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Main Event Breakdown: Liddell vs. Evans

Michael DiSanto, UFC - On Saturday night, the quintessential battle of old versus new will take place at Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

Chuck Liddell is an iconic former champion who is just a hop, skip and a jump from entering his fifth decade of life...

By Michael DiSanto

On Saturday night, the quintessential battle of old versus new will take place at Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

Chuck Liddell is an iconic former champion who is just a hop, skip and a jump from entering his fifth decade of life. There is no question that ‘The Iceman’ is firmly in the second half of an illustrious career, and prior to his December bout with former PRIDE champion Wanderlei Silva, many thought he was on the downside of it after suffering his fifth career loss.

The win over Silva, however, was one of the most thrilling, intense bouts of Liddell’s 10-year UFC career. It was enough to erase the memories of his losses to ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Keith Jardine, though it wasn’t enough to quell talks of Liddell starting to lose the battle against Father Time. A win over a rising star like Rashad Evans would end those talks, at least for the short-term.

To score such a victory, Liddell needs to get back to his roots and rely on what made him great—remaining patient while he uses angles and an active jab to create openings for his concussive right hand.

As mentioned in previous breakdowns, Liddell stands with a bit of an unorthodox stance for a kickboxer, keeping his shoulders very square to his opponent most of the time. He does this principally to defend against takedown attempts.

Accordingly, he must whip his punches a bit (in other words, allowing them to trail his hips a bit more than someone who stands in a traditional boxing stance) to create maximum torque and power. The end result is a right hand thrown from the outside with a bit of an over the top arc, instead of delivering an Anderson Silva-like power shot right down the pipe.

The negative of Liddell’s style of delivering power blows is that the punch needs to travel just a bit farther to reach its target compared to a short, compact power punch down the middle.

Opponents with exceptional reflexes, such as Jackson and Jardine, were able to react to Liddell’s incoming missiles by slipping ever so slightly to the right or left to avoid taking the full brunt of the blow. Evans has equally sharp reflexes, so Liddell cannot just stand in the pocket and fire right hands haphazardly. Instead, he must to find a way to disguise his shots if he wants to score a knockout.

That is where the jab comes in. Any fighter, regardless of experience, cannot help but focus on the shot slamming into his face at the expense of the focusing on the one coming shortly thereafter. That is a natural human instinct because nobody enjoys getting hit, despite macho comments to the contrary. A quick, active jab will prevent Evans from anticipating and slipping the right hand with any sort of consistency because he will be too focused on defending the jab.

At that point, Liddell can step to his right to quickly reset the angle. With Evans still preoccupied with defending the jab, Liddell can fire his weapon of mass destruction before Evans realizes it is on the way. All Liddell needs to do is land one of those squarely on the target to bring the fight to a sudden end.

While Liddell is an aging former champion fighting to regain the championship he once held so proudly, Rashad Evans is just now entering the prime of his career with the hope of someday soon forging ahead with his first title challenge. A decade younger than his foe, ‘Sugar’ was trying to break into the sport when Liddell was competing against guys like Jackson, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz. By the time an undefeated Evans made his UFC debut on November 5, 2005, Liddell was already in the midst of his legendary championship run.

Three years later, Evans still sports an impressive ‘0’ in the loss column. Nevertheless, in his last two bouts, Evans lacked the much of the swagger that had become his trademark during his brief UFC career. The result was less than convincing outcomes in those two bouts—a draw against former champion Tito Ortiz and a close decision victory over fellow TUF winner Michael Bisping.

Regardless, the fact remains that Evans’ undefeated professional record puts him in rare company in the UFC. And a decisive win over Liddell would certainly be enough to justify UFC president Dana White choosing Sugar as the opponent for Forrest Griffin’s inaugural 205-lb title defense.

In order to beat Liddell, Evans must set a torrid pace and use his unorthodox style to land a big counterpunch early.

It is no secret that Liddell’s 39th birthday is right around the corner, and it is even less of a secret that as fighters age, they begin to lose their cardiovascular conditioning.

Accordingly, Evans should come out on his bicycle and set the pace by throwing a lot of punches in bunches in an effort to chip away at Liddell’s gas tank. Evans should test Liddell’s legs early by employing a lot of lateral movement while he keeps his hands busy.

Liddell may be one of the most intimidating forces that the sport has ever known, but nobody, not even Liddell, is immune to self-doubt. Early in his bout against Jardine, Liddell came out with what appeared to be a complete lack of respect for his foe’s skills, leading with big power punches in search of a quick knockout. That changed when a Jardine right hand found its mark, temporarily dropping Liddell to the canvas and forever altering the momentum and the outcome of the fight.

Afterwards, Jardine stated that he wanted to use a lot of unorthodox head movement and angles to cause Liddell to miss and then make him pay with a counter power shot. He was able to do just that once he got his sea legs under him in the opening minutes of the fight. Jardine should try and take a page out of that same book on Saturday night.

Evans, much like Jardine, is not the cleanest, most polished striker in the UFC, but he is an extremely effective one due to his athleticism and unorthodox style. The former Michigan State University wrestler is at his best when he is darting in and out in an attempt to bait his opponent into throwing a sloppy punch so that he can fire big counter shots in search of a takedown.

Facing a guy like Liddell, who arguably has the best takedown defense in the sport, Evans should forget trying to set up takedowns, opting instead to use his unorthodox lateral and head movement to somehow find an open throwing window where he is out of harm’s way, and then fire a fight-altering counterpunch laced with bad intentions.

If Evans can land such a counterpunch early in the fight, it may cause a sense of déjà vu for Liddell, bringing him right back to the Jardine fight, one he lost by split decision. Once opponents become frustrated with the unorthodox Evans, he becomes more and more effective.

Notice that there was no talk of takedowns when breaking down Evans’ keys to victory. Evans would certainly love take this fight to the ground early and often, but that just isn’t going to happen, barring some unusual circumstance, so he will be forced stand and kickbox with Liddell.

Unfortunately for Evans, that may be a recipe for disaster against Liddell, who is far more dangerous on his feet than anyone the unbeaten contender has faced to date. Then again, Evans has that “0” on his record for a reason, and as Liddell admitted on a recent teleconference, the New York native always finds a way to win, making this Saturday’s bout yet another intriguing clash in the career of ‘The Iceman’.