher of those three. Because Sherk is so fiery and quick with his boxing skills, Hermes has to find a way to rough him up and get him out of his groove. It has to be a toe-to-toe brawl for Franca to win. Hermes also said that he wants to put Sherk on his back because he feels Sean has no guard game and that would be the key for him getting a submission to win the title."
Who's that guy?
For international hardcore MMA fans, the debut of the world's second-best Heavyweight fighter in UFC is cause for celebration. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, former PRIDE interim Heavyweight champion, makes his Octagon debut against a well-known opponent in Heath Herring. Herring faced Nogueira twice and lost both times, but in entertaining fashion. Since coming to UFC, Herring has had a very disappointing stint with the organization. He shockingly lost to Jake O'Brien at UFC Fight Night 8 and then proceeded to get a decision win over Brad "Hillbilly" Imes in a dark match at UFC 69 in Houston. Imes is no longer with UFC.
In theory, Herring should be a good introductory opponent for Nogueira. However, without PRIDE-style knees allowed to the head on the ground in UFC fights, the skill difference between the two fighters should be grossly magnified further. Nogueira comes into the fight after leaving his home training camp of Brazilian Top Team, so it is fair to question what kind of mental and physical state he will be in for the fight against Herring. Nonetheless, he has too many tools to beat Herring with and it should be a fun fight to watch.
Also on the show...
Frankie Edgar, who had a fantastic fight against Tyson Griffin and paid the price for it by fighting off Griffin's knee-bar at UFC 67, faces a strong test against 155-pound 4-0 BJJ fighter Mark Bocek from Toronto. If you're looking for a sleeper fight of the night, this is the one to pay attention to.
Kenny "KenFlo" Florian looks to make it two in a row, as he faces Colorado native and Ring of Fire veteran Alvin "Kid" Robinson. Florian won his last fight against Dokonjonosuke Mishima at UFC Fight Night 9 in April.
Stephan Bonnar makes his return to the Octagon and faces Ultimate Fighter cast member Mike Nickels. Bonnar is coming off of a steroid suspension (boldenone) and is fighting in the toughest athletic commission state of all, California. Bonnar is likely fighting to keep his slot with the UFC. A loss would be completely devastating.
Also, Rich Franklin's training partner Jorge Gurgel will face Diego Saraiva in a 155-pound match. Chris Lytle, coming off of two decision losses (to Matt Serra on The Ultimate Fighter: Season 4 Finale and Matt Hughes at UFC 68) will face fellow Indiana native Jason Gilliam (9-1).