UFC 133 is over, and we're out of the injury woods for now.
Philly's second go-around with the industry giant was saved by relief hitter Tito Ortiz, who stopped a merry-go-round of withdrawals by consenting to fight Rashad Evans.
Once, this event was headlined by Evans vs. Jon Jones and Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes. Rich Franklin and "Lil' Nog," too. One by one, the bouts fell. The fire drill didn't quite reach the level of UFC 108 -- also headlined by Evans -- where 10 bouts were switched or scrapped, but it came very close.
Some say rates of injury withdrawals are on the rise now that the UFC has accident-insurance coverage, and that newly emboldened fighters are cherry-picking better fights. But a missed payday seems a far greater threat to chronically present-thinking fighters than missing a date because they're worried they might lose, and besides, a few X-rays can shine the light on a faker.
There was no more waiting for Evans, that's for sure. After waiting for the hobbled Mauricio "Shogun" Rua only to get bitten himslef by the injury bug, then watching teammate Jon Jones take his spot and take the belt, you'd have had to cut off an extremity to keep him from the cage in Philly.
It was all up in the air, though, until Ortiz stepped up to the mound for the lesser-known Davis and in turn gave the event a huge boost.
Ring rust, we now know, is what you make of it. Evans didn't miss a beat in the 14 months he'd been away from competition, and Ortiz's stock leveled after this improbable submission win over Ryan Bader one month prior at UFC 132.
Ortiz is back to earth. Evans, for now, is defying gravity. It will eventually get him, as it does everyone.
And Speedos will forever be banned in the Octagon.
Evans is not that fighter, it seems. After a very public falling out with Greg Jackson, he's taken residence with a group of fighters disenchanted by the politics of famous facilities, and they've pieced together a world of their own in south Florida. A host of Brazilians -- Jorge Santiago, Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante, the Villefort brothers, and a few coaches and extras have gelled into a unit that, they say, gives them the individual attention they need.
Still, it had been 14 months. If there was a convenient time to point to the perils of inactivity and the changing of camps, it would be with a loss Saturday night at UFC 133. Instead, he viciously avenged a draw between them four years prior. He was no less sharp than if he'd fought one month ago, as did his bleached-blond opponent. And he certainly didn't play it safe, even though a title shot was on the line. By round two, the referee was saving Ortiz.
Not too long ago, Evans was a Jackson product. But the camp, as it turns out, doesn't make the man. He's been successful with a well-established gym and now with this upstart crew.
The belt is now around the corner for Evans, who will in September fight the winner of an upcoming fight between champ Jon Jones -- Greg Jackson's latest protege, and the root of his discontent with the trainer -- and Quinton Jackson. Whomever is next, one thing is sure: Evans is doing fine on his own.
What happens after that, of course, is still a big question mark. Historically, he's been felled by superior grapplers, and he hasn't really faced one of those since he fought Dan Henderson. But for now, let's enjoy this new, old, present, whatever Belfort.
Veteran Mike Pyle made him work for the win, no doubt. The crafty veteran snuck in some punches and handled him on the canvas for a few moments. But as soon as MacDonald got to his feet, he owned the cage. He throttled Pyle on the mat. Then some swagger: a calm brush-off the shoulders as he walked away from the concussed Pyle.
There's an urge to gamble big with this kid. Throw him in there with Jon Fitch, provided the one-time welterweight challenger is healthy and willing. A more prudent option, you ask? Give him the winner of Chris Lytle vs. Dan Hardy or Anthony Johnson vs. Charlie Brenneman. Whatever happens, it's going to be a fun ride.
Ortiz is still a competitive fighter. He'll show well against mid-tier guys and stomp the new kids. But there's only a few fighters in the division that match the output of the Evanses, Jones, Ruas and Davises of the world. He's not in that league anymore. And in that case, it's a matter of what remains to be leveraged with is name, and how long he can reasonably hang out on the main card at the salary he commands. In the multiple injuries that befell UFC 133, the promotion got a perfect chance to make us believe, probably against our better judgement, that this could be it, that Tito could be back.
In reality, it's just back in line.
But you can rebuild him at a lower level, or at a different weight class. The guy hasn't really done the weight-cutting thing yet -- he looked like a blown-up welterweight against the shredded Belfort. He should get a second chance (or fifth, really) there. Or there's the short-term option: Wanderlei Silva in a loser-leaves-town match. That's a fight that was supposed to happen, and I don't think there's any doubt it'd be one for ages.
Does Hendricks deserve a big step up? Yes, but more likely, he'll fight a few more mid-tier guys to prove his worth as a Fight Night headliner. Suggestions: Matt Brown, the winner of John Hathaway vs. Pascal Krauss, or Claude Patrick.