Hotlanta is about to be scorching come September 6 when the UFC makes its Georgia debut with UFC 88: Breakthrough. The event marks the return of the Iceman in his first fight since his stunning victory over Wanderlei Silva. The event also marks Rich Franklin's return to the 205 division and Dan Henderson's first fight since losing to Middleweight World Champ Anderson Silva.
Chuck Liddell (21-5 MMA, 16-4 UFC)
Rashad Evans (16-0-1 MMA, 6-0-1 UFC)
If this fight took place two years ago the question wouldn't be if former UFC Light Heavyweight World Champion, Chuck Liddell would beat Rashad Evans, only how long it would take him to do it. But this isn't two years ago, and things are a little different. We'll find out how different they really are September 6.
Chuck is a devastating striker with an exceptional ability to prevent takedowns and to pop back up quickly if someone does get him to the mat. He is, perhaps, the best "sprawl and brawl" fighter in the history of MMA. After losing consecutive fights to Quinton Rampage Jackson and Keith Jardine, he had one of the best performances of his stellar career when he beat Wanderlei Silva.
The real wildcard in this fight is the health of Chuck's hamstring. Fans will remember that these two were supposed to be the main event on UFC 85 back in early June. However, Chuck tore his hamstring and had to opt out. If his hamstring isn't 100% he will not have the base to put all his power behind his punches and it will make it difficult for him to avoid Rashad's takedowns.
Rashad is an exceptional wrestler who has steadily improved in every outing since winning The Ultimate Fighter 2 back in 2005. Let's face it, you don't go undefeated in six fights in the UFC without having top-notch MMA skills. However, for all his improvements, a healthy Chuck is a total mismatch for Rashad in the stand up.
Chuck has a long-standing history of knocking out great wrestlers in the UFC. Just ask Kevin Randleman, Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture.
The question is will we see the healthy, motivated Iceman that we saw against Wanderlei, or the unmotivated Chuck that we saw lose to Rashad's training partner, Keith Jardine, or perhaps an injured Liddell favoring that hamstring? If either of the last two show up, that's bad news for Iceman fans. If the first one shows up, Rashad's "O" will go!
Rich Franklin (25-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC)
Matt Hamill (5-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC)
When you see these two names next to each other on this fight card, your first instinct is that the highly decorated, experienced former UFC Middleweight World Champion, Rich "Ace" Franklin, will demolish the less experienced Ultimate Fighter alum, Matt Hamill.
Then you realize that this fight takes place at 205 pounds, not 185 where Rich was a dominant fighter and champion until a guy named Anderson Silva came along. To be honest, Rich has looked like a shadow of the fighter he used to be since suffering that first nose-breaking defeat against Anderson.
The aggression that made him so successful simply hasn't been there and now he moves up a weight class that is overflooded with top-notch talent, a move that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. That being said, Rich has great standup skills and will have a significant advantage while this fight is on the feet.
However, don't be surprised when this fight goes to the ground because Hamill is a wrestling stud of Olympic proportions. The only blemish on his MMA record was a split decision loss to Michael Bisping that was one of the worst decisions I've seen in UFC history.
A victory over a big name like Franklin would do wonders for his UFC stock, which should make Matt aggressive. Will he be overly aggressive and give the more experienced, polished Franklin an opening for a knockout or submission victory?
Will Matt's cardio betray him as it has sometimes in the past and will Rich's conditioning be a strong point as it was when he fought at middleweight now that he will be 20 pounds heavier? Stay tuned.
Karo Parisyan (25-4 MMA, 9-3 UFC)
Yoshiyuki Yoshida (10-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC)
You've got to feel for Parisyan. He reels off five consecutive Octagon victories to earn a 2006 title shot against then champion Matt Hughes only to suffer an injury and then lose his first fight back to Diego Sanchez and fall down the welterweight ladder. Then he strings three more victories in a row only to get TKO'd by Thiago Alves in his last fight.
Karo thought the stoppage was premature (few agree with him) and he has vowed to take out all his frustration and anger on his next opponent. He is well rounded. Karo is an excellent grappler who uses world-class judo skills, solid submissions and a non-stop pace to win his fights.
His opponent, Yoshiyuki Yoshida, looked spectacular in choking out Jon "War Machine" Koppenhaver in 56 seconds of the first round at his UFC debut in May. Yoshida also has exceptional judo and submissions which could make for an interesting, tactical chess match in this fight with Karo.
This fight will show us how good Yoshida really is; it represents a huge step-up in the quality of his opponent.
Dan Henderson (22-8 MMA, 2-2 UFC)
Rousimar Palhares (17-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC)
Palhares either completely pissed off UFC matchmaker Joe Silva or impressed him greatly when he submitted veteran Ivan Salaverry in the first round of his UFC debut. How else do you explain him having to fight former Pride Middleweight and Light Heavyweight champion, Dan Henderson, in only his second fight in the Octagon?
Dan has a wrestling pedigree that is second to none in MMA, including being a member of the United States Olympic team in both 1992 and 1996. Add a vicious right hand with crazy knockout power to that wrestling ability and you quickly understand why Dan is considered an MMA legend.
Before you write Rousimar off as having no chance, keep in mind that roughly half of Dan's losses have come by submission, most recently at the hands of Anderson Silva. Rousimar is a high level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt with incredible submission skills, so if Dan leaves an opening, he's likely to find it.
The biggest problem I see for Palhares going forward is his height. He is only 5-8 and will give up five inches to Henderson. The problem I see for Dan is one of motivation, not size.
After two consecutive losses to Rampage and Anderson, will he be fully ready for the fight against someone he doesn't see as at his level in the division? Remember what happened when a guy named Matt Serra fought a less than motivated GSP? Not likely, but that's why they show up and fight.
Nate Marquardt (29-8-1 MMA, 5-2 UFC)
Martin Kampmann (13-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC)
Martin Kampmann enters this fight on a 9-fight winning streak and is undefeated in four fights inside the Octagon. Martin returned to the cage after a 16-month, injury induced layoff to submit Jorge Rivera at UFC 85 this past June.
In fact, although he is known for his striking ability, three of those four victories have come via first round submission while the other was a decision victory that gave top middleweight contender Thales Leites the first and only loss of his 14-fight MMA career.
Nate's last fight was a split decision loss to Leites where he had two points taken away from him for illegal blows, only one of which was justified. His only other loss in his UFC career was to the best fighter in the business, Anderson Silva. Nate is well rounded and will be the stronger of the two fighters.
He has brutal ground and pound which makes this an interesting matchup. Martin should have an advantage on the feet while Nate should be able to take the fight to the ground and dish out some punishment. But, will he be able to stay out of Martin's submissions?
So far, Martin's only opponent who has been able to do so is Thales, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt. The other X-factor in this fight is how bad Nate lost two of his last three fights in the UFC and must score a victory here to reestablish his position as a top middleweight