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UFC 88: Breakthrough review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on May 26, 2009, 10:04 AM

UFC 88: Breakthrough

Atlanta, Georgia

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

-This was the UFC’s first trip back to Georgia since UFC 13 in May 1997, a period when practically all of the UFC’s shows were in the Deep South. Amazing how far things have come, eh?

Welterweight Fight: Ryo Chonan vs Roan Carneiro

Originally scheduled for June’s UFC 85 but postponed when Chonan injured himself, this was a rematch from a fight the two had in Japan’s DEEP promotion back in 2005. Chonan had won that fight on a cut stoppage and Carneiro was out for revenge, and also wanted to erase the memories of his awful loss to Kevin Burns earlier in 2008.

They exchange kicks to open the first round before Carneiro looks for a takedown and ends up pulling guard. Carneiro shows good control from his back, preventing the Japanese fighter from doing any damage, and he also does a good job of avoiding being pinned into the fence. Triangle attempt from Carneiro follows, and he transitions into an oma plata. Chonan gets a knee in to defend, and then rolls, but this allows Carneiro to gain top position in side mount. Carneiro controls him and then looks to step to full mount, but Chonan gets a butterfly guard in and kicks the Brazilian away. Carneiro gets back on top in half-guard and lands some nice elbows and punches from there. He works to pass, but Chonan does a nice job of locking down on the leg to retain half-guard. Elbow from Carneiro cuts Chonan above the right eye though. Chonan scrambles and works to his feet, but Carneiro lands a combo as they break off. Takedown attempt by Carneiro but Chonan stuffs it this time, and Carneiro drops to his knees and keeps trying to get him down. They end up clinched momentarily and then Chonan breaks, and misses an odd hopping kick. Couple of right hand counters land for Carneiro and then Chonan swings into the clinch to end. Good opening round and I’d score it 10-9 for Carneiro I think.

2nd round and Chonan opens with a couple of body kicks. Carneiro goes down off a punch, but it looked more like a slip than a knockdown to me, and Chonan ends up on top in the Brazilian’s guard. Chonan manages to posture up to land some solid shots from the top, as Carneiro tries to control him to prevent that from happening. Chonan stands, and manages to avoid some upkicks while landing kicks of his own to the legs and a couple of rights over the top. The Piranha ends up back in the guard where Carneiro answers with some elbows from the bottom. Carneiro looks to roll for an armbar from the bottom, but he can’t lock it up as the fence gets in his way a little, and Chonan remains on top. Chonan continues to grind away with short elbows and punches, not doing that much damage, but he’s racking up points and clearly winning the round. End of the round sees Chonan posture up a little more to land some cleaner blows. Chonan 10-9, so this is anyone’s fight.

Between rounds we see Mayhem Miller in Chonan’s corner and JZ Cavalcante in Carneiro’s; man would I like to see both of those guys in the UFC some time soon.

Final round then, and they exchange some strikes briefly before Carneiro shoots for a takedown. Chonan goes down for a second but then uses the cage to get to his feet, and he ends up on top after a botched sweep attempt. Chonan gets a front facelock and lands some knees to the body with Carneiro kneeling up by the fence, and then they stand in a clinch. Break and Carneiro gets a good takedown off a low kick, into Chonan’s guard. Carneiro passes to half-guard and lands a few punches and hammer fists, but Chonan works back to a full guard. More punches from Carneiro and he passes to half-guard again, landing a good hammer fist from there. Ryo tries to use the fence to stand, and does so, ending up inside the clinch again, and from there he breaks off. Left hook from Chonan and he sprawls to avoid a takedown, getting on top in Carneiro’s guard and the Brazilian looks tired now. Chonan tries to land some punches from the guard, but doesn’t really do much damage although he ends the round on top.

Difficult fight to score, but I think Carneiro did the most damage in the third round with his ground-and-pound, so I’d give it to him 29-28.

Judges score it a split decision, 29-28 Chonan, 29-28 Carneiro and 29-28 for Chonan. Really close fight though so I don’t think Carneiro can claim a robbery or anything. Fight had a couple of slower moments but overall it was a perfectly acceptable opener, albeit not outstanding or anything, mainly because neither guy really pulled ahead and proved themselves the definitive winner.

Middleweight Fight: Jason MacDonald vs Jason Lambert

Lambert had lost his previous two fights at LHW and was dropping to 185lbs for the first time for this fight, which is an interesting move as really outside of his height he never struck me as a small 205lbs. Funnily enough his original opponent had been Jason Day, but when he was injured, MacDonald stepped in and kept everyone’s dreams of a Jason vs. Jason fight alive.

Physically Lambert looks not much different from how he did at 205lbs which is interesting. Touch of gloves to begin and MacDonald comes out very aggressively, tagging Lambert with some punches before getting a takedown. Lambert catches him in a guillotine, but he’s only got half-guard and MacDonald doesn’t look in deep trouble, working to free his head. Big pop for the submission escape which impresses Rogan. Lambert quickly works back to full guard as MacDonald chops away at the body with some punches. Few good elbows land for MacDonald but for the most part the action is slow here, and this is a seriously patient crowd as I haven’t heard anything resembling booing yet. Lambert keeps looking to go for a submission from his back, but doesn’t really commit to anything and MacDonald continues to grind away on him. With seconds remaining Lambert catches him in a REALLY deep guillotine though, and MacDonald has to grit his teeth and manages to survive the round without tapping or passing out. I’d actually be tempted to give the round to Lambert for that guillotine actually as MacDonald didn’t do much damage from the top despite staying there throughout the round.

Second round and they exchange some WILD punches to open, just swinging freely, before MacDonald decides to tackle him to the ground. Lambert gets half-guard and looks to control the Canadian, but MacDonald gets a beautiful pass to full mount. Lambert rolls and gives his back, and MacDonald immediately slaps on a body triangle. Lambert looks in trouble here, taking some deep breaths, and sure enough MacDonald gets a rear naked choke in tightly and Lambert has to tap.

Really impressive performance from MacDonald, especially when you consider that Lambert beat the likes of Babalu at 205lbs. Disappointing for Lambert though and with three losses on the bounce, this was his final UFC appearance to date. Hard to believe how far the guy’s fallen really when you remember he was ranked by many in the top ten at LHW in like early 2007. Fight was solid if unspectacular, with a very nice finish for MacDonald.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Tim Boetsch vs Michael Patt

Jorge Gurgel student Patt was a late replacement for Boetsch’s original opponent James Lee, and brought in a solid record of 12-2. He hadn’t really fought any UFC calibre opponents though and so most people, myself included, saw him as a sacrificial victim to the Barbarian, who had been impressive against Matt Hamill before gassing out due to the altitude in Colorado.

Round One and Patt opens with a leg kick and avoids an early clinch. Boetsch catches him with a nasty right hand and then an uppercut, and Patt decides to close the distance and clinches. Boetsch muscles free and throws a kick, but Patt catches it and tries a takedown. Boetsch avoids though and backs up. Good one-two from Boetsch and they clinch up again and exchange knees before Boetsch breaks. Good leg kick from Patt as they exchange strikes, but Boetsch looks like the looser fighter standing. Patt throws another leg kick, but this time Boetsch counters with a BIG RIGHT HAND that flattens Patt, and some heavy punches on the ground finish things off.

Right hand for the finish was brutal; replays show Patt’s eyes roll back into his head as it connected and Boetsch did not mess around in finishing things off. Patt was most likely overmatched as a guy taking the fight on short notice, but this was another good finish for the Barbarian and he certainly lives up to that nickname when he gets a guy hurt.

Lightweight Fight: Kurt Pellegrino vs Thiago Tavares

Pretty solid fight here with two guys who nearly always bring an exciting fight. Both men were coming off losses – Pellegrino to Nate Diaz, Tavares to Matt Wiman – and were hungry to get themselves a win, but my pick was Tavares as his all-around game had always looked pretty great to me and he’d moved to American Top Team shortly before this fight I think.

1st round begins with both men throwing out some jabs, before Pellegrino drops him with a heavy right! Tavares pops right back up but gets dropped with the follow-up flurry, and Kurt HAMMERS away looking to finish. Pellegrino ends up taking the back for a second, but Tavares works back up using a single leg. Left hand sends the Brazilian right back down though and Kurt lands some punches and hammer fists as it looks like this might be stopped. Yves Lavigne lets it go though as Tavares hangs on, but now Pellegrino takes full mount and lands some elbows. Tavares is cut now but he manages to scramble to half-guard, and then works his way to full guard. There’s a lot of blood coming from his face though and he still looks badly rocked. Kurt stands over him and drops a beautiful right hand to the jaw before attempting to pass, getting into half-guard where he cracks Tavares with an elbow. Thiago hangs in there though and reverses to his feet, where he swings for the fences, only to eat some jabs. Tavares shoots but Pellegrino stuffs it and ends up on top in half-guard, before standing over him again. This time he passes to side mount, but surprisingly moves himself to full guard. Not sure why he’d do that. Round peters out in Thiago’s guard, but that was a washout round for Pellegrino, the definition of 10-8.

Second round and Thiago still looks a bit rocked, and both of his eyes are swollen as hell already. Tremendous heart for him to even be coming out for this round really. Pellegrino’s bleached hair is dyed red now from the blood, eew. High kick from Tavares to open, but Pellegrino avoids it and comes back with a leg kick. Nice left jab from Kurt but he takes an accidental finger to the eye on the counter, and the ref calls time. Pellegrino is fine and they restart, and Tavares gets aggressive right away and throws a flurry. Kurt manages to avoid the majority of it though and comes back with a nice uppercut and a knee inside. Left looks to have Thiago wobbly again and he shoots, but Pellegrino stuffs it and they end up clinched. Good knee from Tavares inside and they break off, and the Brazilian continues the aggression, pushing forward throwing strikes. They clinch and Thiago gets a nice outside trip to guard, where he works with some hammer fists. Pellegrino uses a butterfly guard and then locks up an armbar...and it looks like Tavares taps out, but as he does so Kurt releases and he gets free into the guard. We’ll have to see the replay on that one methinks. Tavares continues to work from the top though, landing elbows and passing to half-guard. Kurt swiftly gets full guard back but eats some flailing hammer fists, and Tavares ends the round with some impressive ground-and-pound strikes, cutting Kurt’s nose.

Replay seems to show that Tavares did indeed tap to the armbar, interesting. It’s very hard to call though as he only appeared to tap once, maybe twice. Crowd begins to boo, believing he tapped, but only Thiago knows.

Third and final round of what has been an excellent fight so far. Pellegrino takes the center of the cage as Tavares circles, and they exchange strikes early on with neither doing a lot of damage really. Tavares shoots but this time Pellegrino stuffs it and grabs a guillotine, trying to twist himself into a better position, but he ends up releasing it and landing an uppercut. Tavares keeps pushing forward, swinging pretty wildly, but it’s not working for him and he ends up shooting again. Takedown is stuffed by Pellegrino but he eats a big body kick on the way out. They exchange jabs into a clinch, and now Pellegrino looks for the takedown. Thiago defends and Pellegrino ends up giving it up and landing a knee to the gut. They muscle around in the clinch and Tavares gets a trip, but Pellegrino scrambles as they hit the deck and takes the back! Tavares rolls to escape, but Kurt ends up with an over/under for a moment before Thiago muscles free and pops to his feet. Tavares ducks for the takedown now, but the ref breaks them up and both men look tired now, understandably so. Pellegrino stuffs a very telegraphed takedown attempt, and then looks like he’s setting up for an anaconda choke, but Tavares drops to his back to avoid it and ends up in half-guard. With seconds remaining Tavares works to full guard, and the buzzer sounds there.

Great fight, and I’d score it 29-27 I think, giving Pellegrino the first and third rounds, with the first being a 10-8. That does add up, right?

Judges have it 29-27, 29-27 and 29-28 all for Kurt Pellegrino. Really good fight, not quite up to FOTYC levels or anything, but it was all-action from start to finish and man, even though he lost Tavares showed some unbelievable heart to get through the first round as Pellegrino came out like a house on fire. Armbar issue was a bit controversial as it did look like Tavares tapped, but really it didn’t matter in the end anyway. Good showing for Pellegrino to come back from the Diaz loss, but Tavares ended up acquitting himself well too. Just an excellent fight.

Welterweight Fight: Dong Hyun Kim vs Matt Brown

This one got bumped to the main card after the Karo Parisyan-Yoshiyuki Yoshida match was cancelled at the last minute due to Karo’s various problems. Brown gets quite the crowd pop here being a bit of a good ol’ boy from what I know of him, while the crowd are not into Dong at all. Typical Southerners! Going in I was picking Dong pretty easily as Brown hadn’t really done anything to suggest he could beat a guy on the Korean’s level and Dong had looked great in his UFC debut.

We begin and Brown comes out striking aggressively, and they clinch up and exchange some knees before Dong trips him down. Brown pops up but gets taken down again, and this time as he pops up Dong takes his back. Brown tries to turn into him to escape, but this time Dong jumps onto the back with both hooks in and locks up the rear naked choke! Brown does a great job of getting rid of the choke though, and shakes him off momentarily before Dong hops onto the back again. Haven’t seen this sort of thing since Sanchez-Alessio. Brown keeps trying to shake him loose, and Dong is off to the side a little, and sure enough Brown manages to get the Korean on his back. Dong tries to go into an armbar though, but Brown does well to free himself and postures up. Dong uses the opportunity to spring to his feet, but Brown forces him into the cage and lands a knee to the midsection. They break off and Brown comes forward with some kicks, landing a nice left high kick. He’s really pushing the pace here. Big “USA!” chant from the crowd as Dong tries a spinning backfist and they end up clinched, where Brown avoids a trip. Both men block takedowns and then Dong manages to trip him down, but Brown uses an over/under to stay on top and tries a choke with no hooks in. It actually looks pretty deep, but it’s more of a bulldog choke with no body control and Kim manages to work free and then hops onto Brown’s back again! He gets one hook in and tries an inverted armlock, but the round ends before he can finish anything. Great opening round, but despite Brown’s aggression you’ve got to give it to the Korean for the back control and close submission.

Into the 2nd and Brown comes out throwing kicks, before landing a good right and then a nice bodyshot. Jumping knee lands glancingly for Dong but he falls to his back off it, but Brown decides to let him up. Good body kick from Brown and he follows with some hard knees to the midsection and a right high kick. Kim goes for the takedown, but Brown manages to avoid into a clinch and does a great job of defending, ending up on top with Dong seated against the cage! Brown lands punches but Dong comes back to his feet in the clinch. Brown ends up blocking a takedown and puts Kim on his back in guard, and he stands over him and then lands an odd spinning backfist from above! Some good punches land from the top from Brown and then he decides to walk away and let him up. Good knee inside from Brown but Kim presses him into the cage. They muscle in the clinch and Brown lands another knee, and then they break off and Brown lands another combo. Brown is totally owning this round. Brown gets him down in half-guard and it looks like he’s locking up an arm triangle, but he can’t get the leg free so he just ends the round with some heavy ground-and-pound instead. Round was all Matt Brown.

We’re going into the third round and it looks like Brown has the advantage now. Big pop to begin the round. Brown comes out aggressively again, but this time Dong catches him with an uppercut and they have to call time when Brown realises he forgot his mouthpiece. Huh. They restart and it looks like Dong is trying to catch a leg kick to get the takedown. Brown continues to come forward, but this time Dong ducks a shot and gets a trip, ending up on top in side mount. Brown gets a butterfly guard though and then elevates Kim and gets back to his feet. High kick from Brown but Kim blocks it and clinches. Brown defends Dong’s attempts at judo trips, but then Kim breaks with a left hook. Dong tries the trip again but Brown defends well with a whizzer, only for Dong to trip him down on a second attempt. Brown gets butterfly guard, and then closed guard, but Dong stays on top and lands a few solid shots. Elbow opens up a decent cut on Brown’s face, right under the left eye. Lot of blood actually. Brown tries to scramble free, but Kim continues to work him over until the fight ends.

That’s a tough fight to score actually. I mean Brown did more in the second than Dong did in the first and the third, but on the ten-point must system....judges have it 29-28 Dong, 29-28 Brown and 29-28...declaring the winner by split decision, Dong Hyun Kim! Crowd are not happy with that one in the slightest. Hey, rules are rules and yeah, if that was PRIDE then Brown probably wins, but under the Unified Rules it’s a decision for Dong, deal with it. Pretty good fight though, and Brown did a much better job than I expected, proving himself to be a very tough guy indeed. Wasn’t the most convincing performance from Dong but then I guess Brown was a more difficult opponent than I’d originally expected.

Middleweight Fight: Nate Marquardt vs Martin Kampmann

Very interesting Middleweight clash here, as Kampmann was still unbeaten in the Octagon at this stage, and had returned from his knee injury and seemingly hadn’t missed a beat as he easily subbed Jorge Rivera. Meanwhile Marquardt had effectively beaten Thales Leites but ended up losing the decision on a technicality due to lost points. Common sense suggested the winner would likely be on a fast track to a title shot, and I was picking Marquardt based on his huge size and strength advantage over the smaller Dane.

Round One and both men look to strike early, with Kampmann drawing first blood, landing a nice right hand that wobbles Nate’s legs. Marquardt backs up though and fires back with a HUGE RIGHT HIGH KICK that folds Kampmann in half! The Dane pops back up but he’s in BIG trouble as Marquardt follows up with a flurry. Kampmann tries to clinch him up but Nate stuns him with an elbow and a knee from inside the clinch and then chases him across the cage. Kampmann covers up, but Marquardt just SWARMS on him, landing shot after shot, including a huge uppercut and a vicious bodyshot! More punches drop Kampmann and the ref steps in there. Lord.

Unbelievable performance from Marquardt; I expected him to win but I was thinking a close fight, maybe a decision, but Nate just came out and iced Kampmann, putting a tremendous beating on the guy in the one area I thought the Dane might have an advantage, the stand-up. Finish was especially incredible, as Marquardt stunned him with the kick and then just swarmed on him like he was channelling 2003 Wanderlei Silva or something. Marquardt’s best showing in the Octagon by a mile.

Middleweight Fight: Dan Henderson vs Rousimar ‘Toquinho’ Palhares

Another one of the more intriguing fights of 2008, this was actually Henderson’s first non-title fight since Vitor Belfort in late 2006, as he’d come up short in the two PRIDE/UFC title unification matches against Rampage Jackson and Anderson Silva. Palhares meanwhile had looked fantastic in his UFC debut, tapping Ivan Salaverry, and had basically looked like the fighter Paulo Filho had been trumped up to be before his drug issues took over – great takedowns, crushing ground control and a sick submission game. I was actually picking Toquinho in the upset, my thinking being that Henderson had never looked as good at 185lbs as he had at 205lbs, he appeared to be slowing down as he approached 40, and if Toquinho could put him on his back – for an elite wrestler Hendo’s takedown defense has never been stellar – he would be in deep trouble.

Touch of gloves gets us underway and Henderson comes out with a low stance, clearly looking to strike. He closes Palhares down and the Brazilian shoots, but eats a BIG right uppercut that drops him onto his back! Hendo swings some bombs over the top, but Palhares goes for a leglock so the former PRIDE champ quickly pulls out and stands. Double leg attempt from Palhares, but Henderson sprawls to avoid and then does the same to avoid another takedown attempt. Toquinho throws some kicks and catches Hendo good in the body, but Hendo answers with another stinging right and Palhares drops to his back momentarily but stands when Hendo refuses to enter the guard. Spinning wheel kick misses for Toquinho and then Hendo sprawls out of the way of another takedown attempt. Henderson is fighting pretty much as a pure counterpuncher here, as he swings a right again to counter a jab. Palhares comes forward swinging but a Hendo flurry hurts him, with a big right uppercut dropping him to the ground. Hendo gets on top and swings away, and then invites him back up, and Toquinho gets wild with some kicks as he stands up. Good jabs from Henderson as Palhares pushes forward, but Toquinho goes for a takedown and gets him down this time, rolling into top position. Henderson gets him in an odd position momentarily, like a double reverse armbar, but Palhares quickly gets free and ends up on top in half-guard. Round ends with Toquinho rolling towards a kneebar. Great first round.

2nd round and Henderson looks to use his jab again, but Palhares comes forward wildly and throws another crazy kick that Hendo catches and uses to toss the Brazilian down. Toquinho pops up instantly and throws another high kick, then shoots for a double leg and this time he gets it, lifting Henderson and planting him with a BIG SLAM! Hendo gets a closed guard locked up as Palhares lands some punches from the top, then postures up to try to get loose. Toquinho stands and grabs a leg, rolling for a heel hook, and Henderson looks in DEEP trouble now as the Brazilian really twists on it, looking for the tapout! Henderson guts it out though and lands a couple of right hands before managing to pull free and stand. Toquinho shoots again but Hendo sprawls and then rolls into an odd choke attempt, but Palhares turns over into a front facelock and Henderson brings them back to standing. Good right hand from Henderson and he stuffs another takedown, so this time Toquinho pulls guard and eats a huge right over the top for his troubles. This dude has a hell of a chin. Hendo uses the age-old Maurice Smith trick of covering the mouth, and he lands a couple of short elbows too, as Palhares looks to reach and grab one of Hendo’s legs for a reversal or possible leglock attempt. Things slow down and so Herb Dean restarts them standing, and Henderson counters a jab with another nasty right hand. Hendo blocks a high kick and then comes forward, and Palhares tries a takedown to end the round. I’d give that round to Toquinho for the slam and leglock attempt, so it’s even at 19-19 for me going into the third. This has been a very good fight so far.

Third and final round, and Henderson looks patient, sprawling to avoid an early takedown. He catches Palhares with a left hook as they come up, but Toquinho answers with another wheel kick that lands glancingly. Hendo slips on a right but then pops back up, and Toquinho continues to stalk forward, throwing another high kick. He tries the wheel kick again but it misses completely this time. Jab lands for Henderson and he sprawls to avoid a double leg and then refuses to go into Palhares’s guard. Pair of good rights land for Hendo but don’t slow Palhares down. Toquinho is swinging wildly now. Action slows a little as Henderson lands some jabs and a left hook. More punches land for Henderson before Palhares shoots and gets him down momentarily, but Henderson reverses and gets on top, standing before Toquinho can roll to guard. More jabs land for Henderson but Palhares drops for a leg and rolls for a kneebar, but Henderson manages to slip free quickly, good job there. They come back to their feet with 30 seconds remaining and Toquinho desperately tries to get him down but Hendo avoids. With ten seconds remaining Henderson lands a wild right hook, Palhares drops to his back and Hendo lands a BIG RIGHT over the top on the buzzer! Great finish for Henderson.

Pretty clear-cut decision for Henderson in the end then I think. Judges have it 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Dan Henderson. Got a little slow in places, particularly in the third round as Toquinho looked tired and just couldn’t get Henderson to the ground, but I found this a brilliant technical fight as Henderson’s gameplan of sprawl-and-brawl worked well for the most part, but when Palhares was able to get the fight to the ground he immediately had the former PRIDE champ in danger and so it made for some really exciting moments, especially throughout the second round. Henderson fought a more conservative fight here than he has done recently, probably as his back was against the wall after two consecutive losses, and it allowed him to pick up a very solid win. As for Palhares I don’t think he lost anything in the defeat, as this was his first run against a true elite opponent and although he came out on the wrong end of the decision, he showed flashes of brilliance as well as a rock hard chin. Some fans called this a slow fight but I enjoyed it immensely.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Rich Franklin vs Matt Hamill

Bit of an odd semi-main for this card, with Franklin moving back up to 205lbs after four years at 185lbs. Obvious reason being that he couldn’t beat Anderson Silva and thus probably wouldn’t get another crack at the MW title, so why not go to Light-Heavyweight and fight some of the guys there? The odd part really was Hamill, as he wasn’t recognized as an elite LHW and while a win over him would be good for Franklin, it wouldn’t especially move him into instant title contention, while if Hamill won, hey, he just beat a naturally smaller guy. They did have an interesting backstory at least, being former some-time training partners. My pick was Franklin, as I felt he had enough on the ground to avoid being beaten by Hamill’s ground-and-pound, and outside of that he had the wrestler beaten in all areas.

Interesting to note that Franklin physically doesn’t look much smaller than Hamill, whereas I expected Hamill to be a lot larger. I guess Franklin just takes to bulking up well, either that or Hamill isn’t a giant 205lbs himself.

We get started, and surprisingly Hamill doesn’t shoot right off the bat. Instead he circles around, as Franklin opens up with leg kicks early. Hamill tries to use his boxing, but it’s pretty clear right away that even though his striking’s improved it’s not on Franklin’s level, and Ace lands another chopping leg kick. Franklin continues to work the kicks as Hamill appears to be going for the same technique every time, a leaning right uppercut. Looks like he managed to open a cut over Franklin’s right eye though. Franklin is really working the leg kicks here, smart gameplan as it makes the takedown difficult, though Hamill hasn’t shot yet. With about a minute remaining Hamill manages to bring Franklin down, but right away he gets guard and rolls for an armbar. Hamill escapes though and as he stands to work a guard pass, Franklin shows some skill and spins around, then rolls through to his feet and drills Hamill with a knee as they stand. Nice! Good left knee from Franklin and a glancing high kick close the round. Franklin looked great in that round despite the cut. Replays show a grazing left hand likely opened the cut.

Into the 2nd and the crowd are into this one big time. Good leg kick by Franklin to begin and he pulls out of a takedown attempt from Hamill. Left hand from Franklin and it looks like he’s beginning to pick Hamill apart. Franklin avoids the right uppercut and lands a sweet combo. Referee Mario Yamasaki calls time to check Rich’s cut though, and it’s a really sick looking gash, not the biggest cut but there’s a flap of skin hanging from it. Doctor lets it go though and Franklin lands another kick and dodges a single leg, then lands a one-two on the way out. Good bodyshot from Ace and he avoids some dirty boxing. Hamill grabs the back of the head and tries to land, but Franklin pulls out and lands a right. Kick catches Hamill in the groin and we’ve got another time out. They restart and Franklin continues to pick Hamill off, landing a beautiful combination while moving backwards to avoid a flurry. Hamill goes for the takedown and they end up clinched exchanging knees, and then Rich breaks off with a left uppercut. Body kick lands for Franklin now. The leg kick lands again and Hamill does land a counter uppercut, but his leg looks damaged at this stage. Body kick and some more leg kicks follow for Franklin. Hamill catches a kick and tries an ankle pick, but he can’t get Rich down and even his dirty boxing doesn’t work as Franklin pulls out and lands a swift combo. Bet Hamill is regretting not shooting off the bat now. Nice knee catches Hamill and Franklin avoids another ankle pick. Round ends with both men landing jabs. Another round in the books for Franklin and Hamill is looking in trouble now.

We’re into the third and final round and Hamill needs a stoppage to pull this one out of the bag. Hamill comes forward but takes a body kick and right hand. Hamill comes forward leaning for the uppercut again, but a BIG LEFT KICK TO THE BODY folds him up and Franklin finishes it off with some punches.

Beautiful shot to finish things, looked like something out of Cro Cop’s playbook back when Mirko was in his prime. Replays actually show Hamill tapped as he hit the mat, which is a bit surprising but then body shots always look sickeningly painful. This one connected perfectly too. Hamill screwed himself over a bit here by not using his wrestling right away, but outside of that this was a phenomenal performance from Franklin as he just picked Hamill apart with his striking, particularly his leg kicks, and his combinations looked on another level speed-wise when compared to Hamill’s. I think after being murdered by Silva twice, a lot of fans tend to forget just how good Franklin really is. This was a reminder of just how good he can be. Really fun fight to watch too.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Chuck Liddell vs Rashad Evans

This main event was originally set for UFC 85, but fell apart when Liddell injured his hamstring. General consensus was that if Liddell could win this one he’d probably get another crack at the title, as he’d come back from the disappointing loss to Keith Jardine by beating Wanderlei Silva in one of the best fights of 2007. A lot of people saw the unbeaten Evans as a sacrificial lamb for Liddell, but personally I’d always argued, even back in 2005/6 when Rashad was first emerging – that he’d be a nightmare match for Liddell because unlike the other wrestling-based guys Liddell had fought, Rashad had the hand speed to set up his takedowns with his striking. With Liddell slowing down a little due to his age, this point became even more important in my eyes, and I was picking the upset – Rashad Evans by decision after becoming the first guy to take Liddell down and keep him there since Randy Couture.

It’s pretty clear from the entrances who the fans are here to see – Liddell gets like twice the crowd reaction that Rashad does. Rashad is also wearing an odd t-shirt, looks like its got Bill Gates’s mug shot on it. No clue about that one, sorry!

They begin and it’s a tentative start for Rashad, as he stays on his bike and circles off, looking to avoid Liddell’s punching power. First real clean shot goes to Rashad, as he lands a right with Chuck stepping in. He stays on the outside though, and Chuck lands his first good shot about two minutes in, a right hand that has Evans off balance for a moment. Rashad shrugs it off though with a grin and a little shuffle. Good body kick by Rashad as Chuck is firmly in counter mode. Liddell throws so much power into his right hand its scary, but he hasn’t landed clean yet. Couple of jabs and a leg kick land for Rashad. He’s moving in and out and forcing Liddell to come forward a little. Jab lands for Chuck as Rashad drops his hands a little. Evans stays in retreat mode and gets knocked off balance a little again as Liddell times a kick and lands a left jab. Right uppercut lands for Chuck and Evans gets outta dodge. Buzzer sounds and Chuck throws a high kick anyway that Evans ducks. Pretty uneventful round as it goes. You’d probably score it for Chuck based on aggression but it was close.

Second round and now Rashad is pretty much forcing Liddell to come to him by staying on the outside and sticking and moving. Good leg kick by Chuck and then he lands a right hand, and we get a quick exchange with Rashad surprisingly firing right back with punches. Normally that means death, but here Rashad catches Chuck with a right hand and a left hook. Evans circles out and both men miss right hands. Left-right glances for Rashad. Liddell comes forward but eats a left hook as he steps in. Chuck continues to chase Rashad down and closes in, throwing a right uppercut....but at the exact same time Rashad THROWS AN OVERHAND RIGHT AND KILLS LIDDELL DEAD!~! HOLY SHIT.

Wow. I mean...wow. That literally sounded like a gunshot being fired. Crowd are in shock and all you can hear is Rashad’s wife screaming in delight. Liddell is stiff as a corpse and is down for what seems like an AGE. Scary, scary stuff. Worse than any of the knockouts Liddell dished out in his career in fact. Ending looked like something from a movie, too, as they threw haymakers at exactly the same moment, but Rashad’s got there first. Knockout of the year, no contest.

Incredible ending then, and really the culmination of what was an excellent gameplan from the Jackson camp for Rashad. Rather than use his superior speed to set up takedowns as I suspected, instead they had Rashad stay on the outside in retreat mode until Liddell was forced to come after him rather than stay in the counterpunching mode he’s more comfortable in. The last guy to do that to Chuck was Rampage, and we saw how that ended. Here, Liddell looked fine until the second round when Rashad really started firing back, and in the end it was the speed that killed Chuck as Rashad proved to be faster and more explosive, like a Western gunfight basically with Rashad having the quicker draw. Huge win for Evans and hey, who would’ve ever imagined that Mr Decision from TUF II, Rashad Evans, would have two of the best KOs in UFC history under his belt at this stage?

-And the highlight reel rolls and man, what a highlight for Rashad.

Final Thoughts....

Georgia might’ve had to wait a decade for the UFC to return but they got a hell of a show when it did. There might not be one classic fight on here to put the show up there with say, UFC 84, but there isn’t a truly bad fight on the card and with excellent fights like Tavares-Pellegrino, Henderson-Palhares and Franklin-Hamill, as well as awesome highlight reel finishes for Rashad, Marquardt and Franklin, UFC 88 is one of the better cards the company put on last year. Two thumbs up.

Best Fight: Tavares-Pellegrino
Worst Fight: Chonan-Carneiro

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Coming Soon....

UFC: 89-97, Fight Nights 15-18, and TUF VIII Finale.
Pride: Shockwave 2005, Shockwave 2006, 31, Bushido 10-13 and the Openweight Grand Prix.
WEC: 34-40.
King of the Cage: 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42, 48, 52, and 58.

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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