Bellator kicks off 2017 in a huge way with Tito Ortiz and Chael Sonnen headlining the Bellator 170 in California. Ortiz and Sonnen are legends of mixed martial arts and were pioneers of the sport through the early to mid-2000’s.
The unique rivalry between these two fighters dates all the way back to 1998 when Chael Sonnen pinned Tito Ortiz in less than a minute during a college wrestling match. Sonnen then watched from the sidelines as Ortiz began tearing apart the competition in the UFC and is a firm believer that Ortiz wouldn’t have been where he was at the time if he had entered back then as well. Ortiz, on the other hand, wants to avenge this loss that leaves a sour taste in his mouth after all of these years.
Tito Ortiz left the UFC in 2012 and later made his first appearance at Bellator 120, in May 2014 against Alexander Shlemenko. Ortiz made short work of Shlemenko, using his wrestling and size advantage to work Shlemenko to the mat. Once there, Ortiz transitioned to an arm triangle choke and finished the Russian with ease.
‘The American Psycho’ Stephan Bonnar was up next for Ortiz. Bonnar tested Ortiz for all three rounds, but Ortiz came through with two judges scoring it 30-27 in his favour and one judge against him with 28-29 to Bonnar. Bonnar later admitted that it was a bad idea to take the fight with Tito Ortiz with just a three-month training camp.
Ortiz’s perfect beginning in Bellator led to a shot at Liam McGreary for the Light Heavyweight Championship. Ortiz got off to a surprisingly good start and looked great through the early stages of the fight before making the ultimate mistake and entering the guard of the jiu-jitsu expert. McGreary calmly searched for an inverted triangle and locked it in – Ortiz had no choice but to tap. Ortiz later said that he entered the cage in the best shape since 2006 and made no excuses for the loss.
Chael Sonnen joins the long list of names in mixed martial arts who have ended their retirement and will enter the cage for the first time since November 2013. Sonnen signed a multi-fight deal with Bellator last year and stated that he is coming after everyone, everywhere. He wants to take on the best-of-the-best in Bellator, and after Tito Ortiz, he wants to defeat Rory MacDonald at middleweight and even take on the well renowned Fedor Emelianenko. Sonnen’s top priority, though, is to finish Wanderlei Silva and he spoke about how this is the main reason he came to Bellator. Until then, he wants to dispose of Tito Ortiz on his way to Wanderlei.
Two wrestlers go toe-to-toe with one (Ortiz) relying more on physical prowess and the other (Sonnen) being more technically sound. Sonnen has always found a way to get his opponent to the mat and start pounding away at them. The first moment that these two fighters engage will be an interesting one as it will re-live the memories from many years ago when Sonnen defeated Ortiz in college wrestling.
There are now many differences in each fighters game, though, and most notably the fact that Sonnen is fighting at light heavyweight again. Ortiz is a monster and towers over most at light heavyweight, but Sonnen’s technical wrestling should make up for the slight size advantage that Ortiz has heading into this one.
An outcome of Tito’s size is that his stand-up is slow, and his footwork and movement closely resembles a bag of bricks, rather than any of the perfectly flowing combat we see in the next generation of fighters coming through. Ortiz doesn’t have evasive footwork and opponents can move into range with ease. Sonnen isn’t the type to pick Ortiz apart with strikes but will find it easy to step into range for the takedown – whether he can out-muscle the larger Ortiz is another story.
The primary consideration in weighing up this fight, to me, is the fact that Ortiz has stayed active and has been fighting in Bellator since 2014. Sonnen’s been out for a little over three years now, and we don’t have a whole lot of evidence of how he has been tracking. Ortiz has looked good in his time at Bellator, and I’ll be backing him to delay Sonnen’s legends ass-whooping tour by a couple of months, at least.
Tito Ortiz to Win
Sunday 15th January, 01:00 GMT
Odds: +137 – BetVictor