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UFC 88: A new camp is the answer for Liddell, not retirement

Yes, I am the same clown who wrote an article this week titled Rashad Evans is going down and he’s going down early.” Right about now I should be eating some humble pie, correct?

Well, in the immortal words of Will Smith: Aw, hell no!

As arrogant as it sounds, I’m sorry folks but I’m not going to be eating anything today after Chuck Liddell’s devastating loss last night at UFC 88 in which he ate a huge overhand right by Evans.

The truth of the matter is, outside of Mauro Ranallo and David Andrest, I don’t know anyone who thought Evans had a shot. And in the case of Ranallo and Andrest, even a blind squirrel catches a nut sometimes. I kid, I kid. But a lot of the people who are going to respond to this thread and say “I told you so” are the some of the same people who felt Evans was going down in the first place.

To classify last night’s upset a shock would be an understatement. This was Mirko Cro Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga all over again; as the underdog not only won, but he did so by stealing his opponent’s signature move.

Liddell’s loss last night angered many fans and those frustrations are on display in many message forums right now. Many of these fans likely lost big money on Liddell and were already frustrated they couldn’t take advantage of the Yoshiyuki Yoshida vs. Karo Parisyan moneyline. Gamblers gripe. But that’s a story for another time.

But the angry mob doesn’t want to give Evans his just due because of the evasive nature he exhibited for much of the first round and first half of the second round. They are claiming Evans didn’t deserve to win. Well, I think that’s a bunch of hogwash. That’s the nature of fighting. Evans earned last night’s victory and deserves credit because he not only put his overhand right on Liddell’s chin, he left him sprawled out on the canvas. And in doing so left no doubt about whether the fight had reached it’s conclusion.

So I fully acknowledge Evans deserved to win last night. However, at the risk of sounding like Georges St. Pierre, aside from that overhand right, I was not impressed with his performance. What we saw last night was a page ripped out of Lyoto Machida’s playbook. It was counter-fighting at its finest without the countering from Evans until Liddell opened himself up like the red sea and granted safe passage to Evans’ right fist.

Sorry, but I’m supposed to acknowledge that Evans is a threat as a striker after one high kick executed on Sean Salmon and one overhand right in which Liddell not only gift-wrapped his chin for Evans, but presented it to him on the proverbial silver platter? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed last night’s show and the main event made for great theater, but Liddell should have won that fight. Liddell gave it away much like he gave the fight away to Evans’ teammate, Keith Jardine, last September.

There are those who are going to claim “Liddell is overrated” or “Liddell is finished and needs to retire” but I am not subscribing to those theories. I have a much different explanation for what happened last night and I’m sure I will take heat for it. As someone who has never fought professionally, I supposedly don’t have the fighting credentials to play “Sunday Morning Quarterback.”

Oh well, I don’t care.

The conclusion I have come to is that Liddell doesn’t need to retire but instead needs a new camp. He needs a new approach that John Hackleman and “The Pit” can’t provide him. A lot of the mistakes we saw from Liddell last night are the same mistakes we saw in losses to Randy Couture, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Jardine. Why Liddell has not improved as a fighter in recent years is partially his fault and partially the fault of his trainer.

By UFC fighting standards, Liddell does not have the best chin in the world. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he has a glass jaw, but I don’t see how anyone can deny the fact that Liddell has proven to be knockout prone at times. With that said, why does he keep exposing his chin so much? Yes, anytime you throw a power shot you’re going to expose your face, but it just seems like Liddell telegraphs what’s coming and that an attentive fighter that’s willing to watch hours of tape can easily spot Liddell’s tell and time him up. I’d like to call Evans’ shot heard around the world last night a lucky punch, but I am willing to wager he knew what was coming. What happened last night wasn’t pure luck, it was good scouting.

While Evans didn’t mimic Jardine’s gameplan, it looked like Greg Jackson installed some of the same ideas such as attacking Liddell’s lead leg and focusing on foot work in order to control the distance between the two. You would think that Liddell’s camp would anticipate this and make some adjustments? But while Liddell looked to be in great physical condition last night, I just don’t feel like he was tactically prepared for the fight. Why does Liddell continue to expose his lead leg to cut kicks more than any fighter in existence? If someone walked into an MMA camp and exhibited such a wide base in their stance such as the one exhibited by Liddell, they would be corrected right away. But Liddell continues to not only give up his leg, he refuses to check kicks.

Listen, Liddell doesn’t need to hang it up, he just needs a good Muay Thai instructor.

And while we know that Liddell might be able to hit harder backpedaling than any human known to man, he might not be the fighter we think he is when it comes to fighting forward. Evans’ back last night was against the cage two times and instead of advancing and applying pressure, Liddell allowed him to circle out of range. Again, that’s where a good Muay Thai instructor would have done Liddell some good. He could have shot the gap and tried to clinch up with Evans and put his back on the cage and delivered knees and maybe a couple of uppercuts or hooks that might have put Evans on Queer Street (is there such a street?).

The secret on how to fight Liddell is out and while my little essay earlier in the week breaking down the fight has proven to be a total joke, I was right about one thing: the way to beat Liddell isn’t by trying to take him down and burning yourself out, it’s by standing with him and testing his chin. Evans acknowledged this in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan and it was almost as if he read what I had written verbatim. Am I clairvoyant? No. I just pointed something out that’s become obvious to a lot of people. But instead of staying one step ahead, Liddell is one step behind and has not made a single alteration to his awkward punching style in which he throws shots from crazy angles that makes it difficult for him to bring his hands back and protect his chin.

Liddell needs to evolve as a fighter and adjust. I’m likely wasting my breath as it would be be naive to think someone as loyal as him would just up and turn his back on “The Pit” after all these years. And at 38, Liddell is probably set in his ways. The style he is using now at one time earned him a UFC light heavyweight title and made him one of the most feared punchers alive. Success breeds content. Finding a winning formula in life isn’t easy and when you do find the recipe for success, there can be a fear of trying to deviate what got you where you are today. But to use another cliche, you can either change with the times or allow time to pass you by. Randy Couture is 44 and isn’t the same fighter he was four years ago, let alone 10 years ago. He is constantly changing his strategy and implementing new technique instead of being stubborn.

In martial arts, there are no more masters. You don’t reach that mythical place where you reach an apex and mastered all there is to know. Martial arts has evolved more in the last 15 years than it had in the previous 100. Things are changing constantly in martial arts thanks to MMA, as competitive fighters are always looking for an answer to a problem.

Even the best must continue to push themselves and continue to learn in order to stay on top. Liddell needs to make some changes and while I am sure I’ll experience a backlash from some for questioning his training, I’m just calling it like I see it. I’m not suggesting “The Pit” isn’t a great place to train; I’m just suggesting that Liddell might want to broaden his horizons and incorporate some new ideas into his routine before he’s no longer relevant in this sport.

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