–Kenny Rice

All sports have to deal with it. Why do so many average pitchers get some very above average deals? Why are journeyman quarterbacks coveted for back up spots? Why is a center who can play defense, provide quality minutes if not much scoring, compensated royally?

Because when it all breaks down regardless of how many college superstars there are, when they move to the majors, NFL or NBA most don’t remain superstars. A solid pitcher, a proven if rusty quarterback, a reliable big man is gold, at least to a lesser standard than the rocketing price of the real market today. Simple as this there aren’t that many key player positions with an overload of depth.

And that is more apparent than ever in the UFC with the upcoming 133, where daily it seems someone has been injured and finding someone even in the deep organization isn’t any easier than landing that go to fourth man in the rotation, unless of course it’s the Philadelphia Phillies. Perhaps ironic 133 will take place in the City of Brotherly Love where at least one team doesn’t have too many concerns with depth on the mound.

In continuing his Lazarus like return to the cage, Tito Ortiz is not only in the main event after his career saving win over Ryan Bader, he could legitimately claim the next in line for a shot at Jon Jones’ title if he beats Rashad Evans. This just days ago when most pundits considered it absurd Ortiz would ever again be mentioned in any mix of contenders. Why did all this happen so dramatically? When potential future star Phil Davis went out of the match with a knee injury, take a quick count, Tito is still one of the few real draws in the light heavyweight ranks, one of the few real stars in the sport. Even if you hate him you will pay to watch him hoping to see him lose. He’s that backup QB who can still throw a touchdown in the clutch.

And all this happens of course because current champ Jon Jones is injured in the first place starting this crazy confluence of dominoes with muscles that led to the biggest shake ups and most unexpected pairings yet for a UFC card. The toughest in this wacky musical chairs of match making came when Antonio Rogerio Nogueira’s injury simply eliminated Rich Franklin from the fight because there was no one else of quality to fight him.

If anyone has a ‘woe is me’ in all this, it is Franklin. The guy is healthy but he is in a small minority and is paying the price for being still too good that he deserves better than a throw in with little name recognition. Merge the WEC, Strikeforce, whatever else, there simply are only so many top flight fighters, just like with all the hoopsters in the land there are still only so many good NBA centers.

Chad Mendes is in line for a featherweight title shot if he beats Rani Yahya but still not a star draw at least enough to bump journeymen with recognition Brian Ebersole and Dennis Hallman from moving up to the main card. Certainly Evans has audience appeal, Vitor Belfort taking on the hot Yoshihiro Akiyama is intriguing as is the rejuvenated Mike Pyle versus Rory MacDonald who is on a roll, with implications for the winner to make a major move up. Not as headlining as Ortiz stepping in to face Evans, but Matt Hamill filling in on short notice for the injured Vladimir Matyushenko to fight Alexander Gustafsson is to be applauded. But even with this talent, who will make you pony up your hard earned cash for a pay per view or an arena seat?

But out of all this it comes back to the star wattage that Ortiz brings that keeps this card together, and puts him in a perfect spot. If he loses, well, he just fought.  If he wins over the number one contender Evans, then sound the trumpets because he’s an obvious choice for the Jones-Quinton Jackson winner later on.

This is the one event where fans will need a program to keep up with who’s involved to eliminate confusion over who is injured, or poor Franklin who had no one to dance with in Philly. Maybe this one should be tabbed UFC 133: Attrition.

It reinforces the two biggest things in sports: injuries and fan appeal. The former can be registered to tough luck, the kind any athlete worries about. For Davis in particular missing his chance at Evans is the most obvious set back of anyone else in this battered bunch. The latter is that most precious commodity for a promoter, for even champions don’t always bring that kind of clout. Out of the current UFC title holders how many are “can’t wait to see them again” fighters? Fortunately even with a rapidly depleted bunch for next month, Evans and Ortiz can keep the spotlight on what would’ve been a dimmer offering.

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