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UFC 88 Musings

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Rashad Evans loves to make me eat my words.

I’ve broken down his last three fights. Each time, I predicted ‘Sugar’ to lose. Each time, I dedicated hundreds of words to explaining why he would lose. Each time, he made me eat those words.
By Michael DiSanto

EVANS SHOCKS THE WORLD, BUT NEEDS MORE TO BEAT GRIFFIN

Rashad Evans loves to make me eat my words.

I’ve broken down his last three fights. Each time, I predicted ‘Sugar’ to lose. Each time, I dedicated hundreds of words to explaining why he would lose. Each time, he made me eat those words.

During that time, Evans escaped a bout with Tito Ortiz with a draw at UFC 73, though he did enough in the third round to cause the ‘Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ to say no mas to a rematch. He defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 78. And, of course, he scored the most significant and devastating knockout of 2008 just a few short nights ago, utterly obliterating former champion Chuck Liddell with a perfect overhand right.

Nevertheless, I’m going to stick with my trend and call Evans the underdog if he is selected by UFC president Dana White as the first opponent for newly crowned 205-lb ruler Forrest Griffin.

Does that make me an Evans hater? No.

I love Sugar’s athleticism, and I love his fight team even more. But I am not a fan of his tendency to throw away the first round while he feels out his opponent.

Let’s face it, the numbers speak for themselves. In Evans’ eight UFC bouts, five have ended with a disputed outcome (i.e., split decision, majority decision or draw). Those outcomes were principally due to Evans’ inactivity in the first half of those fights. Yet, for long stretches in the second half of each bout, he demonstrated that he was clearly the better fighter.

That won’t work against Griffin.

The reigning Light Heavyweight Champion is one of the busiest fighters in the UFC, bar none. And much like the Energizer Bunny, Griffin’s pace does not slow in the later rounds. Against someone like Evans, who likes to start very cautiously until he feels comfortable with what his opponent brings to the table, Griffin should be able to build a large early lead on the scorecards, which will force Evans, assuming he continues his trend of starting slowly, to look for a homerun strike against one of the best chins in the division.

Not exactly the best strategy to win a title. Then again, I predicted Liddell to defeat Evans by knockout and both Bisping and Ortiz to beat him by decision, and we all know how those fights turned out.

Regardless, Evans should spend a little time enjoying the biggest win of his career, which was undoubtedly the knockout of the night, if not the year.

REBUILDING A CHAMPION

Liddell isn’t a happy camper right about now. No, I haven’t spoken with him since his devastating knockout loss, but it’s safe to assume that he is pretty devastated emotionally after suffering such a savage knockout loss. To compound the problem, the loss is Liddell’s third in his last four fights.

But that does not mean that he is finished as an elite UFC fighter -- far from it, in fact. It only means that Liddell needs to choose his next few opponents wisely and fully commit to his game plans. If he does that, there is no reason to believe that he won’t be sitting in a position to challenge for the title in 2009.

Think otherwise?

Randy Couture suffered a similar bad streak just a few years ago, dropping three of five fights before scoring a stunning upset victory over Tim Sylvia to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Now, after winning two in a row, he is viewed as one of the best heavyweights on the planet. Such is life in the “what have you done for me lately” sport of mixed martial arts.

All Liddell needs to do, therefore, is put together a couple of impressive wins and his intense popularity will all but demand that White grant him a title shot.

So, Liddell and his trainer/manager, the highly regarded John Hackleman, should sit down and carefully plot out their next two fights, and for my money, Rich Franklin is the perfect next opponent for several reasons.

First, he has tremendous name value, so a win helps reassert Liddell’s legend among casual fans. Second, he loves to stand and strike, though he does not possess truly devastating one-punch knockout power at 205 lbs. Thus, Liddell can stand and bang with him without the same concern of getting caught with a lottery winning punch like with some of the bigger strikers in the division (i.e., Rampage, Evans, Thiago Silva, etc.). Third, and most important, Franklin is an aggressive, come-forward fighter who is at his best when he is dictating the pace of the fight. Liddell, by contrast, is at his best when he is counterpunching.

A win over a guy like Franklin (assuming he can, in fact, beat him, which is no easy task) instantly puts the former 205-lb champion back on the doorstep of a title shot. Another loss or two could, however, mean the end of the road for the sport’s most popular figure.

FRANKLIN BACK HOME AT 205

After spending the better part of the last four years competing at middleweight, former champion Rich Franklin decided, with not so subtle prodding from UFC brass, to return to the light heavyweight division. And he did so in style, scoring a dramatic final-round knockout victory over Matt Hamill with a perfectly placed kick to the body.

Granted, Franklin is not by any means a large light heavyweight. Unlike colleagues such as Liddell and Rampage, who walk around at or over 225 lbs in between fights, Franklin must eat everything in sight to try and get his bodyweight within 10 lbs of that number.

Nevertheless, he looked tremendous in his light heavyweight return. He looked big and strong, despite his post-fight comments. His cardio did not seem to suffer at all. And he definitely seemed much quicker compared to his bigger foe than he did compared to the smaller guys at middleweight.

Franklin is something of a mad scientist, so it stands to reason that he will concentrate heavily on putting on more size and adding more strength before his next fight so that he has to actually cut a decent amount of weight to hit the division limit. If he is able to do that, I think that Franklin can be a contender in the division because he matches up favorably against many of the top guys at light heavy, though not necessarily against Liddell, as previously mentioned.

HENDERSON AND MARQUARDT SET THE STAGE FOR REMATCHES WITH SILVA

Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt have a lot in common.

Both are ultra skilled mixed martial artists, universally considered to be among the top five middleweights in the world. Both spent years honing their craft in Japan before returning to the United States to compete in the biggest MMA promotion in the world, the UFC. Both arrived in the UFC amidst championship expectations, though they each fell victim to the greatest fighter on the planet, pound for pound, Anderson Silva.

Last Saturday night, Henderson and Marquardt took significant steps toward securing championship rematches with Silva. Hendo did it by scoring a hard-fought, though clear cut, unanimous decision victory over the extremely dangerous Rousimar Palhares. ‘Nate the Great’ did it by stopping Martin Kampmann with strikes in less than 90 seconds.

Silva has other business to attend to in the near term – his October 25th title defense against Patrick Cote. Assuming Silva is successful against Cote, he will be faced with a choice: continue defending is middleweight title or convince White to grant him a shot at the 205-lb crown. Either way, it seems likely that either Hendo or Marquardt or both will be involved in a middleweight title fight in the next six to nine months.


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