For the fi rst time in the organization’s history, the UFC is heading to Atlanta. The September 6 event will feature a main event between UFC light heavyweight contenders Chuck Liddell and Rashad Evans.
A collection of injuries resulted in this fi ght being scheduled for UFC 88. Evans was originally slated to fi ght Liddell at UFC 85 as a replacement for the injured Mauricio Rua. When Liddell pulled out due to an injury of his own, Evans was matched with James Irvin. When Irvin pulled out after breaking his foot, the fi ght was removed from the card altogether and postponed until UFC 88. Thanks to the postponements, this will be Evan’s fi rst fi ght since November 17 and Liddell’s fi rst since December 29.
BREAKING DOWN THE ICEMAN
Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell is one of the most dominant fi ghters in UFC history. His place in the UFC Hall of Fame is assured. Liddell’s impressive 21–5 MMA record (16–4 UFC) runs through a “who’s who” of mixed martial artists. Liddell’s list of strengths are too “belligerent and numerous” to name them all, but his shortlist includes: great footwork, amazing punching power, fantastic ability to punch and counterpunch from any angle (including while backpedaling), and the best sprawl in MMA.
Liddell, a former UFC light heavyweight champion, is 1–1 since losing his title to Quinton Jackson in May 2007. Four months after that loss, he suffered another defeat (via split decision) to Keith Jardine. These were the fi rst backto- back losses of his career. He then rebounded for an impressive unanimous- decision victory over Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79.
Liddell is known for his striking prowess, but his dominance there has actually overshadowed his well-rounded skills. Liddell has a Division I collegiate wrestling background: he wrestled for California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. And while Liddell has been studying Koei-Kan Karate since the age of 12, he also holds a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Liddell trains at The Pit in Arroyo Grande, California, under John Hackleman.
THE SKINNY ON SUGAR
“Sugar” Rashad Evans was the heavyweight winner on The Ultimate Fighter 2. However, since the show, he has dropped to light heavyweight. Evans is 28 years old and has an 11–0–1 professional MMA record (6–0–1 UFC).
Evans is best known as a strong wrestler. He was a twotime all-state wrestler in high school and wrestled Division I for Michigan State in college. At Michigan State, Evans was one of only four people to ever defeat legendary collegiate wrestler Greg Jones, one of the most successful American collegiate wrestlers of all-time and winner of three NCAA Division I wrestling titles for West Virginia University. Evans now trains out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with Greg Jackson’s Submission Fighting. Thanks to the tutelage of Jackson, Evans has become more well-rounded, but he’s still struggling to break away from being a one-dimensional fi ghter and has not yet consistently demonstrated the development of either strong submissions or strong striking to match his wrestling and takedown ability.
Early in his MMA career, Evans was criticized for utilizing the “lay-and-pray” style to grind his way to a handful of boring decision victories. These included a majority-decision win over Stephan Bonnar at UFC Fight Night 6 and two split-decision wins: Sam Hoger at UFC Fight Night 4 and Brad Imes to win The Ultimate Fighter 2 contract at the series fi nale.
Evans broke a string of fi ve consecutive decision wins—three of them non-unanimous—with a second-round KO of Jason Lambert on the undercard of UFC 63, handing Lambert his fi rst loss in almost three years. Evans then continued his winning ways by defeating Sean Salmon at UFC Fight Night 8 with a dramatic secondround KO kick. Then, after fi ghting Tito Ortiz to a controversial unanimous draw at UFC 73, he regressed to his history of close-decision wins with a split-decision victory over Michael Bisping at UFC 78.
THE ODDS ARE
At the time of publication, the current betting line for this fi ght is Chuck Liddell -260, Rashad Evans +200. These odds give Liddell approximately a 72 percent chance of winning and Evans a one-in-three chance of pulling the upset.
There are a few unanswered questions coming in to this fi ght. The unknown status of both fi ghters should affect your willingness to wager to some level: Is Liddell completely recovered from his brutal ACL injury? And, at 38 years old (39 in December), has Liddell’s age fi nally caught up to him and reduced his effectiveness?
Liddell has essentially made a career of knocking out grapplers. I mean absolutely no disrespect. There’s no question he’s one of the most dominant (and marketable) UFC fi ghters of all time, but you have to look at his record for some honest analysis. He’s rarely faced elite-level strikers, and the best striker he has faced (Quinton Jackson) has beaten him twice.
With a few notable exceptions, Liddell has spent his modern years in the cage fi ghting one-dimensional opponents with less-thanstellar striking. Against those opponents, Liddell has been able to utilize his phenomenal takedown defense and his devastating counterpunching to blast grappler after grappler in to the ether.
While Liddell’s last loss was to a Greg Jackson- coached fi ghter, I do not believe that Jackson is going to be able to build the same sort of gameplan to beat Liddell the second time around. Despite the KO of Salmon, Evans has not previously demonstrated a consistent arsenal of leg kicks necessary to implement the same strategy as his teammate Keith Jardine. While Evans has shown slightly increased striking, I think his gameplan is going to be pretty straightforward: hope that Liddell’s age has fi – nally caught up to him and that his takedown defense and cardio just isn’t where it used to be. Look for Evans to go back to the “lay and pray” playbook and try to grind out a decision with takedowns and ground control while causing no real damage.
While Evan’s gameplan is straightforward, so too is Liddell’s. The Iceman knows what to do against grapplers. This is his bread and butter. Liddell is 2–1 against the legendary Randy Couture, and I think we can agree that Couture is, generally speaking, better than Evans at most areas of MMA, especially in terms of matching up directly with Liddell.
This is a classic battle between striker and grappler, except the striker in question has some of the greatest takedown defense in MMA history. We have talked a lot about the cliché “styles make fi ghts,” and unfortunately for Evans, his style is something Liddell has proven he can usually handle with ease.
I think this fi ght plays out a lot like Liddell/Ortiz II, with Evans able to survive the early rounds, even getting Liddell down a couple times. Ultimately, Evans will be unable to completely control Liddell and eventually get blasted, dropped, and stopped.
My prediction is Liddell by TKO late in the third round. Liddell opened around -215 and has been bet up steadily since, so if you want to bet on him, I suggest betting sooner than later to lock in a favorable line.
Of course, there is eventually a probability where Evans becomes the right side: for me, the point of equilibrium is approximately +/- 300, or 75 percent Liddell and 25 percent Evans.
Expect to see the winner of this fi ght as the next challenger for the Light Heavyweight crown recently obtained by Forrest Griffi n. Liddell can springboard off a win and slide in to a shot at reclaiming “his” title based on the stumbles of other top-ranked contenders. For Evans, a win over Liddell and his continued undefeated status would vault him over the fi eld to a title shot.
If Liddell wins and walks away uninjured, expect the fi ght as soon as the UFC’s year-end event in December. If Evans wins, as a less-marketable fi ght, expect to see that match in the early part of 2009.