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UFC 88: Evans is going down and he’s going down early

Rashad Evans is the heavyweight winner of the second season of “The Ultimate Fighter;” he has a strong pedigree as a former college wrestler; he trains with one of the best camps in the world at Greg Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, N.M.; and he’s undefeated with an 11-0-1 record.

He’s also going to lose in brutal fashion this weekend at UFC 88 against Chuck Liddell via first round TKO.

Evans fans will be up in arms when they read this but I’m not suggesting he’s not a good fighter. I’m simply making the case that he doesn’t have what it takes to defeat the former UFC light heavyweight champion.

Style-wise, Evans is tailor made for Liddell. During Liddell’s seven fight win streak that lasted from 2004-2006, he was matched up primarily against ground-based fighters that couldn’t pressure him in the standup. Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, and Jeremy Horn are all capable on their feet but they are all clearly better when it comes to the ground. Liddell not only handled them, but he handled them with relative ease.

Evans might be a good wrestler, but he’s not a great one. It’s also important to note that Liddell wrestled in college as well and while I am sure he hasn’t kept up with his mat skills, his wrestling-base was a big reason why he was able to perfect a sprawl that has made him nearly impervious to takedowns.

During Liddell’s big run, many experts felt the way to beat him was to get him off his feet and to put him on his back; that the way to end his reign of dominance was to expose his jiu-jitsu. Many fighters tried to take him down and many failed. Even if you look beyond Liddell’s two-year win streak and look at his entire career, he has only been submitted just once and that was way back at UFC 19 in 1999 vs. Horn.

Couture, Quinton Jackson, and Keith Jardine have shown us that the way to beat Liddell isn’t by trying to take him off his feet, it’s by pressuring him in the pocket and literally beating him to the punch. Personally, I am not sold on Evans’ striking. One well-timed, well-placed highlight reel high kick against Sean Salmon does not make you a lethal striker. Evans’ standup has improved, but not to the extent that he’s ready to trade shot-for-shot with Liddell.

And I’ve heard all the stories: Evans has worked harder than ever for this fight and is going to look leaner than we’ve ever seen him. Having a more impressive physique isn’t going to compensate for the reach disadvantage he’ll have when it comes to the standup. And Liddell showed us vs. Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79 last December what happens when you have shorter arms than him and try to slug it out.

What’s going to happen is that if Evans attempts to take Liddell down, he will find that his wrestling is not high-caliber enough to solve “The Iceman’s” sprawl. Liddell will keep it standing and at some point Evans will have no choice but to engage in the striking aspect of the fight. At that point, he will come up on the short end of the stick and find himself helplessly staring up at the lights towards the end of the first round courtesy of a Liddell overhand right.

It’s going to be Chuck Liddell circa 2006.

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