Ortiz Decisions Belfort, UFC Futures in Doubt

By Josh Gross Feb 6, 2005
LAS VEGAS, Feb. 5 – In what could be the final time either man appeared in the Octagon, Tito Ortiz and Vitor Belfort went to war in front of 11,218 fans inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center Saturday night, rekindling the kind of magic that at one time had each rank among the pantheon of UFC greats.

Following three rounds of competitive, no-frills fighting, judges Nelson Hamilton and Cecil peoples scored it 29-28 for the former light heavyweight champion, while Jeff Mullen saw it two rounds to one in favor of Belfort.

“I just felt in my heart that was my night tonight,” Ortiz said at the post-fight press conference. “Before this match even started I was jogging around and I felt the heart I had once before, when I fought (Ken) Shamrock. I just felt unstoppable for some reason, like this was my night no matter what.”

It was possibly the most important victory of his career. A loss would have put him in the wrong side of the ledger in three out of his last four fights, and with his free agency looming, would have been potentially devastating to his bank account.

Things looked bleak early for Ortiz when Belfort, also in the final fight of his UFC contract, blasted a left hand that smeared Ortiz’ nose across his face. However, the last 100 seconds of the opening round belonged to “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” who punished Belfort with punches and elbows from the Brazilian’s guard after scoring a fight-changing takedown off a scramble.

Without it, there’s quite a good possibility that Ortiz, noticeably bleeding from the broken nose, would have been unable to make it out of the round.

Belfort stuffed an Ortiz’ shot and transitioned into a guillotine choke as action moved into the second, but the American rolled to his back to escape the pressure. From side control, Belfort blasted away with elbows, yet none connected with enough force to stun or cut him.

Pinned against the fence, Ortiz worked to regain his feet, however Belfort did a wonderful job of controlling the position. After the fight, Ortiz said that he briefly went out when Belfort planted several elbows on the back of his head.

On another night, the thought of closing shop might have crossed his mind, but not Saturday, not with the crowd rooting for him like it was 2002.

“I was like, ‘I’m not quitting,’” he said.

Round three was all Ortiz. With Belfort tiring and his ability to fend off takedowns severely diminished, the wrestler took advantage, grounding-and-pounding the Brazilian for almost the entire five-minute period.

When the horn sounded to end the fight, Ortiz and his camp exploded in jubilation. Meanwhile, Belfort and others in the Brazilian Top Team camp remained stoic.

“I think this is the first time that I proved the type of warrior I really am, by taking an ass beating and prevailing through it,” Ortiz said.

Before the decision was announced, Ortiz bolted out of the Octagon and sprinted up one of the packed arena’s aisles. It was if, after his final act in the UFC, he was thanking fans for years of cheering him.

At the post-fight press conference, Ortiz left before he could be asked about his future. But UFC president Dana White said that they plan to speak with the former champ.

Ortiz is scheduled to fly next week New York and meet with his agent Bardia Ghahremani as well as close advisor Frank Mahar.

“Realistically, he’ll probably take a little bit of time off and kind of see what happens,” Ghahremani told Sherdog.com last week. “There’s no set protocol we’re going to follow.”

If this was his final fight, he went out in a high note—though some might argue that the decision should have gone the other way.

Belfort appears to be an after thought, as chances of his re-signing with the UFC are at an all-time low.

While the light heavyweight division continues to sort itself out, the UFC focused in recent shows on bolstering both its heavyweight and middleweight divisions. Tonight, both gave birth to new champions.

When Tim Sylvia signed to fight Andrei Arlovski for the interim UFC heavyweight belt, one glaring question lingered in the air: Could the six-foot-eight former champion handle a man as athletically gifted as the Belarusian?

Forty-seven seconds after the two squared off Saturday night, the answer became clear when a beautiful overhand right and a subsequent leg submission propelled Arlovski to the interim title.

(Heavyweight champion Frank Mir remains sidelined after a motorcycle accident put him on the shelf until later this year.)

Sylvia remained lucid after the Arlovski’ right dropped him to the grey canvas, but even though his mind was game, his body had no shot. Physically out-gunned and entirely incapable of handling the speed with which Arlovski fought, Sylvia failed to match the Belarusian.

By the time the 25 year old from Minsk transitioned from ground-and-pound punches to the fight-ending ankle lock, the result was all but written. Rolling towards his stomach, Arlovski, who dominated despite coming into the Octagon with an injured left shoulder, arched his hips to apply even more pressure on Sylvia’s endangered ankle. It was then that the tapout came.

“He’s tough and he stung me,” Sylvia said. “He surprised me with the heel hook, and since I didn’t want another broken bone, I tapped out.”

The middleweight title bout was equally decisive.

Evan Tanner has always been overlooked. From the moment he entered the UFC as a self-taught fighter to tonight, an underdog against upstart David Terrell, few gave him a shot to leave the Octagon as the UFC’s next middleweight champion.

After stopping Terrell 4:35 of round one, it will be quite some time before anyone doubts the 33-year-old again.

“It took me a long time to get here,” said Tanner, the first UFC middleweight champion since Murilo Bustamante dumped the title in 2002. “Everyone wants to be at the point I’m now at. It feels really good.”

Tanner was forced to defend in the opening minutes while Terrell, fighting for the belt in just his second UFC appearance, went after him like the bout had been changed from the usual championship limit of five rounds to only one.

Swift kicks and a frenetic pace didn’t fluster the veteran. As Terrell slowed after failing to lock in a guillotine choke, Tanner gained the upper hand by punishing his young challenger with punches and elbows from the half-guard. The highly regarded submission grappler could only cover his face and absorb blows.

In other action, Pete Sell stopped fellow New Yorker Phil Baroni by submission, forcing a tapout 4:19 of round three. The fight was competitive through two rounds, but Sell took control in the third. Spurred on by his excited corner, Sell went after Baroni, who looked much slower than in any of his previous bouts.

The end came when Sell sunk in a guillotine choke in the fight’s final minute. Baroni struggled to escape, but Sell wasn’t going to let go. After rolling to his back, Baroni finally tapped.

Paul Buentello has dreamt about a night like tonight. Toiling in smaller shows from Amarillo, Texas to Friant, California, the heavyweight brawler has seen and done just about everything in mixed martial arts.

With his knockout of Justin Eilers tonight in the opening television bout of UFC 51, the heavy-fisted fighter can add a UFC win to that list.

The “Head Hunter,” notorious for being a slow starter, came out firing crisp combinations against the young Pat Miletich-trained fighter who won by knockout in his UFC debut last August.

Eilers hinted that he’d stand with Buentello, and was true to his word. But like many of Buentello’s past opponents, he soon realized just how much power the American Kickboxing Academy-trained fighter had in his hands.

After the opening minute, when Eilers twice complained of Buentello’ shots below the belt (neither looked illegal), the fight fell into a familiar pattern.

Slow, looping Eilers’ punches were countered by Buentello’s faster, neater shots. Two minutes into the fight, Eilers simply covered up and took the pounding.

An eight-punch flurry, culminated by a snapping left hook to Eilers’ jaw, preceded three more Buentello’ jab-cross combinations. The end was inevitable and Buentello happily obliged, dropping a right straight squarely on Eilers’ chiseled chin.

The former college football player stumbled backwards before toppling head first to the canvas.
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