Ho. Lee. Crap! This was unbelievable folks! I had an amazing time at UFC 88. I saw everything from Chuck Liddell getting knocked out cold to girls flashing their breasts. It was absolutely nuts. I'm also proud to say that I got to see Forrest Griffin, Randy Couture, and Quinton Jackson along with all the other great fighters on display. It was definitely a star studded night. Let me take you through the experience. First off we showed up to the arena about 15 minutes before the gates opened and the line was a mile long. I won't be a hypocrite and say I saw too many Affliction shirts since I was wearing one myself but I've never seen such a concentration of Affliction gear in my life. I finally got in to the building right before the first fight started. The seats were solid. We were pretty much right in line with the cage. We got a great view of the stand up but between the ref, the camera guy, and not having a birds eye view it was really tough to watch the ground fighting. I wound up watching half the fights on the jumbo tron which was probably the most disappointing part of the night.
After purchasing my food, beverage, and mementos we sat down for a long night of fights. I thought a fight was about to breakout in the stands before they even started in the ring but fortunately cooler (and not yet drunk) heads prevailed. Ninety nine per cent of the people in the arena appeared to be there just to have a great time which had it's good and bad aspects. Most people got too drunk and were screaming for blood by the time the main card started which made me embarrassed for US fans as they booed often when the fight went to the ground. However, most people were jovial and appeared to enjoy the atmosphere as a whole regardless of who won or lost and how. The fights as a whole I thought were much more engaging in person even when they ended in split decisions. I found myself drawn to the action every second. When I watch on TV though I find I lose interest fairly quickly when a fight stalls but in person a fight is like a car accident. You can't help but watch. It's interesting how detached you can feel watching on TV. It's definitely a much different experience live. Everything seems much more violent in person. Kicks and punches land harder, slams all sound like pile drivers, and guys turn shades of purple I've never seen inside a choke when you're there in person. On TV it all seems so much more surreal. But it definitely made me appreciate the athleticism, power, speed, and stamina of these guys after watching them fight in person. I always thought of these guys as fighters but now I have to think of them as true athletes in all regards.
It was definitely a night I will always remember and treasure. It was great to finally see the sport I love so dearly in person and to get to see it from a new and unique angle. Like for instance did you know that they actually play all the fighter introductions and even the show introduction on the big screen the same way you see it at home? Plus the electricity in the air when guys like Rich Franklin and Chuck Liddell walked out was just unbelievable! It felt like I was at the World Series. Goldberg and Rogan always compare the UFC to the Super Bowl of MMA. While I wouldn't go that far I understand better where they're coming from now with that sentiment. It was great that Atlanta provided an amazing atmosphere and Dana White has already confirmed plans to go back. It was amazing to be around so many MMA fans (granted I was probably one of the most knowledgeable ones there as most people around me didn't even know what a sprawl was - see Dan Henderson's fight) considering most of the time when I bring up MMA most people don't even know what I'm talking about. All in all it was quite an extraordinary night and now I can say I saw one of the biggest upsets in UFC history even if I did want Chuck to win. I recommend to any of you who have never been to a UFC event it is something you have to do if you truly are a fan of MMA. You'll never experience anything else like it. With that said let's break down the fights.
* Note: The Karo Parisyan fight was cancelled at the last minute due to Karo pulling out with an unknown back injury. Also, James Lee was replaced last second with Mike Patt. Due to both of these changes I will not count these fights toward my score.
Roan Carneiro v. Ryo Chonan: This fight went exactly as I predicted with Chonan winning a decision. I was a little surprised Chonan didn't do more to keep the fight standing however he was pretty effective at neutralizing Roan's BJJ. However, he wasn't explosive in his ground and pound and while I agree with Chonan pulling the split decision I don't blame the judge that went the other way.
Tim Boetsch v. Mike Patt: Patt got knocked the hell out. Not much more to say.
Jason McDonald v. Jason Lambert: I was so close on this one! I picked McDonald by submission in round one but he pulled out a very impressive submission win in round two. McDonald totally dominated this fight. That was surprising considering Lambert doesn't have bad stand up but McDonald is a well rounded fighter and a grizzled veteran. I was very impressed with McDonald.
Thiago Tavares v. Kurt Pellegrino: I got the pick right but not the prediction. Pellegrino had a very impressive win over Tavares. He dominated the fight wherever it went. He knocked Tavres around standing and showed superior BJJ on the ground (and almost caught him in an arm bar which was somewhat controversial as to whether or not Tavares tapped). Pellegrino is back to his winning ways with a win over a solid opponent here.
Matt Brown v. Dong Hyun Kim: Again I got this one totally right with Kim winning the decision. This one wasn't as close a call as the judges made it seem. Brown had the edge in the stand up but Kim won this fight on the ground with solid ground and pound. I was very disappointed with the Atlanta crowd chanting USA the whole fight. It's a little overboard. When you're in Japan you don't here those crowds chanting rudely. It was very disheartening to me and I was actually happy Kim won the fight for that reason.
Nate Marquardt v. Martin Kampmann: I got the prediction right but unfortunately I picked the wrong guy. Marquardt crushed Kampmann by TKO in the first round. Kampmann looked off. He appeared to have shaken off his ring rust back in June but Marquardt just came in and took the fight to him which is surprising considering Kampmann's kickboxing pedigree. But I have to give props to Nate for coming in guns blazing and just taking Kampmann apart and not letting the judges control his fate like his last controversial loss. If Marquardt keeps fighting like this he'll have a title rematch in no time.
Dan Henderson v. Rousimar Palhares: This fight went just like I thought it would. Henderson was the much better fighter standing and after the first round Palhares wanted no part of Hendo on his feet pulling guard constantly after failing to take Hendo down. Hendo's sprawl was insane and although he couldn't knock Palhares out (probably because Palhares refused to get anywhere near Hendo on his feet) this was a very solid victory for Dan and was a great first win in the Octagon (since returning) for him.
Rich Franklin v. Matt Hamill: I picked the winner but not the prediction. Franklin really controlled this fight keeping it on the feet for the most part and getting the better of those exchanges. Hamill did get a take down or two and looked effective on the ground but unfortunately he couldn't do it often. I was surprised actually that Hamill stood and traded as much as he did but I give him props for trying to prove himself against Franklin. Eventually those shots took their toll on Hamill who was considerably less explosive in the third round and eventually Franklin landed a killer kick to the body that dropped Hamill and ultimately ended the fight on a TKO. This was a great win for Franklin at 205 but he did admit that he is a little small to be a light heavyweight. However, it seems like this is where he'll be for the foreseeable future and he'll just need to bulk up or use his speed more effectively.
Chuck Liddell v. Rashad Evans: Wow did I get this fight wrong. But man, this fight was INSANE! I've never heard anything like the ovation Liddell got when he walked into the cage. The atmosphere was electric and so was the fight. I thought Evans wouldn't even bother standing but he had absolutely no intentions of going to the mat. He stood and traded with Liddell but took a lot of shots in the first round. I actually gave the first round to Liddell but Evans was just looking for that one KO opportunity and he found it in the second round. I've never seen anyone get knocked out like that in person. I mean Liddell was out for like at least a minute and needed oxygen and everything. It was pretty intense. You could tell how serious it was as the crowd was hushed in astonishment and concern. Evans isn't even close to the technical striker Liddell is but he certainly displayed much better power than Liddell. Evans now is in line for the next title shot which, with an undefeated record, he certainly deserves (but Lyoto Machida can claim the same thing too). I have to be honest. I'd like to see Machida fight Evans especially considering Machida's next fight got called off. However, I understand that while Evans isn't the draw Chuck Liddell is, he is certainly bigger (and a lot more people know who he is now) than Lyoto. The bigger question here though is what happens now for Liddell. He's coming off losses in three out of his last four fights and he is thirty eight years old with a long road back to the title in a stacked division. He hasn't said he's going to retire but it seems really unlikely he'll get another title shot.
What a great night! It's definitely something I'll never forget. It was so much fun I would totally go again (assuming I can scrape together the cash). I will say though that watching it on TV has its perks too so until I can make another trip (and next time I hope it's in Vegas) I'm very content to watch it on TV. I had a pretty good night with my picks. I went 6-2 with 4 bonus points for picking three fights perfectly and for predicting submission of the night. With UFC 88 over it's time gear up for Fight Night next Weds. Stay tuned for my predictions. Also, in case you didn't know WEC 36 has been postponed due to hurricane season and will now take place in November. I will be taking down my WEC 36 predictions as too much can change in the next two months.
On a somber final note I'd like to express my deepest sympathies to friends and family of Evan Tanner who was found dead yesterday out in the California desert. An apparent victim of the extreme conditions and no foul play or substances are suspected. He was a good fighter and an even better person. He danced to his own unique rhythm in life but I applauded him for having the courage to do so. He had his issues like everyone else but from what I hear he was a stand up person and he was certainly a well respected fighter. This world needs people like Evan Tanner and he will most certainly be missed. R.I.P