UFC 88: Breakdown, predictions and more
With UFC 88 on the horizon, I decided to break down the top three fights with one of my favorite MMA media-types, author and Fightline.com editorial columnist Kelly Crigger.
Chuck Liddell vs. Rashad Evans
Kelly -- If you’re looking for a classic "Iceman" knockout, this won’t be the fight to watch. Evans should be nicknamed "The Neutralizer" because he is so talented at identifying his opponent’s strengths and rendering them impotent. However, he still lacks the ability to do much more than that and is known for grinding out a fight to a decision. Against a striker like Liddell, Evans is good at moving his head so it doesn't get hit and he can take a punch when it does. But his counter-striking is only average and against Liddell, it will need to be top shelf. Evans was also gun-shy against Tito [Ortiz] and will probably be the same when "The Iceman" stands in front of him. If he manages a takedown, Chuck will use those slippery hips to pop back up and pepper him the same way he did to Wanderlei [Silva], but only with half-hearted shots instead of those patented bombs since Evans is so elusive. I see Chuck pummeling Evans the same way he did against Wanderlei, but I think a decisive win will elude him again.
Mark -- Wow, that was depressing to read. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the fight you’re describing. Liddell really needs this win and he looked good against Wanderlei Silva when his back was against the wall. After his loss to [Keith] Jardine, there was plenty of talk of a potential retirement and a number of people questioning his commitment. Then he came out and had a terrific slugfest with Silva. I feel like Liddell should still have his back against the wall in this fight. Evans is a capable fighter, but not one that should be too tough for Liddell to handle. With a title shot looming on the horizon, I’m sure Liddell’s focus won’t even be a question here. With the money that could be made on the Liddell vs. Griffin fight, followed by a Liddell vs. Anderson Silva or a Liddell vs. Couture match, I’m sure the UFC is trying to keep "The Iceman" focused on the task at hand. To me, that should be enough to neuter "The Neutralizer" and come out with a win. Evans can move well and should try to take this fight to the ground, but I think Liddell will catch him and knock him out in the second.
Kelly -- Liddell vs. Couture IV? Please don’t subject us to that, Dana!
Dan Henderson vs. Rousimar Palhares
Kelly -- I don’t see how this fight can do "Hollywood" Henderson any good. The man who once held two Pride belts and was considered the top middleweight in the world has come crashing down off his pedestal and is taking on a virtual unknown (Palhares) whose claim to fame is arm-barring Ivan Salaverry into retirement. The guy is so unknown that except for the Salaverry submission, impressive in its own right, I’m not sure what other skills he has. Of his eight wins, six are by submission. It doesn’t take a Jessica Simpson-type genius to figure out his game plan. Style-wise, it’s a wrestler against a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guy, so I expect to see Henderson on top working his ground-and-pound while Palhares stays on the bottom looking for a submission. In the end, I’m going to pick Dan by third-round technical knockout because his experience is ten times what Palhares brings and he’s proven he can defeat a grappler, unless their last name is Silva or Nogueira.
Mark -- I’m sure if Jessica Simpson was breaking down this fight she would think an arm bar is something that’s connected to her “elbow bone” and that a triangle choke is slang for a kid who performs poorly on math tests. Still, I think she could figure out what Palhares will do. On paper, it would seem like Henderson’s ground-and-pound should be enough to finish off the younger, less-experienced fighter, but I’m going with Palhares in the upset. He’s dangerous and I think Henderson can get sloppy at times. Every good card needs one noticeable upset and it isn’t coming in the Franklin vs. Hamill fight.
Rich Franklin vs. Matt Hamill
Kelly -- Everyone wants to give Hamill the edge on the ground because of his wrestling background, but let’s not forget that Rich Franklin has nine submissions to his name. Granted, he hasn’t pulled one off against a high-profiled fighter or accomplished one since 2004, but he’s no slouch when the fight transitions to the mat. He stopped Travis Lutter’s takedowns cold. The question in my mind is how he'll perform at 205 pounds, a full twenty pounds heavier than he’s ever fought. His punches will probably be a nanosecond slower, not a problem against an inexperienced guy like Hamill, but a body-size adjustment nonetheless. As crisp as Hamill was against Michael Bisping (a fight he should have won), it also showed his immaturity as a fighter. He stood and traded blows with Bisping and never once even threatened a takedown. Big mistake. Just one takedown might have swayed the judges' decision and Hamill would still be undefeated. This one is close, but I have to go with "Ace" Franklin.
Mark -- I don’t think this one will be as close as many think. The move up in weight should affect Franklin's fight and when I talked to Franklin he said it may be more of an issue if the fight goes longer. It takes a superior fighter to defeat Franklin and while Hamill is very good in my eyes (let’s face it, his loss to Bisping was a joke even if he didn’t have the smartest plan of attack), he’s not elite. Not yet at least. While Franklin does give up a little weight, he should be a little quicker and his striking will be too much for Hamill. I really like Hamill’s upside, but I think this is a bad fight for both fighters. Hamill certainly has the tools to defeat Franklin and could take the decision if he fully utilized his wrestling. I don’t think he will though and "Ace" will come away with a convincing win against an up-and-comer.
The fight to watch -- Nate Marquardt vs. Martin Kampmann
Kelly -- This will either be severe fireworks or severe disappointment on the level of Marcus Davis and Mike Swick (Holy underwhelming fight Batman! I hate it when fans boo, but the lay 'n' pray tactic that Swick used in that one was well deserved). I think this will be the opposite. Marquardt is pissed after his loss on a foul that he didn’t commit at UFC 85 against Thales Leites. He’s going to come out looking for a decisive win and decide to strike with Kampmann instead of go to his specialty, the ground game. Only problem is he’ll eventually run into the formidable weaponry of the only guy who deserves the overused nickname "Hitman." Although he’s only been TKO'd once, Marquardt’s striking isn’t as crisp as Kampmann’s and since he’s coming in ready to fight, I’m predicting he walks into a knockout in the second round.
Mark -- Great, you just had to bring up something like the Davis vs. Swick fight. Now this one is destined to go the lame route. The last thing we need is more lay 'n' pray (unless it’s being used as a birth control measure). I actually feel Marquardt will take advantage of his ground game but will work in a decent amount of striking as well. I really think he will overwhelm Kampmann, but I agree that it could be one heck of a fight.
Kelly Crigger is a freelance MMA writer and author of "Title Shot: Into the Shark Tank of Mixed Martial Arts", which is available on Amazon.com.