Sherdog’s Knockout of the Year

Evans Talks KO

By Jack Encarnacao Jan 6, 2009
Rashad Evans had just knocked out Chuck Liddell in the second round of the UFC 88 main event in Atlanta, and he was just as surprised as anyone. It was the left hook that was supposed to put out Liddell’s lights, not the overhand right.

“Round two I came out of the corner, and my coach was telling me to start putting some combinations together,” Evans recounted to “They were calling out the combinations in the corner and I started hitting them. They would say, ‘left hook, right hand,’ and just calling them out. They were saying it and I was just throwing it. I just kept putting on the pressure.”

Around the 1:50 mark, the call came for an overhand right followed by a left hook.

The swift-handed Evans uncorked the combination that rocked one of the sport’s all-time great knockout artists, leaving him prone on the mat in a posture that you might find a man in if he’d suddenly died while tossing and turning in his sleep.

Liddell was motioning for an uppercut when the punch landed. As he hit the deck, the mean left hook from Evans whiffed through the air.

“I was real surprised because I was really trying to hit him with the left hook, that was the punch I was trying to hit with,” Evans said. “That was the punch. The other one was just like a setup for the power shot.”

That mere “setup” ended up having more impact than any knockout in a year laced with sensational ones, and earns the undefeated Evans’s “Knockout of the Year” award for 2008. The punch not only left Liddell glassy-eyed and in need of oxygen treatment in the cage, it also propelled Evans into a position to win the light heavyweight title and stand atop the UFC’s marquee weight class.

In some ways, 2008 was the year of the knockout. In just about every weight class in mixed martial arts, it seemed fights of the highest significance ended either in a knockout or a technical knockout that was a mere formality after the big power shot landed.

2008 saw Josh Koscheck hospitalize Yoshiyuki Yoshida with a hellish pair of punches in December to cap a UFC card full of injurious scraps before screaming U.S. servicemen. In October, a relatively unknown Brazilian nicknamed “Cigano” knocked top-10 heavyweight Fabricio Werdum out of the rankings and, as it turned out, out of the UFC altogether.

Featherweight Mike Thomas Brown derailed WEC poster boy Urijah Faber in November with a well-placed hook that smashed the unwieldy “California Kid” as he ricocheted off the fence. On the last UFC card of the year, Frank Mir capped one of the more mind-bending comebacks in MMA history with crisp boxing, dropping Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and finishing him for the first time in his career. On that same night, Quinton Jackson sent old foe Wanderlei Silva timbering to the canvas with a tight left hook. Silva was coming off an old-form beating of Keith Jardine in May, where he grabbed the grounded “Dean of Mean” around the jaw and punched him until his lights went out.

As for Evans, he’s only run into Liddell once since the knockout that catapulted him to stardom. They bumped fists in a hallway and that was it. Evans still remembers the raucous Atlanta crowd, thirsting for a patented Liddell KO, reacting to his knockout win like someone had just hit the mute button.

“That crowd was deathly silent,” Evans said. “Normally the crowd, they love to see someone get knocked out, they cheer no matter who gets knocked out. When they didn’t cheer after I knocked out Chuck, it was so quiet in there, I felt like I did something wrong. When I walked away, I kind of threw my hands up, like ‘Sorry,’ you know?”
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