Main Card:

Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz

After a lengthy lay-off and a run of bad luck with injuries and opponent switches Evans finally gets back into the cage, while Ortiz is stepping back in at short notice just a month after his shock win over Ryan Bader at UFC 132.

Of course these two have fought before, but that was four years ago and while Ortiz has stagnated somewhat due to some lengthy layoffs due to injury, Evans has come on leaps and bounds and also briefly held the 205lb title.

Ortiz is also now 36 and in recent years he has appeared to slow down. That’s a worry, particularly in the striking department as Evans is very quick. light on his feet and is hard to hit. He’s also developed his stand-up technique well and now packs real power into his punches.

Meanwhile Ortiz has never been known as a big puncher, but to his credit he did drop Ryan Bader last time out which will give him confidence to let his hands go. He also showed a willingess to throw kicks when he fought Matt Hamill so he there is at least a little hint that he is still still attempting to evolve. One advantage Ortiz does have in the stand-up is his chin which has stood the test of time, while Evans is somewhat suspect and his hesitancy at times suggests that he’s aware of it.

Ortiz has always been known as a strong wrestler and ground and pound specialist but while that was his ticket to success back in his heyday there’s now a couple of problems with it – A. He’s had major back problems which has hindered him somewhat in his explosiveness and power, and B. He’s now facing high level wrestlers like Evans who can’t be easily taken advantage of.

If anything I’d give the wrestling advantage to Evans. As far as BJJ goes, both are perhaps better than you’d expect given that they don’t showcase those skills very often. Ortiz has claimed that Evans has a weakness to the guillotine choke, but it’ll be somewhat of a surprise if either man wins by submission here.

The final factor to consider in conditioning. Evans has been out for the best part of 15 months so he’s undoubtedly going to be suffering from ring-rust, though he looks in great shape. Despite stepping in at short notice Ortiz could have an advantage here given that he wasn’t hurt in his brief fight with Bader a month ago, but I still question whether he really is 100% and good to go three hard rounds after all his back troubles.

Prediction:

It was fun to follow Ortiz’s unexpected win over Bader, but I don’t really believe that he’s suddenly on a major resurgence. He’s still tough to beat decisively, but I think Evans has his number here with his speed, power and explosiveness both on the feet and on the mat. I think both men may show signs of fatigue in the later stages, but Evans will do enough to get his hand raised at the end of 15 minutes.

Rashad Evans to win by decision.

Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Vitor Belfort

Due to the number of injury call offs that have hit the UFC 133 fight card Akiyama and Belfort are now set to enjoy the aditional attention that comes from being boosted to co-main event status as they look to get back on track in the middleweight division.

Stand-up wise both men are heavy handed strikers with relatively solid chins, though Akiyama is particularly adept at soaking up damage. He might not want to do so too often against Belfort however as he has the speed, combinations and power to switch out his lights. Technically the edge here is cetainly with the Brazilian, but he must be wary of getting caught himself.

Though he likes to slug it out Akiyama is fairly well rounded, with a good Judo base and a range of submissions in his arsenal, but Belfort is himself very comfortable on the ground and I don’t think he’ll be in any serious danger here.

Conditioning could be a factor for both men. Belfort’s only fought once in the last two years and that was a first round KO loss to Anderson Silva so if this fight goes into the later rounds he’ll be tested. The good news for him however is that Akiyama has a limited gas tank and while he’ll continue fighting regardless he often looks like he’s running on fumes in the final minutes of fights.

Prediction:

I like Belfort here. I believe he’s better in Akiyama in most respects, and in particular in the stand-up department. The Japanese fighter has respectable stand-up, but he struggled with a fighter with solid technique and combinations like Michael Bisping, so with that in mind a harder puncher with faster hands like Belfort could really ruin his night.

Vitor Belfort to win by TKO in Rd2

Brian Ebersole vs. Dennis Hallman

After an unexpected win over Chris lytle in his UFC debut the well traveled Ebersole will look to build on solid wins over Ben Saunders and Karo Parisyan in 2010.

Ebersole has a somewhat quirky stand-up style. He likes to throw strange maneouvers like cartwheel kicks which rarely cause any damage, but often bewilder his opponents. He’s also suprisingly hard to hit and in fact has never been stopped by any form of knockout. He’s not a particularly dangerous striker though, but on the other hand neither is Hallman who is more orthadox and usually uses his striking to set up his ground work.

And it’s on the ground that Hallman is likely to believe this fight can be won. Ebersole has after all shown a weakness to submissions in the past and that happens to be Hallman’s bread and butter. Ebersole has decent wrestling and he’ll most likely be using it to try to stay standing, but Hallman is better and I expect that if he wants to he’ll be able to get the Aussie on the mat.

Prediction:

Ebersole’s quirky style on the feet could cause Hallman some problems but I don’t think he’ll keep the fight standing long enough for it to matter. I expect Hallman to gain control on the mat and eventually find a way to submit his fellow veteran.

Dennis Hallman to win by submission in Rd2

Jorge Rivera vs. Costantinos Phillippou

Phillipou is another fighter coming in at short notice looking to make an impression against UFC veteran Jorge Rivera who’s admitted publicly that he may retire if he loses this bout.

There’s no mistaking Rivera’s style, he likes to use his muay thai skills whenever possible and he’s effective with it, possessing the killer instinct and knockout power. he’s not the most technical fighter though and can struggle against well versed strikers which could be a problem here as Phillippou is a promising former pro boxer with a 3-0 record there.

On the ground Phillipou is no great shakes, but Rivera is not going to be in a hurry to go there either where he could risk getting caught in a submission so it’s much more reasonable to assume that this is going to be won and lost on the feet.

it’s worth questioning Rivera’s motivation here since he’s been so open about his belief that he’s on the verge of retirement as he approaches 40. The fight seemed to go out of him when Bisping started to get the better of him last time out so that’s a concern here too. Meanwhile Phillipou will see this main card opportunity as a chance to make a name for himself, though he does have a disadvantage in that he’s been called in at short notice.

Prediction:

Rivera’s power could certainly trouble Phillipou but I like the younger man to show off his boxing skills here and get a stoppage that brings an end to the veteran’s UFC career.

Costantinos Phillipou to win by TKO in Rd3.

Mike Pyle vs. Rory MacDonald

A classic case of youth Vs experience here as the 35 year-old Mike Pyle takes on the up and coming 22 year-old Rory MacDonald.

For his age MacDonald is a remarkably well rounded fighter and he’s improving fight-on-fight. Striking wise he’s not yet a stone-cold killer but he’s showing good technical improvements, mixes up his offense nicely with kicks and punches, has a decent sense of range and should hold an advantage over Pyle who’s ok on the feet but it’s certainly not his forte.

Pyle’s much more likely to be eyeing the mat here and with his mix of solid wrestling and tried and tested selection of choke-based submissions he’s certainly got options there. It won’t be easy to take MacDonald down however, and he’ll have to worry about the same thing happening to him as the Canadian has showcased some impressive throws of his own.

MacDonald did look vulnerable when Carlos Condit got him on his back in what would be his only loss, but he was dominating up until that point and it could well simply be down to exhaustion after putting so much into the early rounds that cost him dearly on that occasion. He is however very solid when he’s on top, and overall he’s showing a level of proficiency in his game that makes it hard to imagine Pyle being able to submit him.

Prediction:

Plye is a crafty veteran and he poses a real test for MacDonald. The young Canadian really does appear to be on the road to becoming a force in the UFC though and I think his well-rounded skills will serve him well here and allow him to get the better of Plye on the judges scorecards.

Rory MacDonald to win by decision

Prelims: (predicted winners highlighted in bold)

Matt Hamill vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Chad Mendes vs. Rani Yahya
Ivan Menjivar vs. Nick Pace
Johny Hendricks vs. Mike Pierce
Mike Brown vs. Nam Phan
Rafael Natal vs. Paul Bradley

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