Now that it's all over and we've had a day to decompress and digest, let's take a closer look at Saturday night's big winners, losers, and everything in between.
Biggest Winner: Rashad Evans
Simply beating Tito Ortiz at this point in his career might not seem like a tremendous accomplishment, but dominating him the way Evans did and then putting him away is still an impressive feat. Evans looked faster and sharper than he has in a long time, and that's after more than a year out of action. Is this what comes of picking up your training camp and moving it a couple time zones away? If so, there might be some fighters in Albuquerque trying to get out of their leases pretty soon. Dana White says it's a win-win for the UFC whether Evans faces Jon Jones or "Rampage" Jackson for the title, but let's be real. The first Jackson-Evans fight wasn't a classic by any stretch of the imagination, and the blood seems to be a whole lot badder between Evans and Jones. If that fight does materialize down the road, it will be huge.
Biggest Loser: Yoshihiro Akiyama
The knockout loss was his third straight defeat in the UFC, and while White didn't sound like he was in any hurry to cut him over it, you have to admit it's a pretty sharp decline from where he was when he first left the Japanese scene. He had a lot more heat behind him back then, although he'd also been facing easier competition. In the UFC he's faced nothing but tough opponents, mostly because, particularly when you're at his level, there are no easy fights to be found. Chris Leben, Michael Bisping, Vitor Belfort -- all very good fighters. But then, that's what the UFC is. If you can't pull out a win every once in a while, even in the tough ones, do you really deserve to be there?
Bravest Wardrobe Choice: Dennis Hallman
You don't have to like how Hallman looked in his mankini, but you do have to admit that walking around like that on live TV took a certain kind of courage. He had to know it wouldn't be popular. You could argue that he should have known it would be very unpopular with his boss, and maybe he did. But Hallman had a vision and, no matter how unappealing that vision might seem to us, he followed through on it. I say you have to respect that. Plus, aren't we always hearing about what a surprisingly large portion of MMA fans are female? Maybe they liked seeing Hallman flash some thigh. And by some I mean all. At least there's one person who's glad he did it, and that's Brian Ebersole. Thanks to Hallman's exhibitionism, Ebersole pocketed an extra $70,000. The least he could do now is give Hallman a few bucks to go get a decent pair of pants.
Biggest Matchmaking Question Mark: Vitor Belfort
What do you do with "The Phenom" now? He lost his title shot in spectacular fashion, then roared back to put Akiyama away. I know he declared himself "back," but he only lost one fight, and to the world's best middleweight, so it's not like he had ever really gone anywhere. It's hard to make a case for giving him another crack at Anderson Silva so soon, and most of the other top middleweights are already spoken for. That means more waiting and more doubt, as the UFC struggles to find someone it can put in against Silva without it feeling like reruns.
Most Impressive: Rory MacDonald
The 22-year-old Canadian continues to live up to expectations, this time taking out a veteran who had already derailed one youngster's hype train. A TKO win over a guy like Mike Pyle in the first round is a sure sign that MacDonald has it in him to go far in this sport. Now the only questions are how far and how fast? The problem is, with wins like the ones he's been stacking up lately, he's going to find himself in against the cream of the crop very soon. You could argue that he already did that in his fight with Carlos Condit, and there his inexperience cost him. There's no question that he has the physical tools. Now we just have to see if, despite his youth, he has the mental ones as well.
Least Improved: Matt Hamill
The mistakes he made in the "Rampage" Jackson fight -- reaching for half-hearted takedowns, following his opponent around the cage -- were on display again in his loss to Alexander Gustafsson. As a result, he was just as unsuccessful with his takedown attempts in this fight as he was in his last, and he made for an easy target once Gustafsson zeroed in on him with those uppercuts. Hamill is still a talented fighter who can give a lot of people problems, but something's got to change. I don't know whether it's his training camp or his mental approach, but if he keeps doing the same old thing every fight, he's going to end up with the same old results.
Most Gracious in Defeat: Tito Ortiz
Maybe he's benefiting here from having set the bar so low in recent years, but regardless, let's give the man some credit. After getting stopped by that brutal knee, Ortiz offered no excuses. He didn't come into the fight with a cracked skull. He wasn't plagued by back problems that would have left a normal man crying in a dark room. He was at his best, he said, and it just wasn't good enough. You see? That's how you take a loss with dignity. It's tough because, realistically, every fighter has excuses if he wants them. There's always something that didn't go quite right in training camp. There are always nagging injuries or old wounds or just a sluggish feeling that you can't explain. The problem is, fans don't want to hear it. At least, not right after the fight. Ortiz seems to have finally learned that, and hey, better late than never.
Most Fun: Brian Ebersole
There's a fine line between not taking yourself too seriously and turning yourself into a walking joke, and right now Ebersole is walking it perfectly. From his horsing around backstage to his signature hairrow, he stands out without being ridiculous. More importantly, he also comes to fight. The beating he put on Hallman was positively brutal. Who wants to pipe up and say something about his chest hair after seeing that? He seems to have a good grasp on when it's time to joke around and when it's time to be serious, which is exactly what separates an entertainer from a clown. He's now 2-0 in the UFC with wins over two high-level veterans of the sport. For his next fight, it might be nice to see him face an opponent who's a little closer to his prime (in other words, maybe not Matt Serra, as Ebersole suggested), but either way I'll still be watching with great interest. In a sport that sometimes feels overrun with grim tough guys, it's nice to have an equally dangerous jokester around to lighten the mood from time to time.
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