Let’s take a look at the fights for UFC 88 in Atlanta.
The UFC finds themselves in an interesting position going into this weekend. Typically, a card featuring a Chuck Liddell fight would be highly anticipated, simply because of Liddell’s popularity. The announcement of Randy Couture’s title defense against Brock Lesnar for November, however, is the only fight on the minds of fans at the moment, and it’s still two months away.
This card is still important in two respects: Chuck Liddell can earn a shot at Forrest Griffin with a win in this fight, and Rousimar Palhares has a chance to move very high in the middleweight division rankings with a good win over Dan Henderson. Outside of those two fights, this is a show that doesn’t really contain any must-see moments, especially when compared to the superfights coming in late 2008 and early 2009.
My divisional and pound for pound fighter rankings are included in parentheses.
CHUCK LIDDELL (4, 7 P4P) VS. RASHAD EVANS (7)
Make no mistake about it: while it may not be billed as such, this fight is a number one contender fight for Liddell. A victory over Evans will result in Liddell taking on Forrest Griffin for the light heavyweight title in one of the biggest fights available in the division. Dana White and Joe Silva learned a harsh lesson in 2007: when you have a potentially huge fight, you make the fight immediately. You don’t try to build a fighter up and give him easy wins over tomato can opponents, because there’s a good chance that the tomato can will throw a wrench in your plans.
Chuck Liddell is 1-2 in his last three fights; he lost the belt to Rampage Jackson and suffered a defeat to Keith Jardine in the next fight. Last December, however, the “real” Liddell returned to form in a fantastic, hard-fought victory over Wanderlei Silva. He was scheduled to take on Mauricio Shogun Rua this past summer, but suffered an injury and had to pull out of the fight. Shogun had already pulled out, and the fine folks over in England were treated to a Michael Bisping main event.
“Sugar” Rashad Evans is a 28 year old undefeated fighter with strong wrestling skills. The most notable victory of his career came over Michael Bisping last November, a fight he won with a split decision. Prior to that, he’d gone to a draw with Tito Ortiz in one of the most boring fights imaginable, and also scored a brutal head kick KO over journeyman Sean Salmon.
Evans is a very strong wrestler, but Chuck Liddell’s takedown defense is among the best in the business. Liddell excels against grapplers with weak striking skills, and Evans is definitely lacking in the stand up department. He does come from the same camp as Keith Jardine, who outpointed Chuck on the road to a victory, but Liddell wasn’t mentally prepared for that fight at all.
Simply put, this fight was made for Chuck to score a dramatic KO victory and earn a big money title shot against Forrest Griffin in either December or January. That’s exactly what I see happening, and I’m predicting a TKO victory in the first round for Liddell.
PREDICTION: Chuck Liddell by TKO, Round 1
RICH FRANKLIN (UNRANKED) VS. MATT HAMILL (UNRANKED)
Rich Franklin hasn’t fought in the light heavyweight division since beating Ken Shamrock there in 2005, but he makes his return to the division now after realizing that he’s not going to get another shot at Anderson Silva, the middleweight champion who has brutally destroyed him in 2 straight fights. The unfortunate thing for Franklin is that Silva is now fighting at 205 as well, which is probably very frustrating for Franklin.
Matt Hamill is a strong and decorated wrestler who is also deaf. The most notable fight of his career was a controversial split decision loss to Michael Bisping, a fight that many (myself included) thought Hamill won.
Thus far in his short career, Hamill hasn’t proved that he has more tools than just wrestling. And while wrestling is the most important base to have in MMA, it’s not the only tool you’ll need to beat someone like Rich Franklin. Franklin has a good standup game and a very good ground game, and I think he’s going to overwhelm Hamill in this fight. Franklin might not be able to finish the fight, but I think he’ll do enough to score a unanimous decision.
PREDICTION: Rich Franklin by unanimous decision
DAN HENDERSON (3) VS. ROUSIMAR PALHARES (UNRANKED)
I believe this is the fight where we’ll see our first upset of the night. Dan Henderson has a very good striking game, but his strength is and has always been his wrestling. The problem is that Palhares is one of the most dynamic submission wizards in the world, a master BJJ technician who can submit an opponent from just about any position on the ground. Henderson will want to keep this fight standing, because taking it to the ground means giving Palhares a chance to finish him at a moment’s notice.
Henderson is the betting favorite going into this fight, but I’m predicting the upset. Henderson won’t be able to use his wrestling skills effectively because of the danger Palahares can put him in while on the ground. When your best skill is taken away from you, it’s hard to score a victory, which is why I’m predicting Palhares by submission in this fight.
PREDICTION: Rousimar Palhares by submission, Round Two
KARO PARISYAN (8) VS. YOSHIYUKI YOSHIDA (UNRANKED)
Yoshida is making only his second UFC appearance, but he has plenty of cage experience. His first UFC win came at the expense of War Machine, the man formerly known as Jon Koppenhaver. He’s also a judo player, which means Parisyan won’t be enjoying the throw advantage that he normally does when facing non-judo guys.
Karo is not a finisher, and I believe that’s going to hurt him in this fight. Yoshida has proven quite adept at finishing people, whether it’s by TKO or submission, and I think he’s going to beat Parisyan in this fight. Karo is a good fighter, but until he learns to finish people off, he’s going to be in constant danger from guys who CAN finish.
PREDICTION: Yoshiyuki Yoshida by TKO, Round Two
NATE MARQUARDT (8) VS. MARTIN KAMPMANN (7)
I love Martin Kampmann as a fighter, but he’s going to get overwhelmed in this bout. Kampmann has a fantastic striking game, but Marquardt’s standup game is good enough to negate any advantage Kampmann would normally have while standing. Marquardt will have a significant size advantage, and his all around skillset is too much for Kampmann to handle. I think Marquardt will use his tools to ride out a boring decision, which is great for his record but not great for his prospects of another shot at Anderson Silva.
PREDICTION: Nate Marquardt by decision