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UFC 88 Preview and Predictions: Liddell Over Evans, Franklin Over Hamill

The hype surrounding UFC 88 is focusing almost entirely on the return to the Octagon of Chuck Liddell, who suffered a hamstring injury in training and as a result hasn't fought yet in 2008. But while Liddell's fight against Rashad Evans is the main event, the whole card is solid.

Here are the details:

What: UFC 88: Breakthrough

In addition to the main event, the televised fights are Rich Franklin vs. Matt Hamill, Karo Parisyan vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Dan Henderson vs. Rousimar Palhares and Nate Marquardt vs. Martin Kampmann.

When: Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta

How: Pay-per-view, $44.95 ($54.95 in HD), or just follow along with my FanHouse live blog.

Predictions after the jump.

Chuck Liddell vs. Rashad Evans
Liddell was, after beating Tito Ortiz in December 2006, indisputably the most popular fighter in the UFC and arguably the best. But he's gone just 1-2 since then, and his star doesn't shine as brightly as it once did. Still, if he beats the undefeated Evans, I think he'll get the next light heavyweight title shot, against Forrest Griffin some time in 2009. That would be a huge fight for Liddell, and I think he'll make it happen with a solid showing against Evans.
Predicted winner: Liddell

Rich Franklin vs. Matt Hamill
People forget what a great fighter Franklin is because the recent memories for most UFC fans are of Anderson Silva whipping him twice. But Franklin is very good, and I think he'll put on a solid showing against Hamill, who's an easy guy to root for but who isn't quite in Franklin's class as a fighter.
Predicted winner: Franklin

Dan Henderson vs. Rousimar Palhares
Some people think a wrestler like Henderson taking on a grappler like Palhares can make for boring fights, but I actually think this one is going to be exciting. To me, it's the big fight no one is talking about, and I think it's the fight in which a larger audience will get exposed to Palhares' tremendous submission game.
Predicted winner: Palhares

Nate Marquardt vs. Martin Kampmann
The last time we saw Marquardt, he was losing a controversial split decision to Thales Leites in which he was clearly the superior fighter -- except for the part where he was deducted two points for two separate infractions. Kampmann is on a nine-fight winning streak (including a win over Leites) and is a good young fighter, but I don't think he's quite as complete a fighter as Marquardt.
Predicted winner: Marquardt

Karo Parisyan vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida
Parisyan is back in the Octagon five months after getting pummeled by Thiago Alves at Fight Night 13. Yoshida looked very good in his UFC debut in May, but I think Parisyan is the better fighter in this clash of guys with judo backgrounds.
Predicted winner: Parisyan

More information
Official web site
UFC 88 at Wikipedia
Betting odds