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Making the Case for Rashad Evans (Kinda)

To look around the MMA blogosphere, you'd think that Rashad Evans was right up there with Ken Shamrock -- a recognizable name with no chance to win being fed to the more popular fighter, in this case Chuck Liddell. On paper, it's hard to disagree. Evans is precisely the kind of fighter Liddell beats: forward-pressing wrestlers with average striking skills.

The "proof" is in that wonderful transitive property of match-ups known as MMAth, which goes a little like this: Rashad fought to an uneventful draw against Tito Ortiz. Their skill-sets are similar and, seemingly, so is their talent level. Liddell had little trouble putting away Ortiz for a second time, therefore, it stands to reason, maybe, that Liddell should possibly have no trouble potentially beating Evans. Or not.

Just as we did for Jon Fitch before his mauling at the hands of Georges St. Pierre, we're playing devil's advocate and making the case for how Evans might pull off an upset and beat Liddell. This is not to say that any of the scenarios listed below are likely, but anyone who believes that an MMA fight between upper-echelon fighters is a sure bet hasn't been paying attention for very long.

So how might Evans do it?

The Rashad Evans Method

It is possible that Evans can come out and win this fight exactly the same way he has won most of his fights. Evans is a control fighter -- he wants to control the pace and position to match his strengths and cover his weaknesses. The strengths are takedowns and ground control. The weaknesses are striking defense and endurance.

Evans' takedowns are good, certainly above average. The question is, are they better than Liddell's takedown defense? For his career, Evans succeeds on takedown attempts about 60% of the time. The average fighter lands 45%, so Evans is 15 percentage points better than average.

For Liddell's career, he has defended 80% of takedown attempts. The average fighter defends 55%, making Chuck 25 percentage points better than average. That disparity is greater when focusing on takedown shots -- which are Rashad's specialty. Liddell successfully defends 85% of those.

And it's not just Chuck's sprawl that is at issue. For this strategy to work, we'll have to see something we've never seen before: A wrestler taking Chuck down and keeping him there. Is the ability to pop-up after takedowns a skill of Chuck's that has diminished with age? It's hard to say. None of his last three opponents have even attempted a takedown and no one has had Liddell on his back in over two years. The last time an opponent kept Chuck down was in 2003, when Rampage Jackson pounded out a stoppage in Pride.

The Randy Couture Method

The trick with wrestlers is that no one expects them to stand and trade. If you can convince your opponent that you're thinking takedown, but beat him to the punch instead, you've got a winning formula. That's exactly the technique used by Randy Couture in his first fight against Liddell. The trouble is that to do it, Couture fought a nearly perfect fight and Rashad would need to do the same.

Couture was so successful because he threw the straighter, crisper punches and established that his takedowns were still a threat. In a little under 13 minutes, he landed 42 heavy strikes compared to just 11 for Liddell and succeeded on four of five takedown attempts.

Evans has never shown that he possesses this kind of striking ability, but then again, neither had Couture until that fight. What it would require is a level of activity we've rarely seen from Rashad. In half of his career fights he didn't even attempt 42 heavy strikes, let alone land them. He has only once landed more than 23 heavy strikes in a fight, despite the fact that most of his career bouts have gone the distance.

The Keith Jardine Method

We're starting to see more fighters use this method: Stay on the outside, pepper your opponent with kicks to the legs and body, counter-punch, and capitalize whenever the tired, hobbled, frustrated opponent makes a mistake. If you do it long enough, you can win a hard-fought decision. You can see this strategy at work in Forrest Griffin's victory over Rampage Jackson and in pretty much every Lyoto Machida fight to date.

Keith Jardine and Evans train with the same camp, so there's likely to be sharing of experience and strategy. Evans has a shorter reach than Jardine, but that matters less when dealing with kicks. Evans' head-kick knockout of Sean Salmon shows he knows a little something about the kicking game, but he'll need to turn it up several notches to use this method successfully. Jardine landed 30 leg kicks in his 15 minutes against Liddell. For his career, which spans more than 100 minutes of fight-time, Evans has landed one single solitary leg kick -- and that was four years ago.

Like the Couture Method, it could still happen, but it would require a skill-set that we have not seen even the slightest inkling that Evans possesses.

The Rampage Jackson Method

They say the chin is the first thing to go. Hey, all it takes is one clean shot.