Evans sets himself up for title shot
In UFC 133’s Fight of the Night on Saturday, Rashad Evans not only was able to temporarily derail the career revival of Tito Ortiz but placed himself back into contention for a title shot at the light heavyweight belt he lost to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98.
In that matchup, Evans would face either former training partner Jon Jones, the current champion, or Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, whom Evans famously defeated after coaching against him on UFC’s "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show he won to earn his UFC contract. For Evans, either matchup will offer sweet opportunities for revenge.
This main event between Evans and Ortiz had an eerily familiar start to their previous encounter when they fought to a draw at UFC 73. Ortiz took control of Saturday night’s fight early. Evans initially was taken down by Ortiz but quickly worked back to his feet.
For a while, it looked as though Ortiz — "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" — was setting up the biggest feel-good story in MMA history. Instead, it was Evans who set himself up for a title shot with this win, finding his range with dangerous hooks and combinations that had Ortiz cradling up on his feet against the fence.
Evans got Ortiz onto the mat in the second round, and as Ortiz worked back to his feet for another improbably escape, he ate an enormous knee to the midsection from Evans that seemed to take the life out of him. "Sugar" was able to jump in for the ground-and-pound finish at 4:48 of the second round.
Very few in attendance wanted to see Evans win, and it was clear from the moment he walked onto the stage at the weigh-ins Friday night. People might respect him, but as long as Ortiz was his opponent, no one wanted to root for Evans.
Evans was comfortable playing the heel too, even going so far as to joke that he still would be asked for autographs if he walked into the crowd that was jeering him.
Ortiz can take solace in the effort; having taken the fight on with just more than two weeks’ notice, he was almost able to get a victory over one of the top fighters in the world when he had Evans briefly in a guillotine choke early in the second round.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be, and the last image that many in the arena will remember is of Ortiz punching the post in frustration, knowing that he let one of the biggest opportunities of his fighting career slip through his fingers.