Pound for Pound – A New Tito?

Ortiz shows uncharacteristic good sense in doing the UFC a favor.

Chad Dundasby Chad Dundas

Sometime early this week, the MMA industry was thrust into a weird, bizarro world.

Forget everything you thought you knew, this is a world where Tito Ortiz does favors for Dana White, and then White says nice things about Ortiz in the media. Insane, right?

Unless it’s some kind of crazy dream, that’s the reality of the situation. When news broke that Phil Davis had injured his knee and was out of his UFC 133 main event against Rashad Evans on Tuesday, the shock seemed to set the collective MMA media first into a tizzy, then into a state of near paralysis where the only thing we could do was shout boldfaced speculation into our Twitter accounts.

Rumors quickly emerged that Ortiz had turned down the opportunity to step in for Davis and that Lyoto Machida would do it instead. Then word – from his wife, oddly – spread that Machida had balked, and that’s when all hell broke loose.

Who would fight Rashad Evans? The suggestions ranged from semi-serious to downright outlandish: Rich Franklin? Vladimir Matyushenko? Strikeforce’s Muhammed Lawal? Middleweight Chael Sonnen’s name was even mentioned – like, can we have one MMA discussion without Sonnen? — and welterweight Josh Koscheck publicly offered his services against Evans, also via Twitter.

Then, late in the day, Ortiz changed his mind. He called White back and accepted the challenge of fighting Evans on just a few weeks’ notice. Why? We’re not sure, but it’s a good bet a lot of money, cajoling and increased job security were involved. Earlier this month Ortiz’s career seemed to be reaching its merciful end  before he upset Ryan Bader at UFC 132. Now, by agreeing to do this major solid for the UFC, you have to think it buys him some breathing room. Heck, if he wins, it might just buy him a shot at the light heavyweight title.

"Tito stepped up to the plate,” White told MMA Junkie. “It's fucking weird here. It's like I'm dealing with a new person. I like it. I like the new Tito.”

The new Tito opened on Thursday as a significant underdog to Evans, who the old Tito fought to a draw back at UFC 73. For the record, prior to his win over Bader on July 2, his fight against Evans was the only of Ortiz’s five bouts during the last four years that didn’t end in a loss. So, I guess if the new Tito is going to take a risk with his new found “momentum, he picked the right opponent to do it against.

On the other hand, speculation is rampant that Evans inherited a much easier fight when Davis got swapped out for Ortiz, but at this point he’s probably just happy to be fighting anyone. It’s been a rough road for the “Ultimate Fighter” season two winner lately. By the time UFC 133 goes down, he’ll have been on the shelf for 15 months, first waiting for then-champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to rehab a knee injury, then tweaking his own knee in training just prior to UFC 128.

This will be Evans’ chance to boost himself back into a title shot against new champ and frienemy Jon Jones. Meanwhile, this “new Tito” tries to put together one of the most surprising turnarounds in the history of the sport.

We’d be getting way ahead of ourselves to start talking about potential ramifications of this fight, especially in a bizzarro world where Ortiz is a company man and seemingly anything could happen. It’s all too new and too crazy to process right now. Rest assured, as soon as we have some semi-coherent thoughts on the subject, we’ll be sure to shout them into our Twitters.