Tito Ortiz will finally make his promotional debut this weekend at Bellator 120 in Southaven, Miss. against middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko. Shlemenko called out “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” for a fight at the promotion’s first-ever PPV offering, and not surprisingly the former UFC star was quick to accept. The bout will be contested at the light heavyweight limit of 205 pounds.
Ortiz had initially been slated to make his Bellator debut back in November but suffered a neck injury while training for a fight against another former UFC light heavyweight champion in Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Injuries have been a thorn in Ortiz’s side for the last several years of competition. He hasn’t fought since a decision loss to Forrest Griffin at UFC 148 that sent him into a short-lived retirement.
Ortiz was one of the most dominant light heavyweight champions in UFC history but has been on a serious decline. The 39-year-old is known for his ground-and-pound game but is clearly well past his prime, having secured just one victory in his last night nine fights. Ortiz faces a formidable challenge in Shlemenko who has recorded 50 career victories. A win would allow Ortiz to fight another day, but another setback could spell the end of his decorated and charismatic career.
As for Shlemenko, he possesses a varied and flashy striking arsenal and has produced an impressive 37 finishes by way of knockout or submission during his career. The Russian’s body attack is especially debilitating to opponents. Shlemenko’s only loss in 12 fights under the Bellator banner came via decision in a title matchup back in 2010 against Hector Lombard. “Storm” is currently on a 13-fight win streak.
Shlemenko most recently submitted Brennan Ward in the second round to retain his 185-pound crown at Bellator 114. He’s also secured finishes in successful title defenses against Doug Marshall and Brett Cooper. Shlemenko will be facing a significant size disadvantage against the much bigger Ortiz, but he has the skills and finishing abilities to make up for it.
This is a matchup that surprised many when it came together and has kind of a freak-show feel to it. It’ll be very interesting to see how Ortiz fares in his first fight since 2012 and to find out if he truly has anything left. It will also be of interest to see how Shlemenko looks in making the move up in weight to test himself against the former UFC champion.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports