by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com

The Ultimate Fighting
Championship on Saturday night lands at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia
for the first time in the promotion’s history. The event, UFC
, is aptly titled “Breakthrough.” The fight card is littered with
fighters trying to break through in one way or another.


The main event features
former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell
squaring off with Ultimate Fighter Season 2 winner Rashad Evans.
The two were first scheduled to fight on June 7 at UFC 85 in London. Liddell
then went down with an injury and Evans dropped off the card after attempts to
line him up against various opponents failed.


But Liddell’s bumps go
back further than the injury. He suffered back-to-back losses for the first
time in his career in 2007 before capping the year with a decision victory over
former Pride champion Wanderlei Silva. The first loss was severe. Not only did
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson knock him out, but he also relinquished the title
belt he had worked so hard to achieve. The second defeat was a bitter split
decision to Evans’ teammate Keith Jardine.


The injury definitely
slowed any momentum that Liddell could have built from the win over Silva, and
now, at UFC 88 in Atlanta, he has the opportunity to break through the
frustration of sitting on the sidelines and finally return to action.


"I’m just happy to
fight again,” said Liddell at Thursday’s UFC 88 pre-fight press conference. “I’m
healthy, ready to fight again. I’m glad to be in Atlanta, the first fight
here.  Fans always seem to be a
little more excited the first time you fight somewhere."


Despite his undefeated
11-0-1 record, Evans hopes to break through and resolve many of his own
frustrations. He actually has been inactive longer than Liddell. Following a
maddening draw with former UFC poster boy Tito Ortiz, Evans scored a split
decision over Michael Bisping. But that was in November of 2007 – a month
before Liddell’s bout with Silva – and due to the quagmire surrounding
UFC 85, Evans hasn’t fought since.


At this point in his
career, Evans is ready for that next step, the marquee bout that puts him into
contention for the UFC light heavyweight title currently held by fellow
Ultimate Fighter alumnus Forrest Griffin. Liddell is that marquee fight, the
propellant that elevates Evans to true contender status… and he sounds more
than ready.


"It’s going to be
a great experience.  Fighting Chuck
Liddell, I’ve got a lot of respect for Chuck Liddell.  Chuck Liddell’s been the man for a long time.  I’m excited to fight him,” Evans
informed the media in Atlanta.


“I was there when he
fought Randy Couture the second time, in the back room, and I was like ‘man,
it’s crazy to be at such an event, in this situation.’  To be in that situation, the position
that Randy was in, and now I’m in that position.  It’s surreal for me, so I’m just enjoying the whole


Not to get too carried
away by the atmosphere of such a monumental bout, the Greg Jackson-trained
Evans still has his focus zeroed in on one thing, and one thing only, “Victory.”


At the end of the day,
however, only one fighter will break through the barriers that have held them
back over the past year.


There are several other
fighters on the UFC 88 fight card that face obstacles of their own, trying to
get to that ultimate goal of UFC gold.


Rich Franklin, twice
rebuked by champion Anderson Silva in the middleweight division, is moving back
into his old stomping grounds in the 205-pound division. He starts anew against
another Ultimate Fighter alumnus in Matt Hamill, who is looking to take the
next step in establishing himself as one of the top fighters in the light
heavyweight ranks. He has to get past the experience of Franklin first though.


The middleweight
division will also get a retooling at UFC 88. Following a disappointing loss to
Thales Leites, primarily due to some mental mistakes that led to point
deductions, Nate Marquardt faces rising talent Martin Kampmann. Marquardt needs
a win over the Xtreme Couture fighter to get another shot at Anderson Silva,
who defeated Marquardt in their first tango. Kampmann, on the cusp of a title
shot before being derailed due to injury, also needs a win here to regain his
position in the queue for Silva.


Former dual Pride belt
holder Dan Henderson, another victim of Silva, needs to rebuke Brazilian
upstart Rousimar Palhares, as he, like Marquardt, would like another shot at
the UFC’s middleweight gold. Palhares, 28 years old and only one blemish on his
professional record, made a big splash upon his arrival to the Octagon, sending
Ivan Salaverry into retirement at UFC 84. In the same mold as Kampmann, he is
trying to establish his position in the UFC’s middleweight ranks.


All will get their
opportunity on Saturday night at UFC 88 in Atlanta.