Sometimes brilliance can be found in the simplest of moments. Tito Ortiz sat on his knees, his back against the fence, throwing meaningless uppercuts at Rashad Evans. His arms hanging into the air, he left his midsection exposed, a canvas waiting for the artist's brush. With one swift stroke, Evans thrust his knee into Ortiz's ribcage, the latter crumpling over, the last gasps of fight forced from his breath. Dan Miragliotta stepped in to halt the ensuing barrage of punches, Ortiz still clutching the point of impact.
I would not have faulted Rashad had he let out a primal scream or jumped on the Octagon fence or any other sort of outburst to reaffirm his male dominance. The man must have built up some frustration over the past fourteen months waiting for Mauricio Rua, falling to his own injury, and watching his former friend and teammate win the title in a spot meant for him; then to have to walk away from the gym he helped build, only to have the grudge match with Jon Jones delayed by some awfully convenient surgery on an injured hand --- surgery that would later prove ultimately unnecessary.
Yet, as Dan Miragliotta stepped into to protect Ortiz from further punishment, Evans coolly stepped away, a look of bored satisfaction on his face. It's a stark contrast to the reputation he has for being cocky, for being a showboat. Some will attribute it to a maturing fighter -- Evans turns 32 next month, but he displayed a similar sort of disinterest when he left Chuck Liddell motionless in Atlanta back at UFC 88.
Rashad celebrates that 32nd birthday on September 25th, but his birthday gift will come a day earlier at UFC 135, when Jon Jones attempts to defend the light heavyweight title against "Rampage" Jackson.
- The first minute and a half of the main event brought back memories of UFC 73. Rashad is a notorious slow starter, and Ortiz momentarily putting him on the mat had to give Evans backers pause that the fourteen months off would prove to be a detriment. He seemed to wake up after that, and put together a brilliant fight over the last 8 minutes. He showed some really strong work to the body against the fence, and a slam midway through the first changed the course for the rest of the fight.
- Tito looked more like the guy that struggled with Matt Hamill back in October, but you have to give him credit for the effort he put forth on five weeks notice. I think the Bader win is more indicative of Bader's skill level than Ortiz's ability to hang with the elite, but Ortiz is still a viable gatekeeper type at 205...so long as the money's right.
- Last week it was Dan Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko; this week it was Vitor Belfort and Yoshihiro Akiyama. Belfort apparently (I didn't get a look at the replays) whacked Akiyama in the back of the head after the latter faceplanted into the mat. I understand that shots to the back of the head are dangerous and illegal and blah blah blah. I just can't find the outrage in situations like this. This is an unfortunate byproduct of a sport that allows a combatant to throw strikes from behind his (or her!) opponent. What's the solution here? Stop the bout and award a foul? A disqualification? You offer enough disincentive, and we'll see fighters unwilling to follow up for a finish. These fighters are blinded by a rush of adrenaline. They are not throwing measured punches to the skull. They are reacting on instinct based on the training provided to them. An intentional blow to the back of the head? Punish it by all means. I don't think that was Vitor Belfort's intention tonight, and I didn't think it was Dan Henderson's intention last week.
- The only thing worse than getting pounded out in Speedo trunks? Getting pounded in out in Speedo trunks by a guy who shaved an arrow into his chest hair.
- Other than Rashad Evans' performance in the main event, Rory MacDonald was the only real highlight on this show. As I mentioned in our staff predictions, the UFC has done a questionable job of promoting him, to the point that I had forgotten they had scheduled him on this show. Why not release a highlight video on Youtube? Or his last fight against Nate Diaz? The UFC has largely relied on the strength of its brand, but this summer has proven that the brand can only sell so much on its own. People should be talking about Rory MacDonald. People should be looking forward to his next fight. Instead, he'll fall into obscurity for the next few months, only to pop up as an unassuming undercard bout in the future.
- But! Allow me to talk out of both ends of my mouth! Build up your stars, yes. Get people excited about young talent, yes. But compare a promising 22-year-old to arguably the greatest or second-greatest fighter of this generation? No. Listen, I'm as high on Rory MacDonald as anyone else, but Joe Rogan proclaiming him to have the potential to be better than Georges St. Pierre is an irresponsible and unfair comparison to make. You've now forced MacDonald into a situation where he's a failure unless he reaches those comparisons. Just look at LeBron James. He's been compared to Michael Jordan from the first day he entered the NBA, and now that it looks like he won't match the career of the greatest player in basketball history, he's going to be regarded as a wasted talent.
- Solid performance from Alexander Gustafsson. Good job avoiding the takedowns, good work with the uppercuts along the fence, and good instincts when he had Hamill hurt. I'd like to see him use range better, or use it at all. He reminded me of Stefan Struve in that regard.
- Matt Hamill is Matt Hamill now. He's past his peak at 34, and things aren't going to get any better for him. He's made some strides since he entered the UFC, but he's ultimately the same plodding fighter who keeps his hands at his waist and invites you to punch him in the skull.
- Brief Facebook prelim notes: Mike Chiappetta doesn't think Chad Mendes is guaranteed a title shot now, citing Dana White being non-committal before the fight. I'm not sure who else they would give it to, since I assume giving Hatsu Hioki an immediate shot is out of the question...I couldn't tell you how I scored the Hendricks/Pierce fight, but I liked what I saw from both guys at various points of the fight...Similar deal with Brown/Phan. Brown faded after a great first round. Phan recovered well in the second, and I liked his work to the body from distance.
FIGHTER OF THE NIGHT
(Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
MOMENT OF THE NIGHT
(Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Not the knockout above, but the moment Hallman revealed his Speedo trunks. Dana White tweeted that they're banned from the UFC in the future. I don't know if it was a joke. I do know that the only pictures of this fight on the UFC website obscure Hallman's choice of attire. The UFC's Soviet-style of erasing history is no secret. I never thought it would be put to use over a pair of briefs.
GOLDBERG LINE OF THE NIGHT
"He has always taken his job as a role model to young Puerto Ricans very seriously."
ENTRANCE SONG OF THE NIGHT
"Con Te Partiro (Time To Say Goodbye)" - Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman
Despite Dana White's assurance that Zuffa needs more fighters, there's no margin for error in the UFC. It only takes one loss to find a pink slip waiting for you on Monday morning. Who's on the Chopping Block?