Things look so clear now in the rear-view mirror.
Phil Davis was supposed to cement his reputation as the next big thing in the light heavyweight division. Instead, we saw a pretty talented guy who, after being pressed into a shorter-notice fight, punched the clock with a workmanlike decision against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
The incredible shrinking man Anthony Johnson and Dan Hardy were supposed to concuss each other with great relish for 15 minutes to the exclusion of jiu-jitsu and wrestling. Instead, Johnson played it safe on the mat and smothered the Brit on the way to a scorecard win.
There was no decision for Chan Sung Jung and Leonard Garcia, who met one year ago in one of the most electrifying fights since lighter-weighted fighters leaped into public consciousness with the WEC. Still, we wanted something of a replica of that fight and were consoled -- quite happily -- with Jung's twister submission victory in the bottom of the second frame.
So UFC Fight Night 24 fell short of expectations. But it's obvious they were a little out of whack to begin with.
Davis' fight Saturday was his fifth in 13 months. He was supposed to fight Matt Hamill in April at UFC 129, a matchup considered to be his entry point into the upper tier of the 205-pound division. He swapped that out for a fight one month earlier against the most dangerous and accomplished opponent he'd yet faced in Nogueira, who'd been training to meet beleaguered former champ Tito Ortiz.
Nobody forced Davis to do this, mind you. He wanted the experience. The UFC was more than happy to give it to him with the wrestling pedigree he brought to the Octagon, and he showed flashes of brilliance in a very short time frame. But he was made into a future contender long before he proved his worth against top talent, and all because a quick scroll down the list of light heavyweights pegged him as the only guy who's grappling could give new champ Jon Jones a challenge.
With all the wear and tear on Davis' body and mind, it's no wonder he struggled to meet expectations.
Johnson, too, carried a heavy burden. He was coming into the cage after a 16-month layoff courtesy of a slow-healing knee. What's more, he'd come up short in his most recent performance, a submission loss to Josh Koscheck that halted his rapid rise in the welterweight division. Still, the UFC saw a great matchup on paper and gave him someone who promised to threaten brain damage at every turn. Given his career circumstances, it wasn't a sexy gamble.
"Deep down inside, I wanted to finish the fight," Johnson told MMAjunkie.com. "But in reality, I just needed to win. I've been out for a year and some change. I needed to get back in the groove of things and just get the win. I didn't really need to go for a knockout or a submission."
Nor did Garcia or Jung, who fought this time around with their hands high and heads screwed on straight. Garcia wanted to follow a game plan for once in his life, and Jung badly needed a win after getting knocked out cold in his most recent fight and losing to Garcia in the one before that. So they fought a mostly conservative affair until "The Korean Zombie" wowed us with a twister.
The point is, we rarely see great fights and great events from a distance. They sneak up on us.
Hopefully, he'll get a vacation, too.
At this point, it's best to level off a bit on the steep upward trajectory of his recent career. Get him the winner of Jason Brilz vs. Vladimir Matyushenko, the winner of Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader, or Thiago Silva (if and when he's available). Those are good intermediaries to the former champions who fill the upper deck of the light heavyweight division.
Give Davis a year and he'll earn the hype so many have bestowed upon him.
The performance showed big improvement in Sadollah's ground game, though it will be a while before he's ready to tangle with wrestling-based standouts who will take him down and pound him into mincemeat. Judo specialist Dong Hyun Kim routed him not too long ago on the mat, and the grappling expertise only gets better further up the ranks. A fight against the winner of Nate Diaz vs. Rory MacDonald, which takes place at UFC 129, could be a good stepping stone. So would a meeting with Kyle Noke, who's similarly on the rise.
McDonald should take a big step up in his next appearance. He's ready for it, and next time he'll pace himself a little better. My picks are Takeya Mizugaki and Brian Bowles.
That's an issue with "Lil Nog" moving forward. He's a tough fight for anyone in the division, but he's not going to be able to get by younger and faster guys who are great wrestlers. What do you do with him? Feed him the new guys? Keep him as a gatekeeper? I see a multitude of options in the middle of the division and a lot of barriers to entry to the top.
That said, a fight with Rich Franklin or the loser of Matt Hamill vs. Quinton Jackson might be a win-win for the UFC. If he wins, it puts him back in the mix. If he loses, he can intercept an up-and-comer.