EVANS 4.0 IS THE BEST YET
Fourteen months is a lifetime to be away from live competition for any professional athlete. Most guys return from such lengthy layoffs looking sluggish, hesitant, sloppy and often with a few extra pizza-induced rolls around the midsection. Not Rashad Evans. He used the time away to reinvent himself as a fighter—literally.
I was shocked, literally shocked, when I saw the former 205-pound champion take off his shirt at the weigh-ins. Evans did not look like someone who had been away from the sport for more than a year. He looked like a fighter in peak physical condition who was sharp and ready to go. I think that is the first time I’ve ever seen him with a true six pack.
Granted, MMA is not bodybuilding. There is more to winning a fight than showing up with chiseled abdominal muscles. And contrary to popular belief, low levels of body fat do not, in any way, indicate whether someone is in great cardiovascular shape. Instead, it merely means that Evans fully committed to preparing for Ortiz. Not only did he work hard in the gym to sharpen his skills; creating a physique like that demonstrates that he also paid as much attention to his diet as he did technique training. That sort of holistic approach to the fight game is something we have not previously seen from Evans until now.
The extremely well muscled, chiseled physique that he unveiled during the weigh-ins was a statement about his new level of commitment to the sport and a sign of what was in store for his opponent approximately 30 hours later. Evans did not disappoint once the action got underway. He more than lived up to the hype he created at the weigh-ins with what I think was a career-best performance in stopping Tito Ortiz with just 12 seconds remaining in the second round.
The reason I’m labeling the win a career-best performance is this is the first time that I’ve really seen Evans show his full skill set in a fight. It was the first time that he appeared to be a truly well rounded mixed martial artist.
Think about it for a moment. The first incarnation of Evans was back in his days on The Ultimate Fighter. He was an undersized, soft-around-the-middle heavyweight who used tremendous speed and good boxing skills to topple bigger, slower opponents. Yet, he rarely took any risks during fights. He instead used his great athleticism to safely outpoint his opponents. That version of Evans continued when he returned to his more natural 205-pound weight class following his win on TUF2.
Evans 2.0 appeared three years after his UFC debut. This time, however, he was strictly a standup homerun hitter. Evans likely knew going into his 2008 fight with Chuck Liddell that there was little chance of scoring a takedown. Thus, he sat down on his punches and fired nuclear bombs at “The Iceman,” scoring an amazing knockout win in the process. That version of Evans won and lost the world championship as he lived and died by the knockout sword.
After getting his lights turned out by Lyoto Machida, Evans 3.0 appeared for his next two bouts with Thiago Silva and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. This version wanted no part of standup exchanges with opponents. He was Mr. Takedown. Actually, Mr. Lay-and-Pray might be a better label. Evans fought with survival always at the forefront of his mind. He wasn’t out there looking to put his stamp on Silva or Rampage, not at all. He was merely looking to survive and win in as safe a manner as possible.
Evans 3.0 was effective. I’ll give him that much. But he was dreadfully boring to watch.
Evans 4.0, who made his professional debut against Ortiz, was the best Evans that we have witnessed to date. This version dripped with confidence. There was no false bravado used in an effort to hide self doubt because there was no self doubt. He was fully prepared for Ortiz, and he knew it.
Evans displayed the ability to seamlessly transition from striker to wrestler that we hadn’t before seen in his fights. He also showed greatly improved takedown defense, something he lacked in his first bout with Ortiz. And his standup game was as sharp as ever. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it was a better version of the standup game that he used to win the world title. Evans 4.0 is much more than an overhand right, left hook fighter, which is all we really saw from Evans 2.0. He used a variety of strikes, including straight, crisp punches and shots to the body that we did not see in past fights. This was the guy that I’ve been hearing about for years from sparring partners. Evans 4.0 appears to have finally put it all together—finally.
If Evans continues fighting as an unpredictable, well rounded fighter who is confident in his ability to win the fight in every area, he may very well return to the top of the 205-pound mountain. Everyone gawks at Jon Jones’ athletic ability, including me. But make no mistake about it, Evans is his athletic equal.
Jones-Evans will be one heck of a scrap, one that could result in a war for the ages. If Rampage is able to unseat the champion first, then something tells me that Rampage-Evans II will be a very different fight than their first tango, which was much more of a dance than a fight.
MAJOR RESPECT TO ORTIZ FOR STEPPING UP
Tito Ortiz has taken more criticism over the last 10 years than any fighter in the UFC. Some of it was well deserved. Ortiz hasn’t always made the best decisions with his career. Yet, a good portion of the criticism was completely unwarranted. Ortiz chose to be a polarizing figure during his career, so any time he came up just a little bit short of expectations, pundits and fans heaped harsh words on him in helpings never before seen in the sport.
At 36 years old, Ortiz is an older, wiser, more mature version of the guy who ruled the 205-pound division for more than three years—a record that still stands to this day. And his decision to save UFC 133 by stepping in on extremely short notice for an injured Phil Davis is a decision that he will never regret, despite suffering just the third TKO loss of his career.
Evans-Ortiz was a much bigger, more marketable fight than any other short-notice matchup available to White. In fact, Evans-Ortiz was a much bigger, more marketable fight than the one it replaced. No disrespect to Phil Davis. That guy is an absolute animal at 205 pounds, but he is far from having the name recognition of Ortiz.
Keep in mind that Ortiz was coming off his first win since October 10, 2006, when he beat a seriously over-the-hill Ken Shamrock. He is also a guy who is borderline obsessive about his preparation and pre-fight planning. He knew that there was no possible way that he could get his body to peak again for UFC 133. He knew that it was likely that he would come up short against an opponent who is better at just about every aspect of the game. Thus, he knew that whatever momentum he created by beating Bader would instantly evaporate, if he lost to Evans.
Yet, he took the fight anyway. Ortiz showed up on Saturday night and fought a great fight, despite coming up short. He was able to find moments of success against Evans, both on the feet and on the ground. That has to serve as encouragement for his future bouts. And he was competitive enough to justify a well earned $70,000 Fight of the Night bonus – a nice little chunk of change that will pay for the damage he recently caused to his Rolls Royce Phantom thanks to a text-messaging-induced fender bender in his hometown.
By stepping up and facing Evans, Ortiz proved that he is no longer the prima donna who lived underneath UFC President Dana White’s skin. Dare I say he is now a company man? Dare I say he is now a fan favorite? Dare I say he more committed to the fight game than a once-desired acting career?
For those who have never met Ortiz, he has always been a different guy in private than he is in front of the camera. Get him away from the ever present public eye for a moment, and he is really just one of the guys. It’s good to see him choosing to now live his life that way in front of the camera.
I’m still not ready to anoint Ortiz as a contender in the light heavyweight division. But I will say this much: his effort against Evans went as far with me in establishing his place in the 205-pound pecking order as his dramatic submission victory over Ryan Bader. Critics can dismiss the Bader win as a lucky superman punch that happened to find its mark. We didn’t see enough in that fight to really know where Ortiz stands at this point in his career. Real fight cognoscenti undoubtedly saw on Saturday night that Ortiz really is a better version of the guy who suffered through a terrible losing streak, one that had him on the verge of the unemployment line.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Ortiz isn’t done surprising the MMA world. Like I wrote in my UFC 132 musings just over a month ago, it’s great having Tito Ortiz back. MMA fans around the world owe him a serious tip of the cap in appreciation for his willingness to step up and fight Evans on Saturday night.
I have no idea what is next for Ortiz. He announced at the post-fight presser that he wants to fight again before the end of the year. I’d love to see him in a headlining or co-main event bout against the winner of Forrest Griffin versus Marcio “Shogun” Rua. I think that is the perfect next fight for him.
BELFORT SHOULD TAKE NOTE OF THE RESULT
Is it just me or did anyone else notice that Vitor Belfort seemed to take it very personally when Yoshihiro Akiyama to sneak in the same front kick that Anderson Silva used to knock out the Brazilian back in February?
The missed kick (which, by the way, was thrown from well outside of any reasonably effective striking distance) certainly was the beginning of the end for Akiyama. That, in and of itself, is not surprising. It is the way Belfort attacked that surprised me.
The former 205-pound champion has always been an extreme counterstriker, rarely opting to aggressively dictate the action against any opponent. But he did not really counter Akiyama’s missed kick. Instead, he slipped the kick, appeared to get more than a little perturbed about it, and then attacked in an extremely aggressive fashion more than a full second later.
Belfort’s aggression created openings for his laser-like punches, rather than waiting for openings to present themselves in the form of counters. The result was one of the most spectacular knockouts of his career. That is no small feat, either. The only other person to score a knockout victory over the Japanese superstar is former legendary K-1 heavyweight champion Jerome Le Banner in a bout where Akiyama was grossly undersized.
The win proves that Belfort has the ability to stop any middleweight in the world, if he can only get to their chin. It also proves that he does not have to sit by passively and wait for an opponent to create an opening by missing with a strike. He can push the action and make his own openings through attacking aggressively.
Belfort should take note of how he won. One of the big knocks on this guy is that his extreme counterstriking posture makes him a sitting duck for dominant wrestlers, who never give him the opening he needs before taking him to the ground and holding him there. An attacking Belfort might be the most dangerous fighter in the middleweight division—champion included.
WHAT IS IT WITH GUYS NAMED RORY?
What is with sports phenoms named Rory these days? Unless you live under a rock (or just happen to abhor golf), you undoubtedly know that some youngster from Northern Ireland named Rory McIlroy won the US Open back in June—one of golf’s four yearly major championships. McIlroy has long been touted as the “next this” or “next that” due to his tremendous golfing success during his teenage years. But it wasn’t until 2011 that the affable 22-year-old finally put it all together and lived up to the hype that has followed him from the moment he debuted in a PGA Tour event. And he did it after a bitter defeat in The Masters, a tournament he dominated through three rounds, only to fall apart in the fourth and final round.
Rory MacDonald isn’t that different of a story. Like McIlroy, he debuted in his chosen professional sport as a teenager, something that is almost unheard of in golf or mixed martial arts. From the day he began fighting, people talked openly about the tremendous potential he carried with him into competition. In 2011, he finally appears to be coming into his own as a fighter, scoring major wins over Nate Diaz back in April and grizzled veteran Mike Pyle on Saturday night.
Yep, you guessed it. MacDonald’s two big wins this year came on the heels of a bitter loss to Carlos Condit, a fight that he was dominating through two rounds, only to suffer a TKO loss with seven seconds remaining in the fight.
Granted, he hasn’t yet won a championship, but there certainly appear to be some very real parallels between these two fine young athletes. I’m sure Team MacDonald hopes that their Rory reaches the same career pinnacle as the other Rory before his 23rd birthday. We’ll see if it happens.
WHAT WAS HALLMAN THINKING?
Let’s cut right to the chase. I’m not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination, but the shorts Dennis Hallman wore on Saturday night were beyond terrible. I’m not sure a single adjective truly captures how bad they really were.
I will never understand why Hallman chose to basically wear a bikini. There was no functional or competitive reason to wear those things over, say, spandex-style fight shorts. Better yet, there was no reason whatsoever to wear bikini bottoms that were clearly several sizes too small. Hallman did it purely for entertainment value, or maybe one of his sponsors paid him to wear them. Either way, it was a silly decision that took precedence over the reputation and performance of a fighter who just recently began to be taken seriously in the UFC welterweight division by the fans. Now he is known as Mr. Bikini.
Not everyone agrees with my assessment of Hallman’s decision to wear a bikini. Brian Ebersole has to be thrilled with Hallman’s decision. He earned the first ever “Thanks for getting those horrifying shorts off TV as soon as possible” bonus. as Dana White handed him a well earned $70,000 check for quickly dispatching with his scantily clad opponent.
UFC 133 Musings
UFC 133 is in the books - Michael DiSanto breaks it down...
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