ATLANTA -- Chuck Liddell wanted a shot to regain his light heavyweight title. A win over Rashad Evans at Philips Arena on Saturday would likely have gotten him that shot.
But Evans also has dreams of fighting for a title. Though he was a big underdog, Evans was undaunted.
He had a fight plan he believed would allow him to upset the UFC's most popular fighter. Evans was right.
In a fight that featured two of the best wrestlers in mixed martial arts, Evans fought Liddell standing up. He used his feet to avoid Liddell's dangerous right hand.
At 1:51 of the second round, Evans landed a powerful right ended any hope Liddell had of regaining his 205-pound title. The loss was the third in four fights for Liddell (21-6-0).
It was apparent immediately that Evans wanted no part of Liddell's punching power. He spent the entire opening round on the retreat.
The strategy brought boos from the sellout crowd of 14,736, but it allowed Evans to see the second round. Interestingly, it was Liddell who had a slight cut under his right eye.
Though the crowd did not approve of Evans' stick-and-move tactics, it proved to be the correct fight plan.
Evans picked up the pace in the second. He opted to engage Liddell more, while continuing to move his head.
The difference was Evans landed several left-right combinations. But none discouraged Liddell, who continued coming forward in an attempt to land the big blow.
That big punch would eventually come, but Liddell would not land it. Evans delivered a perfect overhand right that caught Liddell flush on the jaw.
Liddell went down flat on his back. Referee Herb Dean jumped in immediately to prevent Evans from landing another shot on the helpless former champion.
"I'm very happy right now," said Evans, who improved to 17-0-1. "Chuck is a great competitor."
More than a minute passed before Liddell returned to his feet.
Coming into this bout Liddell had a two-pronged agenda: He wanted to beat Evans and get a shot at light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. But as badly as Liddell wants to regain his title, he refused to make the mistake of looking beyond Evans.
It was the right thing to do. This performance proves Evans isn't a fighter anyone should take lightly. No one will after what happened at UFC 88.
What does this win mean for Evans? Is a title shot in his future?
Evans, as he said before the fight, isn't looking that far ahead. But he is a bit more optimistic.
"Hopefully, it puts me right up there," Evans said. "I'm a patient man."
The paid gate was $2.6 million.
Franklin puts friendship on hold
Few would argue that Rich Franklin is the second best middleweight in the world. But the top guy is Anderson Silva, and Franklin can't beat him.
So rather than waste time at 185 pounds, Franklin took his act back to light heavyweight at Philips Arena. But there was a catch: he had to face his friend, Matt Hamill.
Franklin was able to put his friendship on hold for a few minutes. He delivered many hard strikes and eventually stopped Hamill at 39 seconds of the third round.
It was Franklin's first fight at 205 pounds since April 2005. The three-year absence had little impact on his performance against Hamill.
The first round was spent almost exclusively in the stand-up, which allowed Franklin to get the better of the exchanges. But he did suffer a cut over his right eye a minute into the bout.
Hamill was able to get a takedown with just under a minute left and landed a couple of hard shots. But Franklin (26-3-0) got the action back in stand-up mode and opened a cut over Hamill's left eye.
A left hand in the second would do more damage to Franklin's eye, causing referee Mario Yamasaki to ask a cage-side physician to take a look at it. The fight was allowed to continue.
"I came out of the round smiling," Franklin said. "I walk around with a black eye anyway; this isn't much worse."
From that point on it was almost all Franklin. He landed several hard kicks to Hamill's rib cage and tossed in a few punches. The strikes had Hamill (6-2-0) retreating much of the round.
The kicks eventually took a toll on Hamill. Franklin landed a solid left kick to the right rib cage that sent Hamill to the ground.
He was defenseless, covering up before Franklin jumped in to land strikes. But before Franklin could unleash on Hamill, Yamasaki waved it off. Hamill did not complain.
"Hats off to Matt; he fought a great fight," Franklin said. "Cutting weight this week was awesome. I'm going to try to get heavier if I'm going to stay here."
Henderson gets past Palhares
Being in the Octagon with an unknown fighter didn't sit well with Dan Henderson. But after being out of action since March 1, Henderson was eager to fight. UFC officials gave him Rousimar Palhares.
The former Pride welterweight/middleweight champion figured beating Palhares, who had just one bout in UFC, would do nothing to bring him closer to a rematch with middleweight king Anderson Silva. But he accepted the fight anyway.
After the performance he put on against Palhares, a master jiu-jitsu artist, Henderson might get his rematch in the not-too-distant future. Henderson controlled the action en route to a unanimous decision win.
The judges scored it 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28. ESPN.com also scored the fight for Henderson, 30-27.
Henderson wanted this fight on the feet and that's where it stayed for much of the opening round. Henderson, though 38 years old, showed he hasn't lost his speed.
He eluded most of Palhares' takedown attempts. When Palhares failed to get the fight on the ground, Henderson punished him with hard rights. On two occasions, Henderson sent Palhares to the canvas after landing a right hand.
"He had a tough chin," said Henderson, who improved to 23-7-0. "This opponent was as tough as anybody I have faced.
"I wanted to keep it on my feet. I'm normally more aggressive, so I apologize for that. He's unknown, but he's dangerous."
Palhares was able to get Henderson on the ground in the second round and nearly secured an ankle lock. But Henderson remained calm and escaped.
Henderson would control much of the round standing up and on the ground. Palhares (17-2-0) was able to land a few kicks that got Henderson's attention.
The third round brought several boos from the crowd as Palhares was unable to secure a takedown. As in the first round, Henderson was able to land several overhand rights. He dropped Palhares twice in the final round.
Marquardt pastes Kampmann
Middleweight Nate Marquardt (30-8-2) refused to leave the outcome in the hands of the judges like he did in his last fight. Marquardt, who lost a split decision to Thales Leites in June, landed a leg kick to the head, then delivered a serious of uppercuts and left-right combinations that sent Martin Kampmann (13-2-0) to the canvas. Referee Mario Yamasaki stepped in at 1:22 of the first round.
Kim earns split over Brown
Welterweight Matt Brown wasn't given much of a chance against judo expert Dong Hyun Kim, but Brown controlled much of the stand-up action to make it close. Kim (11-0-1) was better on the ground and a takedown late in the third round swayed each of the three judges. When the scorecards were read, Kim would garner a split decision win, to the dismay of the crowd. The judges scored it 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29. ESPN.com had it 29-28 for Brown, who fell to 10-7-0.
Pellegrino punches his way to victory
Lightweight Kurt Pellegrino entered his bout known for solid wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but it was the right and left hands he threw from the stand-up that set the tune and dropped Thiago Tavares twice in the first round. Pellegrino (18-4-0) dominated on the ground. After poking a finger in Pellegrino's eye, Tavares (17-3-0) would rebound in the second. But Pellegrino went back to boxing and won the third round and the fight 29-27, 29-27 and 29-28.
Boetsch blasts through Patt
Light heavyweights Tom Boetsch and Michael Patt stood toe-to-toe from the moment the bell rung. Each fighter landed solid punches, but a straight right hand from Boetsch dropped Patt (15-3-0). Once on the ground, Boetsch (8-2-0) began pounding away, forcing referee Herb Dean to stop the onslaught at 2:03 of the first round.
Jason MacDonald got back in the win column after applying a rear-naked choke on Jason Lambert in the second round of their middleweight bout. Lambert (23-9-0) tapped at the 1:20 mark. MacDonald, who was submitted by Demian Maia in August at UFC 87, improved to 21-10-0.
Chonan edges Carneiro
Welterweight Ryo Chonan made it two in a row over Roan Carneiro by earning a split decision (29-29, 28-29 and 29-28). ESPN.com scored it 29-28 for Chonan (15-8-0). After a slow first round, Chonan used his superior strength to outmuscle the Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist.
Chonan defeated Carneiro (12-8-0) by third-round TKO in February 2005.
Franklin McNeil covers boxing and mixed martial arts for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J..