(Matt Polly returns to us with a dispatch from Brazil where he’s indulging in a whole bunch of jiu-jitsu and caiparinha. He writes stuff for real, and it’s pretty good! So enjoy!)
Nothing pisses off the pundits like making their overconfident predictions look foolish. So I was expecting after the Iceman thrice burned the chattering class that there would be calls for his retirement, especially after losing three of the last four. What surprised me was a new angle in the criticism. Apparently if he doesn’t retire (and who really wants that?), he needs to change the sprawl and brawl style that made him the most famous face in MMA.
But should he?
Clearly everyone has realized:
(a) Chuck’s legs and chin are open for business.
(b) he’s more vulnerable when moving forward than back, and
(c) trying to take Liddell down and hold him there is a waste of gas.
(Although when the Jackson camp discovered this last point is unclear. When I talked to one of Rashad’s trainers three months ago, he told me the strategy was to go for a maximum of three takedowns in the first round and if that didn’t work stand up and bang. I politely suggested that that was fucking suicide. Actually I said, “Didn’t Tito try that twice?”)
So after years of opposition research we have Rashad’s game plan. Use superior speed to avoid and backpedal, make Chuck the aggressor, bang the legs to frustrate him, and wait for that fraction of a second opening. And oh yeah, hope like hell that he doesn’t catch you first. That’s a tall order and a highly risky strategy.
The genius of the Iceman’s style is that this is the only strategy available. With clinch work, ground-and-pound, and jiu-jitsu submissions off the table, his opponents only options are either leg kick decisions or perfectly timed chin shots. Obviously the Iceman can be beat, but Rashad only had one way to do it. It’s to Evans and his camp’s credit that he executed perfectly, but how many times out of ten does any fighter execute perfectly? Even Luke Skywalker barely made that last shot on the Death Star.
In a rematch I’d still put my money on Liddell, although I hope that if there is a next time he keeps his damn chin down and his frickin’ hands up. But he doesn’t need a new camp to convince him to do that. He just needs to rewatch the tape.