A hop, skip, jump, stumble, and crash later, and UFC 133: "Evans vs. Ortiz 2" is finally limping to the finish line.
Injuries have plagued this card since its inception. Both the main and co-main event had a competitor pull out, as surging light heavyweight Phil Davis and PRIDE mainstay Antonio Rogerio Nogueira were forced out with injuries, resulting in an emergency Tito Ortiz transplant for the former and the complete cancellation of the latter.
In addition, Japanese wrestlemaniac Riki Fukuda, eternally-ailing Italian Alessio Sakara, and resident old badass Vladimir Matyushenko were all forced to step aside due to injuries, resulting in some crazy scrambling on the part of matchmaker extraordinaire Joe Silva.
Luckily, the man knows what he's doing, and we've still got a fantastic fight card to look forward to. As usual, all six preliminary card bouts are viewable, and they're definitely worth a look.
Let's take a gander at the goods, shall we?
135 lbs.: Ivan "Pride of El Salvador" Menjivar (22-8) vs. Nick Pace (6-1)
Despite not having hit 30 yet, Menjivar is one of the most travelled veterans in North America. Currently training out of Tristar with the likes of Georges St. Pierre and Hatsu Hioki, Menjivar has been in the game for 10 years, facing the likes of Urijah Faber and Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro as well as being "GSP's" inaugural victim.
His most recent Zuffa run, his second after falling to Matt Serra at UFC 48, has resulted in two stock-raising throwdowns: a thoroughly entertaining slugfest (though one he wound up losing) with eternal contender Brad Pickett and a truly evil elbow to Charlie Valencia's face. Having fought as high as welterweight, Menjivar may have found his true weightclass 35 pounds below and will put this theory to the test against young lion Nick Pace.
Tiger Schulmann protégé Nick Pace first made waves in only his second fight with a nasty flying knee to Colin Tebo under the Bellator banner. Like Gustafsson, he came out on the wrong end of a prospect collision, falling to number-one contender Demetrious Johnson at WEC 51.
Luckily for Pace, however, he managed to reignite the hype with a bizarre triangle variant that would later be dubbed the "Pace Choke," which he used to defeat Will Campuzano after dominating him for two rounds. He was originally slated to face yet another rising star, striking phenom Michael MacDonald, before the latter was called upon to replace an injured Norifumi Yamamoto against Chris Cariaso at UFC 130.
Against a grizzled veteran like Menjivar, he'll be representing the new breed against the old guard.
The old guard has been falling left and right, but I am still picking Menjivar. The Canadian veteran has four times the experience of Pace and has far more experience against high-level competition. Plus, he's only ever been finished twice, and not once in the past nine years. Menjivar has the better camp and some serious power to complement an effective grappling game, and I think he'll outwork and outstrike Pace to a solid decision win.
Prediction: Menjivar via Decision
In an increasingly wrassler-heavy welterweight division, Hendricks has distinguished himself by using his immense punching power to bulldoze everyone stupid enough to stand in front of him. He made one hell of a first impression in his UFC debut, blitzing Amir Sadollah in just 29 seconds. Since then, he has won four of five, including two more vicious knockouts at the expense of Charlie Brenneman and TJ Walburger. Rick Story handed him his only defeat, and Hendricks has no intention of letting Pierce recreate Story's grapple-wrecking.
Mike Pierce, a Chael Sonnen disciple who has been channeling his mentor's mouth in addition to his smothering style, made his first big step towards the top two years ago, when he was fed to Jon Fitch and wound up putting Fitch in extreme peril during the third round. He has won three straight since then, submitting Judo specialist Amilcar Alves and knocking out then-undefeated Kenny Robertson in that time.
He's been talking a big game lately, and he'll have to put his money where his mouth is if he doesn't want his foot there instead.
Hendricks is a scary, scary man, especially with that monster left hand of his, but despite his impressive credentials, he's been outgrappled in the past. Brenneman had success in the clinch against Hendricks, as did future Brenneman victim Rick Story. Judging by his comments in the pre-fight buildup, Pierce should have the chutzpah to force Hendricks into a slow-paced grindfest against the fence.
Hendricks's frenzied punching style should create plenty of openings for Pierce, and barring Hendricks flattening him along the way (which is a very real possibility), Pierce should be able to smother Hendricks for long enough to get his training partner's signature 30-27.
Prediction: Pierce via Decision
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
After his right hand and Urijah Faber's chin had a brief fling that left "The California Kid" helpless on the ground and propelled the burly Brown into the pound-for-pound discussion, he seemed unstoppable. And then, of course, came Jose Aldo, the scariest man in the history of the featherweight division, who gave Brown a bona-fide butt whoopin'.
Since then, he has won twice against lesser competition while falling three times, twice by decision and once by brain-scrambling knockout. This is the most adversity Brown has faced since Masakazu Imanari obliterated his leg, and he should be dead-set on proving that, just like the first time, he can rise again.
Interestingly, Phan is also 2-4 in his last six official fights.
After a 1-3 stretch that saw him get manhandled and knocked out by Michihiro Omigawa, Phan turned his career around by competing in season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). A good run on the show sadly ended at the hands of Michael Johnson's wrestling prowess, but three rounds spent pulverizing Leonard Garcia got him on the fan's good side, if not the judges.
This Asian brother may not have gotten no love from the three men at ringside, but he got some from UFC President Dana White, who scheduled a rematch between the two. Sadly, this fell through due to a Phan injury, giving Chan Sung Jung the chance to pull off his ridiculous "Twister" victory.
Now, against a former champion with his back against the wall, Phan will need a step up and prove he belongs in the UFC.
As endearing and skilled as Phan is, the fact remains that he's never managed to make that next step, despite several opportunities. Against "Razor" Rob McCullough, Gesias Cavalcante, Josh Thomson, and Omigawa, he has fallen short.
He's entertaining and actually knows how to work the body, but against the tight punching, strong wrestling, and huge power of Brown, it may not be enough. Wrestling seems to be Phan's Achilles heel, and Brown has all the tools necessary to play the role of Hector, Look for him to bully Phan early, dragging him to the ground whenever he attempts something flashy before bringing down the heavy leather and putting himself just a little bit closer to his old glory.
Prediction: Brown via TKO
185 lbs.: Rafael "Sapo" Natal (12-3-1) vs. Paul "The Gentleman" Bradley (18-2)
Submission specialist Rafael Natal, fighting out of the Gracie Fusion camp, hit a bit of a rough patch when he stepped inside the Octagon. After losing a tough decision to TUF alum Rich Attonito, Natal fought Jesse Bongfeldt to a draw at UFC 124. The talented Brazilian was originally slated to fight Grabaka product Riki Fukuda, but the Japanese grappler had to pull out after a car accident. He was then expected to fight Serra-Longo fighter Constantinos Philippou, but Philippou was brought up to the main card to face Jorge Rivera.
Now, set to fight welterweight prospect Paul Bradley, Natal will be looking to make a statement and pull out his first Octagon victory.
Injuries are a mess, aren't they?
Bradley, who usually fights at 170-pounds, took this fight on just two weeks notice, literally two days after submitting Eddie Larrea at EC 188. Bradley sports quite an impressive record, his wins split evenly between knockouts, submissions, and decisions.
In addition to sporting a win over Nathan Coy, who, in the eyes of some defeated, Tyron Woodley, he's won his last five by stoppage, including four in the first round. A win over Natal, especially on short notice and fifteen pounds over his usual weight class, would definitely get him on the good side of his employers.
Natal may have had trouble in his first two battles in the Octagon, but he has every conceivable advantage over Bradley, who has faltered in his two steps up in competition against Mike Pierce and Luke Rockhold. Natal hasn't exactly faced the cream of the crop, but he's the bigger man by a fair margin and while Bradley just had a fight, he was facing a man with a .500 record.
Expect a repeat of the recent Massenzio vs. K-Sos fight, with Natal using his size to dominate with top control. There's a good chance he'll pull out a submission before the end, but considering Bradley has never tapped before, I'm calling it for "Sapo."
Prediction: Natal by decision.
And there are your Facebook prelims, Maniacs.
Stop by tomorrow for breakdowns of the two Spike TV fights. In the meantime, sound off with your own preview and predictions for the Facebook fights. Agree with me? Don't? Let's hear it.