Nostalgia rules for Bellator MMA this weekend, as a pair of big-name veterans are set to headline Bellator 170 in Los Angeles.
For Chael Sonnen, 39, Saturday represents his first appearance since 2013. For Tito Ortiz, 41, it marks the final appearance of his storied career.
Let’s break down this light heavyweight main event and make predictions for the entire Bellator 170 main card.
Tito Ortiz (18-12-1) vs. Chael Sonnen (28-14-1)
Odds: Sonnen -200; Ortiz +185
Sonnen is back and on the “other side of the tracks” now, when it comes to performance-enhancing drug use. He was suspended in 2014 after testing positive for banned substances, including HGH and EPO.
He has dubbed this new chapter in Bellator a “Legends Ass-Whipping” contest. The first target is Ortiz, who will turn 42 on Monday.
Ortiz hasn’t fought in more than a year. He has endured multiple back and neck injuries and confessed he has felt symptoms from more than 20 years of head trauma. Based on Ortiz’s injury history and age, it’s tempting to chalk one up for Sonnen and move on.
Stylistically, though, this isn’t an awful fight for Ortiz. Sonnen is an all-pressure middleweight. He doesn’t hit that hard — and for as much damage as Ortiz has taken in his career, his chin has held up relatively well. Especially in his later years, Ortiz’s lack of speed has made it more challenging to get into positions to use his grappling. In this matchup, Sonnen might willingly close distance for him. Both men like to throw punches as they walk forward and then hastily seek a clinch.
Sonnen should have a distinct advantage at a boxing range. Ortiz does not have great head movement and, once again, the lack of speed comes into play. Sonnen’s jab hasn’t necessarily set the world on fire, but he does throw it regularly and Ortiz’s infamously above-average cap size makes for an easy target at times. And although Ortiz is the bigger man, he’s not a very dangerous puncher at this stage. Opponents see those lumbering shots coming. If Ortiz wins by TKO, it will be on the floor.
When Sonnen fought Rashad Evans in 2013 (granted, there is a difference between Evans three years ago and Ortiz now), Sonnen stuck with his pressure game plan … and was quickly destroyed. Evans’ size played a factor and once he put Sonnen on his back, he had a field day. Evans postured up, landed big blows and passed guard into full mount. It’s unlikely Ortiz would cut through Sonnen that quickly, but he does have a combination of size and grappling savvy to make it more than interesting.
Sonnen has always been known for his endurance, but this is his first fight in three years, and he is fighting a bigger opponent who should, at the very least, offer plenty of resistance when they get to the clinch. In other words, unless Sonnen returns to the cage with a style very different from the one he left it with, he’s likely to expend a lot of energy in this matchup. And if it goes to the later rounds and that trademark cardio isn’t what we remember, Ortiz could have an opening.
All that said, it’s hard to not fall back to where this all started. Ortiz is on his way out and the laundry list of injuries he has dealt with have a real impact on his skill set.