Four years ago, Tito Ortiz was near the top of the list of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's biggest stars, as he was coming off a loss to then-light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell in what was at the time the biggest fight the company ever put on.
Rashad Evans was an "Ultimate Fighter" winner moving up the ranks. He was undefeated, but when he faced Ortiz in the co-main event of UFC 73 on July 7, 2007, he was taking a major step up in level of competition.
Most fans going into the bout at Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif. saw Ortiz at a different level than Evans. Most insiders felt Evans had a very good shot at winning. Evans was younger, quicker, better standing and actually had a higher pedigree of wrestling, which was Ortiz's strong suit.
On the flip side, Ortiz, who had a light heavyweight title reign from 2000-03, had a huge edge in size, experience and big-fight experience, while Evans had never previously experienced big-show, main-event pressure.
When the fight ended with controversial draw, Ortiz, Evans, and UFC president Dana White insisted the rematch would be held as soon as possible. Ortiz and Evans argued the decision, which all three judges scoring the fight 28-28, at the postfight news conference.
At the time, it was highly unlikely anyone was thinking "as soon as possible" would end up being four years. But that's the case, as on Saturday night, the two will finally square off in the main event of UFC 133 in Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center.
Ortiz went into the first Evans fight with back problems and was unable to fight the rematch in the fall, as was originally planned. Evans instead faced Michael Bisping and won a decision at UFC 78 in Newark.
From there, Ortiz and Evans went their separate ways. Evans went up, all the way to the light heavyweight championship and major stardom, including consecutive knockouts of Liddell and Forrest Griffin, the latter the title-clincher.
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Up until five weeks ago, the injury-and-trouble-plagued Ortiz didn't win a fight, losing four times. In fact, go back six weeks and the odds of there ever being an Ortiz-Evans rematch were a lot longer than the 11-to-2 odds that Ortiz overcame to save his UFC career when he faced and quickly defeated Ryan Bader at UFC 132.
A series of unlikely events fell into in place to make the UFC 133 main event happen. Ortiz's upset win over Bader, as well as injuries to Evans, Jon Jones and Phil Davis changed the course of the light heavyweight division and led to this pairing.
"My first big fight was against Tito Ortiz and that was like in 2007," said Evans (20-1-1). "I was just a puppy to the game. I had just gotten my first big win in fashionable style against Sean Salmon [a highlight-reel head kick]."
Ortiz (16-8-1) clearly won Rounds 1 and 2 in the 2007 bout, and Evans just as clearly won Round 3, but Ortiz was docked one point in the second round for grabbing the fence.
Ortiz, who had suffered chronic back pain from a 2003 herniated disc, needed painkilling injections in his lower back two weeks before the first fight just to continue training and not cancel the bout. The injections apparently wore out by the third round, when Ortiz claimed he was trying to fight while feeling like someone stuck a knife in his back.
The former champ looked exhausted and in pain as the fight came to a close, while Evans poured on the offense. So while Ortiz had more advantage time over the course of the bout, he was also the one hanging on for dear life when the fight ended.
Evans knew the fight was going his way when he picked up Ortiz and scored a big slam in the third round.
"Once he hit the ground, he let out a sigh and all the fight was out of him," said Evans. "I felt like if it was a little more time, I probably would have finished him off."
The fight card featured Anderson Silva's middleweight title defense against Nate Marquardt in what was the advertised main event, and there was also a lightweight title fight on the card. But the fans considered Ortiz the main event back then. He was the one the people came to see.
Ortiz-Evans I was not an exciting fight, and the reaction from those who watched it on pay-per-view was negative. But live in the building, the Arco Arena crowd was fascinated with Ortiz's every move. And at the time, Evans himself fell victim to the ex-champ's aura.
"This was like Tito Ortiz, who I watched on TV back in the day, when I was in college," said Evans. "I'm fighting that dude, he's coming with the flag, he's doing the Tito Ortiz jump, pacing back and forth, oh my God, that's Tito Ortiz."
Before Evans could get the stars out of his eyes, Ortiz immediately took Evans down, and mostly held him on the ground for almost the entire first round. When Evans finally got up, he threw a punch, and in doing so, his fingernail scratched Ortiz under the right eye, opening up a cut, sending blood streaming down his face.
"When he took me down in the first round, I was surprised," said Evans. "He felt so damn strong, like four gorillas on top of me."
The controversy of the fight took place in Round 2. As Evans tried to take Ortiz down, Ortiz grabbed the fence and held on to block the attempt. After this scenario repeated a few times, referee John McCarthy warned Ortiz. As Evans tried yet another takedown, Ortiz once again grabbed the fence, but not holding too tight tight, since Evans was able to finally get the takedown. McCarthy had enough, and assessed a penalty point.
At the end of the round, Ortiz reversed Evans on the ground and put him in a tight guillotine. The horn sounded and McCarthy jumped in to break it up. Virtually all of the 14,371 fans in attendance went nuts, thinking Ortiz had won the fight by submission. But it was actually the end of the round.
After the fight, Ortiz argued that he won two rounds, and that the penalty point shouldn't have been taken away, particularly since at the point McCarthy called it ended up being a takedown that Evans completed.
Evans' argument is that he'd have taken Ortiz down earlier in the round had he not hooked the cage, and with that takedown, he would have won the round, and the fight.
Ortiz got another takedown to start the third round, but after Evans got up, he took control. Evans started landing good punches and Ortiz was in trouble. Evans connected with two hard punches and the big slam, and Ortiz was in survival mode until the horn sounded.
"I stopped looking at him like he was Tito Ortiz, and started looking at him like he was anyone else," said Evans.
"Our first fight, that was such a long time ago," said Ortiz. "And I made the mistake of grabbing on the fence. I'm going to try and correct a lot of the mistakes that I did, and making sure I don't let Rashad get in on me and just try to defend."
"And like I say, I really don't pay attention to that fight that much because it's such a long time ago and we've both matured as fighters."