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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

UFC 140 features fighters with points to prove

Former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz speaks

Former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz speaks at the UFC 133 pre-fight press conference in Philadelphia. (Aug. 4, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

Tito Ortiz enters UFC 140 in Toronto on Saturday as the mixed martial artist with the most to prove.

Wait, Lyoto Machida does.

OK, no, for real, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will carry the largest burden during the walk from the locker room to the octagon in the middle of Air Canada Centre that night.

Despite what promoters and hype men say every time the UFC displays its letters on an arena's screens, this card for UFC 140 is actually stacked. Recognizable names, career crossroads, questions of continued relevancy.

It's been quite a while a card of this magnitude has given us so many story angles to pursue. And we haven't even mentioned light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who defends the title against Machida.

"A lot of guys have really victorious careers but there's ups and downs at some point," Machida said. "It's something that happens in a lot of careers."

Was it really just 30 months ago when we entered "The Lyoto Machida Era?" It lasted two fights, and it very easily could have lasted half that long if one round was scored the other way around for Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.

Since then, Machida lost to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and knocked out Randy Couture. Now the karate expert gets a title shot many people don't think he deserves quite yet.

"I learned a lot from the experiences, since winning the title and then losing it and then losing to 'Rampage' and then coming back through a lot," Machida said. "I am a completely different fighter nowadays."

The career renaissance continues for Ortiz, who fights Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Once the face of the sport and still the record holder for most consecutive defenses of the 205-pound title, Ortiz is six months removed from a near firing by the UFC.

But he saved his career by submitting Ryan Bader last July, then earned more praise for replacing an injured fighter on three weeks' notice in August. He lost to Rashad Evans in that bout, but gained a greater appreciation. Time for Ortiz to prove how significant he will be in the cage in 2012.

"I think it really comes to just being healthy after having the surgeries I did and be able to battle through them and be able to train now like I used," Ortiz said. "I've been in this game for almost 15 years now and my body's taken some damage and I understand that and I've just got to make sure I put in the right work."

Rodrigo Nogueira, Rogerio's twin, knows what Ortiz was feeling. He's had his share in injuries the past few years and sat on the brink of relevancy in the heavyweight division. Heck, before knocking out Brendan Schaub at UFC 134 in Brazil in late August, many said it was time for "Minotauro," after 40 fights and at age 35, to retire from the sport he once ruled.

That win in his home country breathed life into the former champion. Now he faces Frank Mir in a rematch of their 2008 interim heavyweight title fight. Mir was the first person to ever knock out Nogueira. Since that loss, which Nogueira said he was injured going into, "Minotauro" has fought just three times.

"You can say that you had an injured hand, but I think in general, any time that you state that you lost because of an injury, I think that's a disrespect toward your opponent," Mir said. "The guy in front of you beat you, you didn't perform maybe to 100 percent because of an injury but that's regardless, there are so many factors that go into winning a fight."

And so many ways to find intrigue in these fights.

New York Sports