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UFC 88: Rashad Evans crashes the UFC’s New Year’s Eve party four months early

In one week the UFC gained a mega-main event of Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 91 while losing another mega-main event between Forrest Griffin vs. Chuck Liddell for the UFC light heavyweight title during the UFC’s annual New Year’s Eve weekend spectacular.

A proposed main event between two of the most beloved fighters in UFC history during the promotion’s biggest show of the year went up in smoke last night, possibly costing Zuffa tens of millions of dollars in the process. And they have Rashad Evans and his camp, Greg Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, N.M., to thank for that last night.

In a wise but boring strategy of refusing to pressure Liddell on his feet or attempt takedowns – which prompted fans at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta to boo on occasion – Evans circled Liddell frequently in order to stay out of range and avoid a knockout that the vast majority of MMA fans felt had been inevitable. In typical Liddell fashion, he did not take Evans’ bait and remained patient instead of wearing out his 38-year old body by chasing down his much younger opposition.

The two exchanged glancing blows briefly at times with each fighter catching the other on the way out as they disengaged. However, for the most part, the fight lacked any real action until Evans and Liddell both opened themselves up at 1:51 of round 2 with each prepared to unload. But it was Evans’ superior hand speed that allowed him to beat the former UFC light heavyweight champion to the punch, plastering Liddell’s chin with an overhand right that turned his head and sent him straight to the canvas.

Evans followed up the right hand by attempting to hit Liddell after he had fallen but referee Herb Dean jumped in and prevented what appeared to be an unconscious Liddell from absorbing any more damage. After the fight had been called to a stop, Liddell looked to have remained unconscious for several seconds afterwards, as he was laying on the mat completely motionless.

The knockout was about as undisputed of a conclusion to a fight as you will find. There was no way for even the most loyal Liddell fan to claim a flash knockout or a premature stoppage.

The result of Evans vs. Liddell coupled with the nature in which the fight came to an end will allow the main event for UFC 88 to join fights such as Mirko Cro Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga and Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Serra to go down as one of the most stunning upsets in the history of the UFC.

In shocking Liddell last night, Evans earned himself a shot at the UFC light heavyweight title. However, whether he’s actually granted that shot is hardly a given. The bottom line is that Griffin vs. Evans on the marquee of the UFC’s biggest event of the year doesn’t have the same ring to it as Griffin vs. Jackson II or Griffin vs. Silva (pick a Silva, any Silva). But even the most ardent Evans critic must acknowledge that the UFC has put many hurdles in front of Evans and he’s cleared them all.

High-profile wins over Liddell, Michael Bisping, Stephan Bonnar, along with a draw over Tito Ortiz have greatly enhanced Evans’ resume, which also includes a 12-0-1 record and the title of the heavyweight winner of season two of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

The concept of having winners from the first two seasons of the UFC’s greatest marketing vehicle face each other for the most prestigious title in MMA carries a lot of intrigue but it still might not have the gusto the promotion is seeking for its biggest show of the year.

With Liddell out of the picture for now, the UFC will have to choose an opponent for Griffin from a list that includes Lyoto Machida, Wanderlei Silva, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

Machida had been scheduled to face Thiago Silva at UFC 89 and appeared at least one more win away before being granted a light heavyweight title shot. Silva’s decision to pull out with a back injury is hardly cause to grant Machida a shot that the UFC essentially said he wasn’t already deserving of.

Having only made one single title defense before losing the belt to Griffin, Jackson does not have an obvious case for an immediate rematch.

And while Silva has had a remarkable career and has seen his profile in the U.S. increase greatly following a win over Keith Jardine in May at UFC 84, the fact of the matter is that he has still lost three of his last four fights and has just one win in the UFC since 1999.

Last night’s unplanned outcome could force the UFC to look at two unconventional options for Griffin on NYE weekend; one could involve Anderson Silva returning to 205 pounds if he’s able to beat Patrick Cote at UFC 90 on Oct. 25 and not take too much damage.

Bringing Silva back on such short notice might seem like a long shot, but the lure of a title shot might be too much to ignore and the fact that he would not have to cut a lot of fight makes a quick turnaround feasible. Knowing the UFC, they usually like to have more of a window to promote their main events than the turnaround between UFC 90 and NYE weekend would allow.

Of course, Tito Ortiz remains unsigned and holds a controversial win over Griffin. While he’s coming off a loss to Machida, Griffin vs. Ortiz II has a lot of marketing appeal. The chance to get Griffin a win over Ortiz should have some appeal to UFC President Dana White. And if Ortiz were to win the title, having him as champion would not be the worst thing in the world as it would create a possible rematch with Wanderlei Silva and a first-time matchup against friend and former training partner, Jackson.

However, when you break it all down, the least complicated scenario of them all might just be to match Griffin with Evans on Dec. 27. Whether Evans gets a light heavyweight invitation to the UFC’s annual New Year’s Eve weekend bash remains to be seen, but he certainly forced his way towards the front of the line with last night’s victory.

32 COMMENTS
  • saerbarnet says:

    Putting Ortiz who essentially isn’t even Top 15 LHW is just plain wrong.
    But I have to agree that last night caused some problems for the UFC.

  • Jeremy says:

    Well looks like the word coming from Zuffa is that Rashad is going to get the title shot against Forrest. I was certainly surprised with that. Last night I was thinking we’d see Rampage/Forrest II for NYE. I would have put Machida/Evans together on the same card for the next shot at the title.

  • G-DUB says:

    “Having only made one single title defense before losing the belt to Griffin, Jackson does not have an obvious case for an immediate rematch.”

    Really?? I guess an entertaining fight and a controversial decision doesn’t quite cut it huh. Off the result of last night’s show, Rampage IS most deserving of the shot …. and probably the most marketable fight as well.

    Also, no mention of Franklin in the mix?? How intriguing would a Griffin/Franklin matchup be at this point? VERY.

  • Jeremy says:

    I gotta agree with G-DUB, in the fact that the most marketable fight for the UFC to make is Griffin/Jackson. And many times that has a lot to do with who actually does get the title shot. It’s one of the reasons the UFC is scared of Machida getting a shot since he isn’t the most exciting fighter(although I love watching him fight).

  • matt says:

    The only reason Rampage/Forrest II wouldn’t work is with his pending sentencing, you can’t have a champ in jail. Forrest/Evans isn’t as bad as people think, the marketing is Winner of TUF1 vs. TUF2 and after last night, I do believe that Evans will be a draw. Outside of Chuck, the card wasn’t all that great as far as PPV draws go (Henderson and Franklin, as good as they are, aren’t PPV draws) so the amount of people who saw Evans decimate Liddell is huge.
    The New Years Matchup is a win-win for the UFC. Forrest wins? Status quo and you set up future fights with Silva, Soko, rematches with Shogun and Rampage, and Liddell (they’ll figure out a way to get this to happen). Evans wins? He’s now a major draw as he has wins over Chuck/Forrest and a controversial draw to Tito. That sets up brand new match ups.
    Joe Silva needs a replacement for Thiago Silva, and the best bet would be Shogun. Either get Shogun on the winning track and knock off Machida, or Machida gets his 4th HUGE win in a row (Nakamura, Soko, Tito being the other fights). Wand/Rampage would be huge (UFC 91 plz). Either way I’m excited for the future.

  • David says:

    Wasn’t the ref Herb Dean and not Yves Lavigne?

  • JBAR says:

    Machida vs Griffin for the belt and Rampage vs Evans in a #1 contender fight wouldn’t be bad. I would love to see Rampage and Evans, I think that would be an exciting fight. Rashad reminds me of Rampage minus a little experience.

  • Jeremy says:

    Oh and by the way, since I mentioned it before the fights last night and I am listening to Beatdown right now where they are talking about it, but I want to see Marquardt/Henderson.

  • JBAR says:

    That would be a great match. I would also like to see Henderson vs Franklin.

  • Jeff Allen says:

    nope, Rashad deserves the next title shot bottom line. One could even argue that forrest didn’t deserve the shot against Jackson, just for beating Rua (I don’t think he deserved it). Anthing short of a title shot makes the UFC belt system appear to be a rigged popularity contest. I mean it’s already bad enough that Lesnar got a shot. Rashad Evans is a great striker (legs and feet) and a great wrestler. He is undefeated, with big wins over big names. He’ll take Forrest down too.

  • Matt Cava says:

    good job of pointing out all the possible matchups. there are so many scenarios that could happen and most of them are exciting. while I’d like o see the #1 guy fight the #2 guy most of the time, I’m a bigger proponent of the most exciting matchup making it to the PPV.

    2009 is going to be a fun year in MMA.

  • JBAR says:

    Jeff, The same argument could be made for Machida. He is 13-0 and has 5 wins in the UFC. I personaly do not enjoy watching him fight but he did beat Tito where Rashad only managed a draw. If not for the point taken from Tito for grabbing the cage Tito wins.

  • sol says:

    well thought out article, I dont see a problem with putting Rashad in to be honest, it’s not like he won a boring decision like he usually does, he literally ktfo Chuck Lidell.

    When they wanted CroCop to get a crack at Randy they said if he wins he gets the shot, but Gonzaga knocked his block off, because the win came in such devastating fashion he was the obvious choice to continue with the promise.

    I think the Rashad came is similar and he should get the shot.

  • sol says:

    Also, with Rampage’s impending court hearing, you know the news articles would pick up on it during any promotion of his fight, it’s not the kind of bad press you want related to your biggest show.

  • JBAR says:

    I really want to know that Rampage has got his head on straight before he gets another shot at the title. Talk about bad PR if he was to win the title and then lose in court, his trip to jail would be all over the place on ESPN and the net.

  • JBAR says:

    If it is Forrest vs Rashad which one do we underestimate this time. Both of them have had fights where they were not given much of a chance and both have proven us wrong.

  • warcry says:

    Gents it is time to welcome in the new guard. Rashad, Forrest, Vera, Jardine, Machida, T. Silva. These are the stars of the Ufc going forward. They are all in the same division. IMO Machida deserves the title shot. I’m a Rashad fan but, Machida should get the nod because he has shown better finishing skills if you can view that destruction Rashad put on Chuck aside. Trust me that is damn near impossible. You gotta love this sport.

  • joetheacupuncturist says:

    i would love to see machida verses ace and the winner get the shot of the evens/forrest tittle fight

  • Davey D says:

    JBAR: I think you’re wrong about Evans/Ortiz. If Tito didn’t grab the cage twice, he would’ve been pounded out. Rewatch that fight. Those shananagin’s cost Rashad a TKO victory.

    After that brutal KO last night and still undefeated, Rashad gets a shot at Forrest in December. That is a very good sell and the best option for the UFC. I also believe Wand vs. Lyoto and Rampage vs. Shogun would be fine addition’s too.

    Chuck should really consider moving to HW permently. There are plenty of great fight’s for him there. He could reinvent himself in the process. It’d be tough but Chuck isn’t done by a long shot.

  • BoRocker says:

    Rashad came in last night and literally used Chucks game plan…and it worked. Chuck is known as a counter striker. He waits and when his opponent gets tired of stalking him and comes in hot he goes for the KO.

    Both men played that game last night…Evans just played it better. Chuck ran out of patience 1st and payed the ultimate price.

    DW announced in the early AM that Evans will indeed get the shot…well deserved IMO. Think about it….Putting PPV buys aside for a second and just looking at records the shot would have to go to Evans or Machida and with Evans just KTFO’ing a future Hall of Famer in truly devastating fashion it only makes sense that he (Evans) get the shot.

    As for Sams piece on the fight….I did not find it boring at all as I felt it obvious (as I am sure most educated fans did) that both fighters were waiting cocked and locked for the “big shot”. The anticipation was awesome cause you knew it was coming…You just didn’t know when.

    Props to both men for coming ready to hang & bang and putting one more KO on the highlight reel.

  • JBAR says:

    Davey D, Don’t get me wrong I like Rashad (even more after last night) I am just pointing out that Rashad had a draw with 1 point being taken from Tito and Machida won a UD. The split decision over Bisping doesn’t help either. I agree that Rashad probably wins without the fence grab but I have also seen multiple warnings before without a point being taken away. No point taken and Tito wins. I loved the fight last night, I hope we are seeing the evolution of Rashad and not just a 1 punch KO and reverting back to the old Rashad of close not so exciting fights.

  • Zantetzuken says:

    THE REF WAS Herb Dean.

  • jc says:

    These guys are competitors, among the best in the world, and they put their health on the line everytime they step into the octagon. Above our entertainment, above all other options, we must do what’s fair for the fighters. Evans vs. Griffin lacks the glitz of other fights and is not the fireworks we expected for the new-year but it’s the right thing to do.

  • KTru says:

    I think we saw that Rashad can adapt to different fighters. Sure he has plenty of decisions on his resume. But the game planning for Chuck shows he is evolving. As we speak

  • Ryan says:

    If the UFC has an issue with “losing millions of dollars” because a fight they put together didn’t have their desired outcome, then maybe they shouldn’t put these fights together, or count their chickens before they hatch. Rashad earned the fight with Chuck, and the victory. I wish him all the best with his title shot.

  • JOe K. says:

    Do a super fight between Ken Shamrock and Dan Severne. Then headline it with Tank Abbot vs. Mark Coleman or alternate Pat Smith.

    I should be the one deciding these match-ups.

  • dbess says:

    see what’d i say? Liddell would lose. He’s done, he’s getting too old and he doesn’t look hungry like he use to. You could say Liddell has become a 1 dimensional fighter by always trying to keep the fight standing. He needs to get with a new camp and find different strategies that work better for him.

  • Justin B says:

    You all were wrong. I was the only one on all the posts telling you Rashad was going to knock Chucks old ass out. He can only back peddle and look to counter so much before he has to bring the fight to his opponenet. He faced somebody who has some slick boxing skills and caught him. I fucking loved it.

  • James K. says:

    Sam,
    Your analysis is just stra-8 up dumb sometimes, the proposals you had at the end are illogical (Ortiz…for an immediate title shot); and for someone who is assumed to be at the forefront of MMA journalism, trust when I say they are at times like this undeserving.

  • Batman says:

    All I have to say is Lyoto Machida has got to be the most boring UFC fighter right now. i was honestly entertained by Evans highlight reel knockout of Chuck liddell and you can’t take that away from him.

  • Ben says:

    I’ved never seen someone be undefeated for so many fights before FINALLY getting a title shot. Evans has deserved this for a long time. I think Wanderlei should fight Machida and the winner will go on to face the winner of the title match. Evans vs Wanderlei would be a great fight.

  • Gavman says:

    Its a business, of course the boring fighters don’t get put in first. Evans and Machida both utilise retreat really well and wait for the counter shots, occasionally their fights are good but its much more interesting when fighters go out banging hard.

    That said, Forrest Vs Evans would be very interesting. They are both intelligent fighters who use good game plans to work their opponents.

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