The seemingly cursed UFC 133 is finally in the books and in the end as the dust settles no real surprises came out of the proceedings last night. Rashad Evans made a successful return to the cage after fourteen months off taking out Tito Ortiz with a fast paced and well rounded performance.
Evans got Tito in a vulnerable position up against the cage and blasted him in the sternum with a textbook beautiful knee that spelled the beginning of the end for a game Ortiz.
In the co-main event, Vitor Belfort came out in a flurry and landed hard precision shots, knocking out Yoshihiro Akiyama before he could break a sweat.
Once again, after all was said and done the card pulled through as solid on the backs of the fighters who laid it all on the line. What were the key questions answered and lessons learned following the event in Philly? Please read on to find out.
As he is known for Johny Hendricks came out guns a blazin' and all a fire and he dominated the first round like he wanted to. He got an early takedown and he attacked with a solid mix of knees and strikes although he was unable to finish the young Mike Pierce.
Hendricks came out much more tentative in the second and it was either because he gave a bit too much in the first trying to end it quickly and was tired, or he really didn't realize the absolute difference in his pace. My opinion is that he definitely did not recover between rounds one and two and it nearly cost him the fight.
He needs to either pace himself for the three round fight from the get go or he needs to develop and improve his cardio so that he can withstand that pace for all three rounds. He did not fight the perfect fight last night and needs to figure it out for his next step up in competition.
A decision win against Nam Phan does not mean you are destined for contender status again but for Mike Thomas Brown, he'll take it. The 35-year old former champion was on a stinging two fight losing streak going in to his fight on Saturday night, and his strength and top ground game carried him to an extremely valuable first UFC win.
Phan came back and looked to take a tight second round and Brown looked visibly fatigued going in to the final round. This is where I believe it is safe to say Brown dug deep inside to extend his career and pressed and pushed the action to Phan for the entire five minutes in the process. Sending a clear message to top UFC brass that he is not quite done fighting yet in his already accomplished career.
Chad Mendes was originally rumoured to be gettiing a shot at Jose Aldo and the featherweight title on Saturday night and he showed he is more than ready with a dominating and dynamic if not spectacular win over Rani Yahya.
Mendes used his tank like frame to outmuscle Yahya all night long and in every spot in the cage and although his striking was hampered by what appeared to be a hand injury suffered in round two, he looked every bit as ready as anyone to challenge Aldo for the title.
I believe Mendes is a much tougher matchup for Aldo than rumoured current number one contender Kenny Florian.
Matt Hamill fell for the second consecutive time on Saturday night and his performance appears to have slid a bit in his last two outings after climbing his way to a top contender fight earlier this year. he was thoroughly dominated in that fight against Rampage Jackson mostly because he could not get a take down..
Fast forward to last night against Alexander Gustafson, who is at the cusp of the top ten and Hamill still could not get the take down that is so crucial for him to get the fight to where he is best. Hamill was tentative in the first round and gave Gustafson the time he needed to warm up and measure distance in order to step up his strikes in round two.
Once Gustafson found range, he did what Rampage couldn't and knocked Hamill out with strikes.
Everyone beams about the potential of the best fighter in Sweden Alexander Gustafsson, but after his brutal knockout of Matt Hamill last night we need to beam about him right now. Hamill looked only a shell of himself last night against Alex but Gustafsson showed power and precision striking and accomplished what top contender Quinton Jackson could not do, a convincing knockout against Hamill.
Gustafsson is on the right track and does all the right things in his career and the sky is the limit for him once this 22-year old fills out his body.
After taking out veteran Chris Lytle and then winning convincingly over Dennis Hallman last night in Philadelphia, is it not time to give Brian Ebersole an opponent to climb up the UFC ladder? Ebersole blasted Hallman in his guard from top position, all after surviving the submission specialist on his back to start the fight.
Ebersole is 30-years old, on a nine fight win streak and in the prime of his career and it's as good a time as any to see how good he really is in the welterwegiht pecking order. How about a date with Rory MacDonald to sort a few things out?
Yoshihiro Akiyama burst into his UFC career with a solid win over Alan Belcher before he was thrown right in to deep waters in his next three outings including last night against Vitor Belfort. There is no question that Akiyama comes to fight like no other when he steps inside the cage for his fights, but I was extremely surprised that the UFC saw him fit to co-headline cards against the likes of Chris Leben, Micheal Bisping and Vitor Belfort.
It says here though that after three straight losses, Akiyama may not get his walking papers from the UFC but he will not get the matchups that he has been getting from the people making the cards. In fighting and losing to those three fighters consecutively, he has shown that he just simply is not good enough for the top guys in the division.
Does that performance answer your question of just how good is Rory MacDonald? The unstoppable welterweight that is MacDonald stepped in to the cage against a man with 12 more years of experience on him and proceeded to teach him a lesson.
The 22 year old has now hung in against number one contender Carlos Condit, put a dominant beating on the very talented and tough Nate Diaz and then TKO'd Mike Pyle all in succession. Dominance over the younger Diaz brother and a quick TKO of Pyle do not a champion make but it is still the way he hung in against Condit that makes me believe he can handle the top guys now.
Win or lose it is not too early to throw him in against a Josh Koscheck or a Jon Fitch. Remember, Mike Pyle is the only man to ever submit Jon Fitch.
Tito Ortiz is enjoying an incredible resurgence in his career at the age of 35-years old. On the cusp of being left out of the promotion just a month ago, his shocking win over young up and comer Ryan Bader landed him a shot at contention again in the light heavyweight division. Was it really possible for Ortiz to go from washed up perennial loser to title contender in one month?
Rashad Evans put Tito in his place last night. Tito was game and stepped up huge on short notice, but Evans was just younger, quicker and better in a glimpse of what it takes to hang with the top guys in the division.
Ortiz has ensured that he may yet get another multi fight contract from the UFC, possibly his last of his Hall of Fame career. he also showed last night , that he is just a step below the real title contenders in the division.
It has been an incredibly trying year for the man they call "Suga" in the UFC light heavyweight division. In line for a title shot, an injury forced him to forego that shot and rehab himself over the next fourteen months. it was a long time away from the cage and twitter feuds, changed camps and the title changing hands all had Evans answering a plethora of questions.
He returned last night in what was an extremely risky fight for him after that long layoff as he was faced with a red hot former champion to dispose of in his return.
Evans looked great last night. He looked like a new and improved version of himself and that spells very bad news for all the men at the top of the division, especially the champ Jon Jones.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a Feature Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA (also a correspondent for MMACanada.net).