Evans Grateful For Chance To Fight Ortiz Again

Rashad Evans Camp 1 06Evans ready to get back to work

It’s been a shade over four years since Rashad Evans last stepped in the cage with Tito Ortiz.

Evans was, by his own account, a young and inexperienced athlete who hadn’t fully grasped the idea that he was stepping in the cage with a former UFC champion and a legend of the fight business. It showed in the cage. Ortiz would have walked away from Sacramento with a win if not for a controversial point deducted from his score for holding the cage, but had to settle for a draw.

Time and distance have given Evans the ability to view the fight from an outsider’s perspective, but the outcome still stings.

“I felt horrible about the performance. I’ve felt horrible about the performance for years. It’s one of those fights you just want to get back,” Evans said. “I was young and inexperienced at that level, and I really didn’t wrap my mind around the situation until it was too late. But I’m a long ways from that right now.”

The roads that Evans and Ortiz traveled after that night took them in drastically different directions. Evans went on to capture a UFC championship and become one of the best light heavyweights in the world, a fighter that maintains a constant presence near the top of the depth charts in what has long been considered the UFC’s premiere weight class.

Ortiz went the opposite direction, losing three straight fights before miraculously rescuing his career from Dana White’s chopping block with a stirring win over Ryan Bader earlier this month. His redemption tour continued when he decided to accept the Evans fight on short notice, a move that didn’t seem very Tito-like on the surface. But this is a new Tito Ortiz, we’re told. Even arch-enemy Dana White has noted the changes in Tito’s attitude. It’s the kind of feel-good story the UFC excels at marketing, and it’s a chance for Ortiz to cement his legacy.

The California native says he feels as good as he ever has throughout his long career, but with Tito, it’s always been tough to tell where the carnival act stops and the truth begins. Evans goes into the fight as a heavy favorite, but he says he’s not taking Ortiz lightly.

“I think he’s going to come out aggressive. He believes in himself a little bit more. He got his win so he’s feeling good and he’s riding that momentum,” Evans said. “He’s feeling good and his body is feeling good. I expect to see a re-energized Tito Ortiz that goes in there and puts on a good fight.”

Ortiz won’t suffer from cage rust. He’ll clock barely more than a month between fights, which means he’ll come into the cage sharp and refreshed. Evans hasn’t stepped in the cage since May 2010. The time away wasn’t entirely his fault; there were injuries to opponents, injuries to himself, fights offered and turned down. It was a perfect storm of circumstances that seemed designed only to keep Evans from fighting, so he’s understandably relieved to finally get back to work.

“I’m anxious to get back in the cage. It’s been a long fourteen months with a lot of ups and downs, both inside and outside. I want to get back in the cage and get used to competing again,” Evans said. “I had no idea I was going to be out this long, but things happen and circumstances arise. I’m just happy to get back in there and I’m happy that Tito Ortiz took the fight and that I have a chance to fight.”

Evans and Ortiz have been surprisingly low-key in the trash-talking department thus far, and it seems a little strange. Both guys are known for the kind of talking ability that can sell a fight, and yet we’re seeing nothing but mutual respect. The hard sell may come next week, when crunch time arrives and the final push for pay per view eyeballs is in full swing.

But for now, Evans simply remains grateful that Ortiz took the fight. Another canceled fight would have been difficult for Evans to stomach, and so he’s thankful that he still has an opponent for UFC 133, that he still has a chance to get back in the cage and do his job.

“There’s nothing personal. I’m going to go in there and try to look great for myself. I want to go out and just really feel good in there, to take my time and be patient,” Evans said. “I want to see where the fight goes. In my mind, I don’t know where I want to take the fight yet, so I want to go in there and see how things go.”