Wednesday, October 13, 2010

UFC 88 Flashback: Rashad Evans Earns Respect

By Ross Everett

Rashad Evans was fighting for respect. He earned it and then some with a devastating 2nd round TKO of Chuck Liddell in the main event of UFC 88: Breakthrough.

If Evans needed any more validation of how little respect he was getting, he could have taken a look at the UFC's text message prediction poll of the main event which favored The Iceman by a whopping 81% to 19% margin. Or he could have listened to the UFC announcers, who had all but penciled Liddell in for a return to light heavyweight title contention after his inevitable victory. Still, Evans never whined about being disrespected as is commonplace among professional athletes in the stick and ball sports. He let his fists do the talking and with a perfectly placed overhand right will likely never have to worry about a lack of respect again.

From the opening horn, Evans showed no fear of Liddell's once legendary power. Instead, he danced and moved (which was dumbly criticized as showboating by the UFC announce team), using his slick footwork and speed to dart in and out of range of Liddell's punches. In the process, he was able to use his superior handspeed to get off first. His punches weren't exactly highlight reel power shots at this point, but were nonetheless effective as evidenced by a cut opened under Liddell's eye. For his part, Liddell scored with a few shots of his own, but was clearly frustrated by the evasiveness of his opponent.

Evans highlight reel power shot was to come in the 2nd round. Liddell backed Evans up near the cage wall and went to throw an uppercut. Simultaneously, Evans responded with an overhand right that landed quicker, harder and more accurately. The perfectly placed punch knocked Liddell out cold. Evans' KO was one of the most devastating in the history of the sport, and made all the more so by the status of the man on the receiving end.

Rashad Evans raised his record to 17-0-1, with the lone blemish a draw against Tito Ortiz at UFC 73. Liddell, meanwhile, saw his record drop to 21-6"with three of those six losses coming in his last 4 fights.

Liddell's loss notwithstanding, it was a good night for UFC veterans as Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson won their fights in impressive fashion. Franklin looked particularly sharp in dismantling tough Matt Hamill, eventually prevailing by 3rd round TKO. Hamill had trouble getting inside for the takedown he needed to compete in the bout, and every time he closed the distance he was met with a barrage of Franklin punches and kicks. Franklin employed leg kicks early on, which obviously hurt Hamill's ability to shoot for takedowns and ended the bout with a perfectly placed body kick that had Hamill doubled up and tapping out even as Mario Yamasaki covered the prone fighter.

This was the UFCs first trip to Atlanta and despite a good attendance the crowd itself was somewhat disappointing. In a marked contrast to the knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans at the Target Center in Minneapolis for UFC 87"arguably the best MMA crowd ever at a US venue"the live crowd at Phillips Arena often acted as if they were at a taping of Georgia Championship Wrestling.

More problematic was the crowds utter lack of respect for the fighters postfight. Poor Dong Hyun Kim was booed during his postfight interview like he was Professor Toru Takana cutting a heel promo on Mr. Wrestling 2 after winning the Georgia Heavyweight Title by throwing salt in his opponents eyes while the referee was distracted. Not quite the respect that a 4th degree judo black belt whod just won a very tough fight deserves. Kim's treatment by the fans cant be written off as a reaction to a close split decision victory; Rashad Evans was booed after his victory over Liddell, and short of decapitating 'The Iceman' there was no way his win could have been more decisive.

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