MMA: ufc 133

Gustafsson's 2011 similar to Jones' 2010

December, 26, 2011
12/26/11
3:40
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Alexander GustafssonEd Mulholland for ESPN.com
Had Rich Franklin been more privy to Alexander Gustafsson, we’d either be talking about the rung-climbing Swede as a foil to Jon Jones (more than we are now) or not talking about him at all. It was a tailor-made passing of the guard moment that never happened.

That’s because Franklin, who was offered a fight with Gustafsson at UFC 133 on short notice when Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was injured, had only the foggiest notions about “The Mauler,” so he politely declined the bout. Franklin was interested in marquee fights, and was looking for more of “a name.” Gustafsson wasn’t that.

Not yet, anyway -- but the times they are a changin'.

Gustafsson was supposed to fight Vladimir Matyushenko that night in Philadelphia, but ended up with Matt Hamill when Matyushenko was injured. It was a carousel card, full of patchwork matches that soured Joe Silva’s understanding of the cosmos. Nevertheless, Gustafsson made the most of his moment, and knocked out Hamill in the second round. Those who witnessed his rude treatment of James Te Huna and Cyrille Diabate might have seen this coming. That he very abruptly knocked Hamill out of the fight game for good was the surprise.

To cut to the chase, after that performance, Franklin (along with plenty of others) has now heard of Alexander Gustafsson. And that makes his rescheduled match with Matyushenko this weekend at UFC 141 a sort of catapult moment for the 24-year-old. Already a cusp top-10 fighter in the tumultuous 205-pound division, an emphatic win over the stalwart Matyushenko would legitimize Gustafsson as a contender in 2012. As unflattering as it seems, Matyushenko has become a clear definition of the term “gatekeeper.”

And if any of this seems hurried, consider that this was a similar situation that Jon Jones found himself in toward the end of 2010, when he himself had to get through the brute wrestler Matyushenko. He did, and with menacing ease. What happened next? Jones went about tyrannizing 2011 by earning, winning and defending his belt (twice). So much for bringing these guys up slowly. Jones tried to clean out the division in the space of a calendar year. Now the word you hear bandied about with his name right now is “unparalleled.”

Gustafsson’s rise in the ranks has been far quieter, and realistically won’t be the expedited course that Jones got. But when you look at his poise in the Octagon, his versatility (two wins by KO, two by submission in the UFC), and the upside -- precision, length, chin, desire -- he has the feel of a noisemaker. The difference is the landscape. When Jones beat Matyushenko, the light heavyweight belt was a hot-potato accessory. A year later, the belt is part of the man. And the pool of challengers is fairly shallow. In fact, there are only three names that come to mind who are close to challenging Jones -- Dan Henderson, Rashad Evans and Phil Davis.

Gustafsson has a chance to join that company of Friday night.

How “serious” is he as a contender? It boils down to Matyushenko. Win, and momentum builds into top-10 fights, and guys like Franklin begin to appear as a step backward.

Lose, and the road forks from destination Jon Jones towards the tundra of Krzysztof Soszynski.

Hamill shows uncommon sense, grace in retiring

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
5:22
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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HamillAP Photo/Mike GrollMatt Hamill, the only deaf fighter to ply his trade in the UFC, served the sport well over the years.
Matt Hamill didn’t look like a man beset by injury against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 133 on Saturday night, nor did he look like a man who knew the end was at hand.

Maybe that’s the point.

After taking the fight on a bit less than a month’s notice and admitting afterward he didn’t have much of a game plan, Hamill largely held his own against the 24-year-old Swedish up-and-comer before a final exchange that saw him succumb to a TKO three minutes, 41 seconds into the second round.

You could argue he didn’t do any worse than the average late-replacement fighter who climbs in the cage just planning to wing it, so it was a mild surprise on Monday when Hamill announced his retirement in a prepared statement on his official website, citing a years-long accumulation of injuries and what sounded like psychological exhaustion.

“I just don't have it in me to fight anymore and my last two performances have shown that …,” Hamill said in the statement. “I can't continue to fight without having the hunger and desire to do so.”

You know what? Good for him.
[+] EnlargeHamill/Jackson
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comMatt Hamill, right, has seen his fair share of grueling battles over the years.

Hamill clearly knows he still has things to accomplish in life. Autumn will see the official release of his self-titled biopic, a film that’s already netted a handful of awards at regional film festivals and garnered decent advanced reviews from people in fight circles. As the first deaf fighter to compete in the UFC and a decorated amateur wrestler, he’ll no doubt have more than his fair share of business opportunities coming his way, so it’s admirable that he’s decided to try to take advantage of them now, before the fight game exacts any further toll.

His MMA career likely isn’t one for the history books, anyway, and even if Hamill looked fairly capable on Saturday night -- moving around the cage well and marking Gustafsson's face with a lunging jab -- his best days in the UFC were surely behind him. After back-to-back losses to Quinton Jackson and Gustafsson and that embarrassing “win” against Jon Jones back in December 2009, it felt as though a gulf was widening between Hamill and the top of the light heavyweight division. That gap wouldn’t get any narrower moving forward.

Instead, Hamill opts for the smart way out, taking with him a 9-4 record in the UFC, three of the company’s incentive-based postfight bonuses and a list of opponents that includes four past and present world champions.

No, Hamill may never have won a title in the Octagon, but in retiring at age 34 with most of his physical and mental faculties intact, he pulled off a much more important feat. He got into the fight game, he left his mark with 14 career fights (all but one in the UFC), he made a little bit of money and he got out. You can’t play it much better than that.

Matt Hamill announces his retirement

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
6:36
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Matt Hamill v Alexander GustafssonEd Mulholland for ESPN.comMatt Hamill, bottom, admitted he "doesn't have it anymore" after UFC 133.
Matt Hamill, the only deaf fighter to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, announced his retirement from mixed martial arts on Monday.

The end of his six year career comes after Hamill, who turns 35 in October, was stopped by Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 133.

"I have not been kind to my body and it has nothing left after 28 years of nonstop competition," Hamill said in a statement published on his Web site. "It’s time to finally give it a rest."

After nine knee surgeries, a chronically bad left shoulder, which was decimated in a fight against Jon Jones in 2009, and other injuries, the light heavyweight's will to compete, ably captured in "Hamill," a biopic feature film about his life that's set for a November theatrical release, simply dried up.

"I can’t continue to fight without having the hunger and desire to do so," Hamill said. "I can’t let my performances reflect on my coaches who are the best in the world and the reason I’ve made it this far."

Hamill admitted to being ready to retire following a listless decision loss to Quinton Jackson in May, "but my friends, family coaches and most importantly my daughter encouraged me to give it one last chance."

"I think she motivated him enough to go through with it," Holmes said of Hamill's daughter. "We thought, well maybe this is the way to do it. Take a fight on short notice, no game plan, go in there on instinct and maybe the killer in him will come out. It's not coming out because he's beaten down physically."

Sitting in his the locker room after succumbing to Gustafsson, Hamill, (10-4, 9-4 in UFC competition) looked at Holmes and conceded it was time to walk away.

"That's it," Hamill said. "That's all I got."

He leaves behind an amazing tale of perseverance. Born deaf in Loveland, Ohio, Hamill eventually found wrestling and earned a spot at Purdue University. It turned out not to be the right fit, and Hamill transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology, which features the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. At RIT, Hamill continued to wrestle and earned his nickname, "The Hammer," while capturing three Division-III NCAA championships.

Hamill entered MMA in 2005, and rose to prominence during Season 3 of "The Ultimate Fighter." He earned victories over Mark Munoz, Keith Jardine and Tito Ortiz. Hamill also owns a costly disqualification victory against Jones, the current UFC light heavyweight champion. Jones slammed Hamill to the canvas causing a 12-millimeter tear in his AC joint, shoulder dislocation, and pulled trapezius and deltoid muscles.

"He's a guy who they said shouldn't have fought," Holmes said. "You don't see boxers or deaf mixed martial artists."

Among other ventures, Hamill and Holmes are partners in a fight gym in Utica, N.Y., where they will continue to work with mixed martial artists seeking a shot at the UFC.

"The UFC has been extremely good to me and given me an opportunity to make a great living," Hamill said. "That exposure has allowed me options outside the Octagon as well. I just don't have it in me to fight anymore and my last two performances have shown that."

What's fans' problem with Evans, anyway?

August, 8, 2011
8/08/11
2:01
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Dana White said on Saturday he thinks the tide might finally be changing for Rashad Evans.

After years of being one of the light heavyweight division’s most successful yet seemingly least popular fighters, Evans might -- in the wake of his thorough domination of Tito Ortiz at UFC 133 – be on the verge of a breakthrough with fans who have long jeered him. At least that’s how the UFC President sees it.

“As he continues to grow as a fighter and a person, it’s kind of hard not to like Rashad Evans now,” White old MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani hours after Evans finished Ortiz via TKO following nearly two full lopsided rounds. “It’s kind of hard not to respect him.”

Indeed, what wasn’t to like about Evans’ showing last weekend? Despite the perhaps dubious level of his competition, he answered all of our questions about how he might be affected by a 14-month layoff, changing training camps and the distraction of an ongoing feud with frienemy Jon Jones. He turned in arguably the best performance of his career, showing improved striking and aggressive ground-and-pound while further distancing himself from early criticisms that he’s a boring fighter by crafting his fifth stoppage win in his past 10 fights.

Already a former champion, Evans ran his career mark to 16-1-1, reaffirmed his position as the 205-pound division’s No. 1 contender and looked better than ever while doing it. Even still, the Philadelphia crowd booed and heckled him on his way to the cage and, if anything, seemed indifferent to him on his way out.
[+] EnlargeEvans/Ortiz
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comIt remains to be seen if demolishing Tito Ortiz, left, will help Rashad Evans win over fans.

Admittedly, they have their reasons: Then there’s the prefight (and sometimes mid-fight) dancing, the obligatory crabwalk into the cage, the sometimes brash attitude and, yeah, there are those sunglasses. Add to that the questions about his killer instinct after a stretch from 2004-06 where he won five consecutive decisions and his choice to sit out this past year to try to preserve a promised title shot against then-champion Mauricio Rua and you start to get the picture.

Yet fans’ distaste for Evans sometime feels out of proportion to all that. Though he’d certainly be included on a list of MMA’s most-hated fighters, his reasons for his being there aren’t as pronounced as some others.

Evans isn’t viewed as a self-styled pro-wrestling heel like Chael Sonnen. He’s not seen an over-the-top bully like Josh Koscheck. He’s not regarded as a pitiable sad sack like Tim Sylvia. He’s just a cocky guy in an industry full of cocky guys. He’s a guy who speaks his mind and, deep down, maybe does half of those antics mentioned above because he knows they make you mad.

Is it time we cut him a little slack? Probably, but for his part – and despite White’s prediction of a coming sea change -- Evans isn’t holding his breath.

“I think the fans boo me because they love me,” he joked at the UFC 133 postfight news conference. “I’m going to get a shirt that says ‘Boo if you love me,’ so maybe then they might stop, but it doesn’t bother me. Somebody’s going to be the villain, it’s just the way things work. I don’t mind being the villain, because I know I’m not a villain in life. If they boo me, they still paid to see me, either way.”
Rory MacDonald made a huge statement at UFC 133, stopping the wily Mike Pyle inside the first round to give momentum to the debate: Is Canada about to produce yet another UFC welterweight champion? More

MacDonald experienced in his own right

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
6:19
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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Mike Pyle has said over and over again experience will be a factor when he meets 22-year-old Rory MacDonald this weekend at UFC 133.

Maybe. But MacDonald’s got experience, too. Living independently from the age of 16 tends to make you grow up pretty quick.

In 2005, the same year MacDonald started fighting professionally, his father decided to move out of Kelowna, the small town in British Columbia they had lived in for five years.

That was fine for MacDonald, as long as his father knew he wasn’t going with him. He had found a home in the local Toshido Fighting Arts Academy -- one he wasn’t ready to leave.

“My dad had to move away and I stayed to train and live on my own,” MacDonald told ESPN.com. “It wasn’t a hard decision. To me, it was common sense. I was going to stay and train and my dad understood that.

“I knew it would be a lot with finishing high school, trying to train as much as I could and taking care of myself, but that’s what you got to do. It was definitely tough, but I did it.”

For those unfamiliar with the Canadian prospect, MacDonald (11-1) is considered a “new breed” of martial artist. That is, he began training all disciplines at the same time. He’s not a wrestler or a boxer. He’s an MMA fighter.

The development he’s shown this early is remarkable, and it’s only been accelerated by his move to train under Firas Zahabi at Tristar Gym in Montreal last year.

When Pyle was 22, he was, admittedly, training out of a shed in his parents’ backyard, mimicking moves he watched on the screen of his 14’’ television. No shame in that, but it’s far from the looks MacDonald is getting.

“Georges [St. Pierre] and I train everyday. We’re main sparring partners,” MacDonald said. “We’re elite welterweights. What more could you ask for? We’re great partners for each other. I help him the way he helps me.”

Fact remains, Pyle (21-7-1) will walk into the cage Saturday with more than twice as many professional rounds under his belt than MacDonald.

But MacDonald’s not broke on mental advantages in this fight. He’ll carry with him the confidence that everything in his life thus far has led him to believe he was born to do this -- and he’s made all the necessary sacrifices to pursue it.

He’s also spent the last six years beating up older men with more fights.

“Of course, experience is key in fighting. But it isn’t everything,” MacDonald said. “I have youth. I have athleticism. I have technique. It’s about who comes out that night and fights the best. I believe I’m the better fighter.

“I’ve just known from the beginning I had a gift for this.”
Tito Ortiz is highly unlikely to get the next UFC light heavyweight title shot -- even if he beats Rashad Evans this weekend. More

Who's on the hot seat at UFC 133?

August, 4, 2011
8/04/11
2:01
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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On paper and aside from an admittedly compelling main event, UFC 133 doesn’t figure to be one of the fight promotion’s more stacked efforts of 2011. When the UFC treks to Philadelphia on Saturday, it will be with a lineup beset by numerous injuries and more recognizable names on the shelf than on the finalized card.

That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot on the line, however. In fact, there is so much at stake for some of this weekend’s competitors that it was difficult just to narrow the lists of who has the “most to gain” and “most to lose” down to a trio of fighters each. Apologies to guys like Vitor Belfort, Jorge Rivera, Matt Hamill and Nam Phan, all of whom are facing considerable risk/reward situations at this show, but who didn’t make the cut.

Who did? Whose seat is the hottest this weekend at UFC 133? Who stands to improve his standing in the company the most with a win? And who might be looking for work come Monday if he doesn’t? Here’s a look …

Most to gain:

1. Tito Ortiz: On the brink of the glue factory just a couple of months back, Ortiz has a chance to become No. 1 contender for the light heavyweight title and author one of the most surprising career turnarounds in UFC history if he can defeat Rashad Evans. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. In terms of slightly more tangible gains, after saying the $450k he officially earned to fight Ryan Bader in July constituted a “big pay-cut” for him, how much do you think Ortiz is making to step in on short notice for the injured Phil Davis here? Dude, way more.

2. Tie: Dennis Hallman and Mike Pyle: Both guys have been fighting since the '90s, both turn 36 later this year and both are probably more respected by other fighters than by the average fan. For whatever reason, neither has ever been able to put together a sustained run in the UFC welterweight division until now and it’s pretty much last-chance-at-greatness time for both. Pyle goes in search of his fourth straight win in the Octagon when he takes on Rory MacDonald on Saturday and Hallman is looking for his third consecutive UFC victory against Brian Ebersole. It's doubtful either will ever be the champ, but one more W and people might actually take notice of what they're are up to at 170 pounds.

3. Alexander Gustafsson: The 6-foot-5, 24-year-old Swede has all the physical tools to go a long way in the 205-pound division. Already 4-1 in the Octagon, he just needs a signature win to get him on his way. Meanwhile, Hamill’s star may have faded some since his ugly loss to Quinton Jackson at UFC 130, but a win over him would be a good way for Gustafsson to jump-start his own march to contender status.

Most to lose:

1. Rashad Evans: Evans desperately needs something to show for his trouble after sitting out a year waiting for a title shot that didn’t happen and then losing his home gym when he fell out with Jon Jones and Greg Jackson. Just a month and a half before he turns 32, he’s no spring chicken anymore and anything other than a dominating win over heavy underdog Ortiz could be seen as a sign his career is moving in the wrong direction.

2. Chad Mendes: Officially the featherweight division’s “No. 1” contender, Mendes opted to risk that status by taking a fight against Rani Yahya at UFC 133 upon learning champ Jose Aldo was out with a bum neck. Now, it turns out Aldo will be good to go against Kenny Florian at UFC 136 in October. So, yeah, kind of a raw deal for the Team Alpha Male fighter. It’ll get even more raw if he slips up against Yahya, who is just 1-2 since 2009.

3. Mike Brown: After beginning his career 22-4, the former featherweight champion has lost four of his past six. Oddly enough, so has Phan, who will be Brown’s last-chance opponent at UFC 133. More accurately, Phan is just 4-6 in his past 10 fights and losing to him would not only end Brown’s tenure in Zuffa, but would further dig him into a hole that would be mighty hard to pull out of with the limited time he has left.

Honorable mention: Yoshihiro Akiyama. The sexy one would be a shoo-in for this list if there weren’t so many other guys on the card with so much to lose. Since coming to the UFC in 2009, he’s slumped to a 1-2 career mark in the Octagon and some might even argue his lone win -- a unanimous decision over Alan Belcher at UFC 100 -- was a bit of a gift. If he loses to Vitor Belfort this weekend and hangs onto his job, it’ll only be because the UFC has designs on a show in Japan come February.
Vitor Belfort has warned fight fans not to blink at UFC 133, predicting a quick knockout of Yoshihiro Akiyama in the co-main event. More

After long absence, stakes high for Evans

August, 3, 2011
8/03/11
4:52
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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During the last 14 months, Rashad Evans has become the poster child for how not to manage a career in the UFC.

As a result, when Evans meets Tito Ortiz in their makeshift main event Saturday in Philadelphia, stakes will be high and consequences magnified for the former light heavyweight champion and “Ultimate Fighter” Season 2 winner.

Not only will UFC 133 mark Evans’ first fight since he sat out more than a year waiting for a title shot that never materialized, it’ll be his first since ditching his longtime home at Greg Jackson’s gym in New Mexico and moving his training camp across the country to Imperial Athletics in Florida. How cage rust or that change of scenery might affect him is anyone’s best guess at this point.

This will also be his first bout since his very public falling out with former friend Jon Jones after Jones took the title shot that rightfully should have been Evans’ at UFC 128 and used it to capture light heavyweight gold. Since then, Evans has given every impression that the driving focus of his career is getting to Jones, getting a chance at revenge and redemption and finally getting the second championship opportunity that has thus far eluded him at such great cost.

To make it there, he needs to beat Ortiz on Saturday. In other words, this fight -- which on paper seems like it should be a walk in the park for the 3-1 favorite -- is also one he absolutely can’t afford to lose.

Evans’ image, which for whatever reason has never been stellar with MMA fans, is still straggling along after his ill-fated decision last year to bide his time while champion Mauricio Rua recovered from his umpteenth knee surgery. At first it seemed reasonable enough. Evans had duly earned No. 1 contender status with a win over rival Quinton Jackson at UFC 114, and to accept a fight in the interim felt like an unnecessary risk.
[+] EnlargeRashad Evans
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty ImagesPerhaps resting on his laurels wasn't such a good idea for Rashad Evans to implement.

In hindsight though, maybe the greater risk was remaining idle. By waiting for Shogun, the 31-year-old Evans effectively squandered what might otherwise have been one of the most profitable years of his career and drew the ire of UFC brass who, for obvious reasons, prefer their bigger draws to keep a more active schedule. When Evans tweaked his own knee a few weeks before things were finally about to come to fruition for him at UFC 128, there was a palpable sense of self-satisfaction in the company’s decision to give his title shot to Jones.

In the wake of that incident, it’s become something of a cardinal sin inside the Zuffa empire to wait for a title shot. Anthony Pettis and Chad Mendes have since both fallen victim to what you might call The Rashad Evans Rule, each risking title shots in nontitle affairs against lesser opponents because, well, they didn’t have any other choice.

Evans won’t get that year of his career back or suddenly become a fan favorite if he beats Ortiz this weekend, but it might help take some of the current pressure off him. Certainly if a victory earns him the chance to fight Jones and regain the 205-pound title, the last 14 months won’t seem like such a failed treasure hunt.

On the other hand, a loss to Ortiz -- a guy whose career was walking dead before he stunned Ryan Bader in July one UFC event ago -- might force Evans to reflect on a year wasted and numerous bridges burned without much at all to show for it.

Ortiz is UFC's newest/oldest fan favorite

August, 3, 2011
8/03/11
11:07
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Tito OrtizDonald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesMan of the fans: Looks like Tito Ortiz is in with the "in crowd" again ... for now.
What a strange month it’s been for Tito Ortiz.

The former UFC light heavyweight champion appeared to already have one foot out the door leading up to his expected going away party against Ryan Bader at UFC 132. Ortiz went into that bout as a 4-1 underdog, with his once-proud career in shambles after going winless during the last four-plus years and with his old nemesis in the organization’s front office licking his chops at the prospect of forcing “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” into retirement with one last, inevitable loss. You might say things looked pretty bleak.

“It's the last chapter," UFC President Dana White proclaimed leading up to the pay-per-view on July 2, with noticeable relief and certainly no small measure of satisfaction.

Then came the improbable right hand that dropped Bader to the canvas less than two minutes into their bout and the even more improbable arm-in guillotine Ortiz used to make the 28-year-old up-and-comer tap just a few seconds later. It was Ortiz’s first victory in five Octagon appearances and his first submission win since he got Yuki Kondo with a neck crank back in 2000. Yep, if words like “Yuki Kondo” and “neck crank” and “2000” don’t put the gravity of the situation in perspective for you, I don’t know what will.

The upset win at least temporarily staved off retirement, but eleven days later Ortiz pulled off an even bigger feat when he agreed to step in for an injured Phil Davis to face Rashad Evans at UFC 133. In accepting that short-notice fight, Ortiz suddenly found himself back in White’s good graces and -- perhaps most shocking of all -- unexpectedly remade into a fan favorite.

Make no mistake, there was a time about a decade ago when Ortiz was perhaps the popular and most dependable star on the UFC roster, but in recent years his career had devolved into an MMA punchline. His tidal wave of losses coupled with a never-ending parade of injury excuses, copious verbal gaffes, constant sniping with White and his decision to hitch his life-wagon to the world’s most famous pornographic film star made him an all-too-easy target for our ridicule.

Ridicule him we did -- unmercifully, in fact -- which is why it’s all the more surprising that many of us find ourselves sort of cheering for Ortiz going into Saturday. Nothing against Evans, another of MMA’s most undeservedly hated-on figures, but Ortiz’s startling career revival is too good to root against at the moment, especially with the company unwilling to confirm or deny that he could get one final shot at 205-pound gold if he can pull off a second straight upset victory.

What’s different about Ortiz today compared to July 1? Not much.

He won a fight and then made an easy PR move in agreeing to fight Evans on short notice, but he’s still the same guy as before. He’s still subject to do things like, say, wreck his six-figure luxury sedan while texting in traffic and then confess on Twitter to crying about it. He’s still stumbling through awkward trash-talking segments with his opponent and you get the feeling it’s only a matter of time before this honeymoon period with White comes to a crashing end.

At least for a few more days, however, Ortiz is back in our good graces and that probably says more about us than it does about him. Will his newly won status as a fan favorite persist beyond this weekend? That remains to be seen.

For the record, he’s going off as 3-1 underdog to Evans this Saturday, but even if his latest victory tour is short-lived, his forced retirement is likely on hold for now.

As for the UFC president? White must feel like he got to the end of that last chapter, only to find he’d just finished the first book in a much longer series.

Ortiz: 'It's fight week and I'm ready'

August, 3, 2011
8/03/11
10:55
AM ET
By Tito Ortiz
Special to ESPN.com
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In his final entry before UFC 133, former champion Tito Ortiz why he'll never text and drive again, what made him cry and his thoughts on Rashad Evans ahead of their clash at UFC 133.

It is Monday evening of fight week and I'm putting in my last training session before getting on the plane tomorrow to go to Philly for my UFC 133 main event (Pay-per-view, 9 p.m. ET) with Rashad Evans.

I'm in a really good place. I got up at 6 a.m. (PT) today to do the Piolin radio show (101.9 FM La Nueva in Los Angeles ) and I've never woke up on fight week feeling so good. Maybe I got so used to waking up feeling banged up and sore over the last few years that I forgot what it feels like to be in fight week and feeling so healthy and in shape.

I'm really loving life right now. I honestly think being positive is a choice, and now that I'm getting to compete healthy I remind myself I've got the best job in the world, a great family and there's nothing to be negative about.

I even laughed when I saw the guys who post this blog on ESPN called last week's column, where I talked about crashing my car, "the Phantom Menaced.” No one was hurt other than my wallet, and that's the most important thing, so I got a good laugh out of that.

Now the serious stuff starts and I'm in a great frame of mind to go into battle. I'm ready to look Rashad Evans in the eye at the news conference, at the weigh-in and in the Octagon and win another big fight.

I've been putting in the time sparring, lifting, and exploding in the gym. I'm ready.

Well done, Miesha and Hendo

Fedor Emelianenko vs Dan HendersonRoss Dettman for ESPN.comCut from the same cloth: Tito Ortiz considers Dan Henderson, above, a fellow survivor.

Before moving on the my own fight, I want to say how proud I am of Punishment Athletics fighter Miesha Tate, who won the Strikeforce bantamweight title on Saturday. I'm proud to sponsor her and she was awesome beating Marloes Coenen on Saturday. I met her at the UFC Fighter Summit a couple of months ago and knew she was going to win this fight. She just had this confidence which made me believe in her. She's got everything she needs to be a major star in this sport and I'm proud to have her as a fighter.

I also watched the Fedor Emelianenko-Dan Henderson fight. I am not a huge supporter or anything, but it was hard to see someone like Fedor basically retire himself like that. He's been finished in his last three fights and it is never good seeing any fighter who has been around for a long time finish on his face.

He's not one of the greatest ever; he did great in Pride but he chose not to come to the UFC and he never fought in the UFC. You can't be considered one of the best -- much less the greatest ever -- if you didn't fight in the UFC. Pride isn't the UFC and the places he's been since Pride aren't the UFC. Everyone who came from Pride to the UFC got stomped.

But that's not to take away from Dan Henderson. Henderson is one of the best light heavyweights out there. He's survived at the top of the food chain for a long time and that's a fight I'd be very interested in. I've said I'm the last of the Mohicans lately but I guess Hendo is a Mohican too and it would be a great fight for me in the future.

Is Evans cracking already?

Rashad EvansJon Kopaloff/Getty ImagesWith the pressure on, is Rashad Evans beginning to crack?

You've probably seen the clip the UFC released with Rashad and me talking via satellite. Rashad was in full “bad guy” mode saying he was going to finish me "quick.” I've never been "finished quick" in my career. Guy Mezger caught me with a choke back in the late 90s when I was a kid learning the sport and Chuck Liddell stopped me with punches, but no one has “finished me”' like Rashad is trying to claim he's going to do Saturday.

He's not basing this stuff on any reality. It's all fantasy. I'm not an easy guy to finish, that's right there on my record, and he hasn't finished too many big fights in his career. That's also right there on record. So really what he's doing is talking BS and trying to sound strong when I think he probably feels weak and unsure of himself.

If he's saying this stuff trying to sell the fight, OK, cool. I get that. I've been there and done that. Now I am at a place where my name sells my half of the fight. If there's one thing I'm an expert in, it is talking up a fight. I always did it to build interest in my fight, in the sport, the UFC and my brand … and sometimes I did it because I felt my opponent was mentally weak or that I needed to boost myself up.

When I was fighting hurt, with back injuries and knee trouble, I needed to be my own positive reinforcement. I wasn't performing to the level I wanted to in the gym. I didn't trust my body enough to go 100 percent in camp, and that is in the back of your mind as a fighter. Now I am healthy, and I can't tell you the difference it makes mentally, but back then I was talking as if these problems didn't exist to kinda give myself the mental reinforcement my body wasn't giving me.

That is what Rashad is doing with his silly talk of finishing me quick. He's coming off a huge layoff, he's not with the gym who took him to the title, and he's coming off a serious knee injury. He's not mentally strong anyway, so I think he's mentally in trouble for this fight.

Rashad knows I could have sat home and spent time with my family. He knows instead I chose to accept this fight when no one -- my team, my family, Dana (White), Lorenzo (Fertitta), no one -- would have thought any less of me if I'd passed on UFC 133.

I think that level of confidence is something Rashad is intimidated by. He's a guy who just sat out for 14 months, turning down fights because he doesn't have the confidence to take a risk on himself winning in the Octagon.

I think he's got a lot of fear in his heart.

Rashad lost to me the first time in 2007. Now he's got to win this fight to keep something he already won -- a UFC title shot. That's a lot of pressure, and I said last week on this blog that I don't know if he can handle that ... and the way he blew up in that interview kinda shows me he's not handling that pressure too well.

Follow Ortiz on Twitter @titoortiz and at www.punishment.com
Rashad Evans meets fellow former champion Tito Ortiz in the UFC 133 main event on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where he hopes to wipe away the remaining memories of their three-round draw four years ago. Improvements to his game in the time that has elapsed since their first meeting gives Evans the edge in the rematch. Sherdog
In his final ESPN.com blog before his fight with Rory MacDonald Saturday, welterweight Mike Pyle discusses taking the long road to get where he is today, and how it's helped prepare him for Saturday.

As Saturday's fight with Rory MacDonald at UFC 133 (Pay-per-view, 9 p.m. ET) fast approaches, I find myself thinking what I was up to at 22 years of age and how the path I have travelled along has molded the man writing this blog today.

If you didn't know by now, my next opponent is 22 and is regarded as one of the best up-and-comers in the entire sport. I am aware of MacDonald's talent and his potential, but I am also aware of the importance of experience.

I can assure you I have plenty of that.

At 22, I was working for a company business and training for “no-holds barred” competition. I guess you could call it mixed martial arts, but it was a completely different sport to what it is now. That shows my age right there.

I was in the backyard of my parents’ house training in a shed and watching fights on a little 14-inch screen television and trying out moves I read about in magazines. I am a completely self-taught fighter and have learned everything I know from the ground up. I didn't have nobody to teach me or show me the way back then.

I had no hype or expectancy. I did it all for myself.

I have worked my way up the hard way and have never looked for a handout. If it wasn't for my own self-belief and determination, this dream would have been crushed many years ago. I didn't have many people looking to hand me a leg-up, that's for sure.

With all that in mind, it's an honor to still be able to fight in the UFC at 35, having been on the journey I've been on, and it is also great to see fighters like MacDonald just breaking through.

Seeing the emergence of guys like Rory tells me this sport is in good place right now. It's healthy, it's growing and it is attracting a lot of the young kids that could go and pursue other big-money sports. This sport will soon be going mainstream and that makes an old guy like me very happy.

I sometimes feel like mixed martial arts world is one big family, but we punch each other in the face now and again. I am the elder statesman and we have young kids like Rory running around. These kids need to be disciplined from time to time, and that's what I plan on doing on Aug. 6.

As much as I respect the kid's talent, nobody is going to tell me that MacDonald will out-tough me this weekend. I have been doing this fighting thing since Rory was in high school and have never taken a step back from anybody. He is a talented young fighter with big dreams and ambitions, but none of that will be enough on Saturday.

You need more than that to beat me at this stage in my career. I am now better than I have ever been, and have both the confidence and experience to back up my skill-set. That makes me a dangerous man in the welterweight division and a nightmare for anybody looking to make waves in this sport by using me as a stepping stone.

Despite this clear threat, I expect Rory to come out there bring it hard from the off. He's young, reckless and brave, and that's all going to play right into my hands. I'll let him come at me as the young and aggressive fighter that he is and he'll then fall into all the traps that "Quicksand" lays for him. I'll tuck him him in nice and tight and then read him a bedtime story …

Follow Mike Pyle on Twitter @Mike_Pyle and be sure to check out his UFC 133 fight Saturday on pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET)

Ortiz in his words: The crash, the test, more

July, 27, 2011
7/27/11
11:31
AM ET
By Tito Ortiz
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
In this blog, former champion Tito Ortiz why he'll never text and drive again, what made him cry and his thoughts on Rashad Evans ahead of their clash at UFC 133.
Tito OrtizAP Photo/Danny MoloshokThere's no crying in MMA, but there is crying at the mechanic's shop.

I learned a valuable -- or maybe I should say “expensive” -- lesson at the weekend: Don't text and drive!

I was taking a day off from training and driving in my Rolls-Royce Phantom, my pride and joy, and I looked down at my phone for literally one second because I had a text -- and I crashed my Phantom.

My first concern was my son, Jacob, who was travelling with me. He was fine, we were only doing 20 mph and I hit the brakes, but it is a shock to any parent to have their kid involved in any kind of accident. But he was totally fine so I got out to look at the damage ... and I nearly cried right there.

I let my attention slip for one second ... I just couldn't believe what I'd done. The grill was totaled. The headlights were done. The hood was mangled up. It was a really, really expensive mistake. That's my dream car. It sucks. It sucks so bad. I really, literally cried. Seriously, I cried. There will be some guys reading this going "Really? Tito cried over a fender bender?" but I know other guys will understand a man's love for his vehicle. That's my pride and joy. I love that car. I worked so hard to get that car. That's a unique vehicle and I was so dumb to look at my phone.

Seriously, I know it is just a car, just a possession, and it's a little funny to think of a grown man, a UFC champion, crying because of a fender bender but I don't care. The car is worth $300,000 and I did about $45,000 worth of damage. Just so, so depressing.

Putting it another way: after tax, that's my entire “Submission of the night” bonus from choking out Ryan Bader at UFC 132.

Now I need another sub or KO or Fight of the night against Rashad Evans at UFC 133.

Seriously, kids, don't text and drive.

Ready for the fight

Tito OrtizMarc J Sanchez / Icon SMIMan of honor: Don't expect Tito Ortiz to target Rashad Evans' bum knee.

After crashing my car and damaging my bank balance (all on my rest day), I was pretty damn happy to get back to the gym. I very happy with the way my body has responded to the quick turnaround. Like I said in the blog before, I've adapted my training as I've gotten older and don't do six, seven hours a day anymore. My body needs more quality training, and I'm dialing down the quantity and I feel great.

It's all there for me. I am in a completely positive place. I've beaten Rashad Evans before, it has gone down in the books as a draw but the fact is that in the Octagon, I was the better man when we last fought and I am a healthier version of myself than last time.

Now he's coming off a lay-off and a serious injury. He has been out a year with a knee problem, like I had to before my rematch with Forrest Griffin a year ago, and he's going to have to deal with that doubt. Is he mentally strong enough to deal with knowing he’s going to be rusty? We will see.

I've been asked if I will target his knee -- and the answer is no. I won't. I'm not that type of person. I want to beat Rashad Evans at UFC 133 fair and square. If I kick his leg, it will be part of a wider game plan to win the fight. It won't be to take advantage of an injury Rashad may or may not have.

Forrest Griffin targeted my injury in our second fight and I don't want to be that guy.

Lots of weight on Rashad’s shoulders

Rashad Evans Quinton 'Rampage' JacksonJon Kopaloff/Getty ImagesAfraid of commitment: Tito Ortiz feels Rashad Evans, left, backs off from engaging.

I invented this role of the s--- talker in the UFC. I was the first guy to do this and blow up because of it. I talked a ton of s--- about a lot of guys before fights to get attention and to establish my name and my Punishment brand.

But I backed it up. All those title wins, being champion for longer than anyone else ... and even the fights I did lose, I still backed up what I had been saying.

Now Rashad's taking over that role. He talks a lot of crap, but I don't think Rashad backs his big mouth up like I did mine. Rashad isn't me of course … I am the longest-reigning UFC 205-pound champion ever, and he couldn't hold on to the belt for one defense.

He talked a lot about my friend Quinton Jackson, but he didn't want to fight when it was time to go into the Octagon.

Now he's making a big mistake talking about me being “lucky” to beat Bader and get this fight with him. His ass can't cash this check.

Has he done what I've done in my career? No. Could he even defend the title once? No.

I don't need to run my mouth anymore. I can retire tomorrow, and I will be in the record books. My career right now is all about positives. I want to win my title back, inspire people, show that you can overcome injuries and a lot of negativity. I'm overcome so much to get back here. Rashad hasn't done anything like that.

I said it before and will say it again: all the pressure is on Rashad. And I am going to put a ton more on him in the first round.

Can Rashad deal with that pressure? Can he deal with the pressure that everyone expects him to win this fight, against a guy he should have lost to before even thought I was hurt in that first fight? That's a lot of pressure on him. He stayed out for 14 months rather than take fights, and it was a huge mistake in his career. Now he's almost forgotten and the guy he has a W over -- Rampage -- is fighting for the title and not him. That's even more pressure on him for this fight.

I am not sure he can handle that pressure.


Follow Ortiz on Twitter @titoortiz and at www.punishment.com

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