UFC 81: Review & Ratings

Sorry this has taken so long — I spent much of the weekend in bed watching season one of Jericho, and I didn’t even touch a computer until last night. Just as I did with the preview, I’m only going to talk about the top two matches here. Yes, the entire show was awesome, but I’m on a time budget right now, so all you get are the top two fights.

ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUIERA D. TIM SYLVIA (ROUND THREE > GUILLOTINE CHOKE)

This fight was so awesome in every way. It was a classic, with the little guy getting beat on by the giant for three rounds and then using superior skill to surprising the big guy with a submission win. This was vintage Nog — he always takes a pounding for two rounds, and somehow uses his outstanding BJJ skills to get the victory. Tim Sylvia was a different fighter in this one, too. He beat the crap out of Nog for two full rounds, and tried to finish him on several occasions.  I fully expected Timmy to hump Nog against the cage for five rounds, and he didn’t — he showed precision striking and plenty of power, but just made a mistake and got caught by one of the best. Pretty much exactly like the Lesnar/Mir fight, except this one was a lot longer. 

FRANK MIR D. BROCK LESNAR (ROUND TWO > KNEEBAR)

My God, was this awesome. Brock Lesnar looked like 400 pounds of solid muscle, and he very nearly killed Frank Mir dead before his inexperience led to a kneebar submission. Even though Lesnar lost, there’s pretty much no doubt that we witnessed the birth of what will likely be an unstoppable force in the heavyweight division within two years. Lesnar exploded out of the blocks and took Mir down easily, and then proceeded to put on a positioning clinic using his wrestling skills. I knew Brock was going to be fast, but I didn’t expect him to be as fast as he was — the guy literally moves like a welterweight. Mir trapped a leg while Brock stood up to try and finish the fight, and Brock turned the wrong way to attempt to get out of the hold, allowing Mir to lock it in tight and force Lesnar to submit.  The UFC brass, Dana White included, were thrilled with Lesnar’s showing, and it’s a win-win, because Lesnar proves he can fight while Frank Mir proves that he’s still one of the best in the division. I’ll be back later with another UFC post on where I think they should go from here with all four fighters involved in the top two matches. 

UFC 81 Predictions

I’ll be honest — I don’t have a ton of interest in this card outside of the two main events. I’m more excited about the Lesnar fight than any other fight that the UFC have put on in recent memory (except for Liddell/Silva), and I’m always happy to see Tim Sylvia get punched in the face, but the rest of the card doesn’t do much for me. I’m going to limit my actual writeups for this show to the two main events, and then I’ll offer predictions only for the rest of the fights.

UFC INTERIM HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP

Tim Sylvia vs. Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera

This fight is for the interim title because Zuffa will never take the real heavyweight belt from Randy Couture. Why? There’s a “champion” clause in every UFC contract that states that if someone is a champion when their contract expires, the UFC can hold them under contract for an extended year. Basically, they’re preventing Couture from being free of his contract until at least October 2009, which means he wouldn’t be able to fight anyone else (Fedor Emelianenko) until 2010.Tim Sylvia is the tallest man in the heavyweight division, and he’s also one of the most boring fighters on the planet. He’s highly unpopular, mostly because he fights to win matches instead of fighting to excite the crowd. Popularity in UFC is heavily predicated on how exciting a fighter is and how much heart he shows; it has more in common with pro wrestling than Dana White would ever admit, and the truth is that Tim Sylvia just isn’t exciting…but he is good.Noguiera comes into this fight with the reputation as being one of the best heavyweights in the entire world. His last fight against Heath Herring wasn’t a good display of his skills. He’s probably the best submission heavyweight in the world and he has an iron jaw, as shown in his PRIDE war with Emelianenko. Tim Sylvia will probably win this fight, and it will probably be a decision. It’s not the outcome I (or anyone else) wants, but it’s the likely one.

PREDICTION: Tim Sylvia by decision

Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir

Despite not going on last, this is the true main event of the night, and it’s the fight that the PPV is being marketed on. This fight is probably the first true time we’ll get to see how much the pro wrestling and UFC audiences have in common, and it should do a gigantic buyrate. Brock Lesnar is a freak of nature. He’s an amazing athlete who is incredibly fast, freakishly strong and he was an NCAA champion while wrestling in college. Everyone knows at this point that he went on to become a pro wrestler for World Wrestling Entertainment, where he picked up the game MUCH faster than anyone else and quickly became known as one of the best in the business, especially given how big he is. He quit WWE because of the rigors of the road, and made a go at the NFL despite not playing football since his junior year of high school. He lasted through training camp and very nearly made the practice squad, which was an amazing feat in and of itself.He went back to wrestling in Japan, and eventually made the switch to MMA. In his first pro fight last year, he quickly took down legendary judo champ Min Soo Kim, got a full mount, and punched him until Kim tapped out. Observers at ringside noted that even Lesnar’s short punches from the mount were doing incredible amounts of damage. He’s been training MMA for two full years, so he comes into the fight far more prepared than your average newcomer.Frank Mir is a former UFC Heavyweight Champion. He’s most famous for breaking Tim Sylvia’s arm with an armbar, and for being fat and gassing during fights because he’s lazy. To his credit, Mir did suffer a horrific motorcycle accident when he was hit by an elderly driver who ran a stop sign, and he’s never really been the same fighter since. But he’s also a dangerous first opponent for Lesnar, because he was once known as the future of the heavyweight division, and he has world-class submission skills.Mir has to get a submission from the bottom in order to win this fight. There’s no way he’s going to win a three round decision with Lesnar, and he won’t be able to stop the takedown. He won’t be able to out-wrestle Lesnar, and if he can’t avoid the ground and pound, it’s going to be a short night for the former champ.

Prediction: Brock Lesnar by ground and pound

Rob Yundt vs. Ricardo Almeida: Belcher
Nate Marquardt vs. Jeremy Horn: Marquardt

UFC 77 Discussion

Here are some random bullet-point thoughts about UFC 77 and where they go from here.

  • First and foremost, I think Anderson Silva has firmly supplanted Fedor Emelianenko as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. His complete dismantling of Rich Franklin on Saturday night was an unveiling of sorts; we always knew Silva had to be considered one of the best in the world, but his second victory over the former champ cemented it. The fight was slightly more competitive than the first one, mostly because Franklin escaped from the first round, but at no point was Silva in danger. In fact, he looked like he was even having fun, mixing some dance moves in while dodging Franklin’s punches. There’s nobody in the middleweight division who could even have a remote chance of beating Silva, save for perhaps Dan Henderson, and he’s not dropping down from light heavyweight, so I suspect that Silva will be the middleweight champion for as long as he wants to be. Silva’s brutal beating of Franklin has probably ended Ace’s career, as well, because he mentioned retirement after the show. He might as well retire — after all, he’s not going to beat Silva, so what’s the point of sticking around the division?
  • Tim Sylvia is the most boring fighter in the world, and that makes him a pretty unpopular guy, but he took care of Brandon Vera from the outset of the fight to the finish. I hate “octagon control” because it’s boring and it’s Tim’s specialty, but even in the few exchanges that happened Sylvia dominated. Vera’s lone good shot was an illegal knee to the temple while Sylvia’s knees were on the ground. While I don’t want to see Tim Sylvia fighting for a title shot, I’ve no doubt that it’s probably going to be him vs. Noguiera for the belt in 2008, unless Couture can iron out his differences with Dana White.
  • The announcement of signing of Brock Lesnar took me by surprise, not because I didn’t expect them to sign him, but because there’d be no rumors lately that he’d be announced at the show. Good surprise by UFC, and I’m looking forward to seeing who his first UFC opponent is. I think Lesnar is the future of the heavyweight division and he’s going to be a scary, scary fighter once he’s had a few fights under his belt. Remember, Lesnar’s first fight ended when his opponent tapped out while being PUNCHED — not a submission move, but an actual tap out just because Lesnar was punching him so hard. He has to cut weight to make 265, which nobody else outside of Tim Sylvia has to do. Needless to say, I’d love to see him fight Sylvia because there’s no way Tim will be able to push him up against the cage wall like he does with so many other fighters.
  • UFC 78 doesn’t have a ton of stars on the card, but it does have a few up and comers — Michael Bisping takes on Rashad Evans, and Houston Alexander fights in the co-main event of the night. I’m always pumped to see Houston Alexander, and if he wins the fight, you’ve got to think he’s on the short list of guys to fight Rampage. I think Forrest Griffin should get an immediate title shot after defeating Shogun last month, but if Alexander is able to beat Thiago Silva at 78 in dramatic fashion then he should be next in line. I think Houston is for real, and he’s fighting a guy who is undefeated in UFC, so it should make him a contender with a victory.

UFC 68: Preview & Predictions

Here’s my preview for tonight’s UFC 68 event. I must confess that after putting 1,600 words into the main event, I simply ran out of time to full preview the last three fights on the main card, so I’ve only got my predictions for those fights and no history. Many apologies.

UFC HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
TIM SYLVIA (25-2-0) vs. RANDY COUTURE (14-8-0)

UFC has exploded onto the mainstream sports scene because of one simple thing: they’ve been able to tell great stories about two men who want to win a fight. It’s basically classical pro wrestling booking; you take two guys who either have a grudge (such as Ortiz/Liddell or Ortiz/Shamrock and now Ortiz/Griffin) or want to win a championship belt so they can be known as the best at what they do in their weight class. You take those two men, you run hype videos on them, and then you let them get in the ring and fight.

It’s simple, yet incredibly effective.

In UFC right now, there is no better story than a 43 year old former champion and Hall Of Famer coming out of retirement to try and take the belt from a champion who he believes is boring. Whether that’s a real-life situation or not is immaterial; it’s the storylines and the grudges that make people buy pay per view events, and the story of Randy Couture doing the Rocky gimmick and coming out of retirement to face a guy almost everyone hates as champion is certainly one of the bigger stories attached to a UFC 68 event that otherwise would have been seen as lackluster.

Like him or not, there’s no denying that Tim Sylvia is a dominant world champion in his division. Sylvia was born March 5, 1976. He started his road to mixed martial arts as a child by taking karate classes, and started wrestling in high school. He entered the UFC when he attended UFC 28 in Atlantic City in 2000. The story goes that Sylvia and some friends were able to get backstage before the show, and UFC great Pat Militech saw him. Militech, impressed by Sylvia’s size, asked him if he was a fighter. Sylvia had fought very little because he found it difficult to get training partners and fights because of his size, so Militech told him to come to Iowa. In late 2000, Sylvia did just that, and still trains with Militech Fighting Systems to this day.

Sylvia made his UFC debut at UFC 39 with a TKO over Cabbage Correira. He won his first UFC Heavyweight championship only two shows later by dominating Ricco Rodriguez. He won his next fight as well, but tested positive for steroids after the match and was stripped of the belt and suspended for six months.

Sylvia faced Frank Mir upon his return for the title, and what happened in this fight is the stuff of legend. Mir caught Sylvia in an armbar, snapping his radius bone three inches below his elbow. Herb Dean stopped the fight and declared Sylvia unable to continue, btu Sylvia protested that he was perfectly okay and that his arm wasn’t broken at all — this despite the replay clearly showing Sylvia’s arm snapping. Dana White ended the fight and awarded the title to Mir. And yes, Sylvia’s arm was x-rayed and revealed to be broken post-fight.

He’s never been knocked out and claims a win/loss record that is nearly unmatched in the world of mixed martial arts. He’s also six foot eight inches tall and 270 pounds, which makes him a formidable opponent no matter the situation.

Regardless of his record or intimidating size, Sylvia has been taking potshots from MMA journalists and UFC fans over the past year for what they perceive to be a lazy style. The UFC has gotten huge not only because of great promotion, because there are thousands of people who could probably promote stuff this simple with as much screen time as UFC is afforded. One of the main things that gets fighters over is great fights, exciting fights — fights that make people want to pay to see you again. Sylvia seems obsessed with the title and would rather grind out a decision victory than go for the knockout, and that irks many fans because, well, Tim Sylvia is gigantic and should be knocking people out instead of playing it safe just to keep the belt.

Randy Couture is one of the most legendary fighters in the history of mixed martial arts. He has held both the Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight titles two times each, and is in the UFC Hall of Fame.

Couture began his career as an amateur wrestler and was an Olympic team alternate in 1988, 1992 and 1996. He debuted in the UFC in 1997 at UFC 13, taking place in a heavyweight tournament and defeating Tony Halme and Steven Graham to take first place in the bracket. His next fight was a TKO over Vitor Belfort, and he then defeated Maurice Smith for his first Heavyweight title. After the fight, Couture was stripped of the belt when he wouldn’t sign a new contract with UFC, and ended up leaving for Japan and signing with RINGS. He didn’t stay there long, returning to UFC in 2000 and beating Kevin Randleman for the heavyweight title at UFC 28.

Couture retired from the sport on February 4, 2006 after losing to Chuck Liddell for the second straight time in the light heavyweight division. He was inducted to the Hall in June of 2006 and began joining the UFC broadcast booth during PPV events. He became an ambassador for UFC, appearing at charity events and helping to promote the company abroad.

On November 17, 2006, Couture competed in a submission wrestling tournament. In the final, he faced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. The fight ended in a draw, but more importantly, this was the moment when Couture began thinking about making a comeback.

Knowing he couldn’t beat Liddell, Couture said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle that if Tito Ortiz were to find a way to beat Liddell, then he would come out of retirement to face Ortiz. That didn’t happen, however, as Liddell knocked out Ortiz in a hyped New Years fight at the end of the year.

On January 11, Couture announced that he was coming out of retirement to fight Tim Sylvia for the heavyweight title. It’s hard to discern what is pro-wrestling storyline and what is real, but the gimmick is that Couture doesn’t think Sylvia deserves to be champion because he values the belt more than he values having a killer instinct, so he’s going to try to take it from him.

ANALYSIS: Couture is the overwhelming favorite in fan polls, and Sylvia is the overwhelming favorite in journalist polls. Couture is a long-shot, but if there was ever a chance to believe that an old guy could come out of retirement, move up a weight class and defeat the huge monster who has been boring people to death over the past year, it’s this one. The only way Couture can beat Sylvia is by getting inside and taking him down, because there’s no way this would last long if Couture tries to keep it standing and strike. Sylvia’s reach is way too long for that. Randy has to find and way to get inside, get past his great sprawl and take the big man down, and then work hard for a submission or ground and pound victory.

MY PREDICTION: Tim Sylvia

RICH FRANKLIN (20-2-1) vs. JASON MACDONALD (18-7-0)

Rich “Ace” Franklin is coming off one of the nastier knockouts in UFC history. After spending seven months on the shelf with a broken hand, Franklin returned to defend his UFC Middleweight Title against Brazilian Anderson “Spider” Silva at UFC 64 last October. During their main event fight, Silva knocked Franklin out with knee strikes from a Thai clinch. Franklin also suffered a badly broken nose as a result of those strikes that required surgery. It was also pretty evident going into the fight that Franklin was deathly ill, which may have led to his poor showing and defeat.

Jason “The Athlete” MacDonald made his UFC debut in October during the undercard of the Ortiz/Shamrock 3 fight by defeating The Ultimate Fighter’s Ed Herman with a triangle choke. MacDonald went on to beat Chris Leben (also of The Ultimate Fighter) at UFC 66 with a guillotine. After the fight, he coined himself “The TUF Killer” in reference to his wins over two highly-touted fighters from the Ultimate Fighter TV show.

ANALYSIS: Rich Franklin is highly respected striker and if he can keep this fight standing, then he has a good chance of winning. He has to watch out for MacDonald on the ground, though, as MacDonald has proven himself to be a formidable submissions expert. I’m not sure that Franklin has recovered from his horrible loss to Silva, and I think that gives MacDonald an edge going into this fight.

MY PREDICTION: Jason MacDonald

MATT HUGHES vs. CHRIS LYTLE: Matt Hughes

RENATO SOBRAL vs. JASON LAMBERT: Renato Sobral

DREW MCFEDRIES vs. MARTIN KAMPMANN: Martin Kampmann

Chuck Liddell: Tired

Good Morning Dallas interviewed Chuck Liddell this morning, and it was…interesting.

Chuck claimed he was sleepy, but I’m thinking he meant “I’m drunk”.

My UFC 68 preview/predictions piece is coming tomorrow afternoon or early evening. I did almost 2,000 words on the main event alone, giving complete histories for both Tim Sylvia and Randy Couture, but I can’t bring myself to do that much for the other fights. I plan on wrapping it up tonight and tomorrow morning and getting it posted. I’ll say that I predict one upset for the night, but I’ll leave you guessing as to which fight it is.

UPDATE: Chuck has been extremely sick, according to Loretta Hunt at The Fight Network. He took Nyquil at 4am this morning to attempt to get better, and apparently was still feeling the effects of the medicine when he conducted his interview.

Couture Plans Long Fight With Sylvia

Dave Meltzer has a fascinating article in the LA Times today previewing the heavyweight championship fight between Randy Couture and Tim Sylvia at next weekend’s UFC 68 in Ohio.

In the article, Meltzer reveals that Couture is planning to fight Sylvia like a light heavyweight, which is something that nobody has ever tried with the 6’8″ world champion. Randy plans on a long fight, or a battle of attrition, in the hopes that he can wear the big man down enough to get him off his game plan.

I’m currently in the midst of writing my UFC 68 Preview, and it will be posted alongside my picks sometime next week.

UFC 70: The Current Card

Since I’m getting about 200 hits a day from Google from people searching for information about UFC 70, I thought I’d post the current card. The show is more than two months away, and interest in the show is far outpacing the March and April events (if my search logs are any indication, anyway).

UFC 70 will be held in England and will be headlined by Mirko Cro Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga in a battle of top heavyweight contenders. Dana White said today in a radio interview that if Cro Cop beats Gonzaga, he’ll face the winner of the upcoming UFC 68 Tim Sylvia/Randy Couture fight for the UFC Heavyweight championship.

These are the matches that are both confirmed and matches that are rumored to be booked. The rumored fights come directly from sources within Zuffa itself and are in plain text, while the confirmed fights are in bold. I’ll add bold text to each fight as it is confirmed by either Dana White or someone else from Zuffa.

  • Mirko Cro Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
  • Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin
  • Andrei Arlovski vs. Cheick Kongo
  • Michael Bisping vs. Elvis Sinosic
  • Victor Valimaki vs. Alessio Sakara

Big UFC 70 Rumor

UFC 70 RESULTS ARE HERE 

UPDATE: My UFC 70 predictions are available here.

I talked to a buddy tonight who is pretty involved with Zuffa and the UFC, and he told me some very interesting news: the current plan for UFC 70, which will be the first UFC event to take place in England, is scheduled to have two main event matches.

The first will feature a rematch between Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz, and the other main event could see Mirko Cro Cop fight Andrei Arlovsky in a fight to determine who the #1 contender for the World Heavyweight Title will be. The winner of that fight likely would face current Heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia or the guy who will challenge him at the UFC 68 event in March, Randy Couture.

An Arlovsky/Cro Cop match is considered by many to be one of the main “dream matches” that immediately became a possibility once Mirko signed a six fight deal with UFC in December. Stylistically speaking, this fight should be an interesting one to watch; Arlovsky is no pushover by any stretch of the imagination, and a fight between the two would firmly cement the winner as the rightful #1 contender for the belt.

A rematch between Ortiz and Griffin is inevitable; they’ve fought before and Ortiz won a questionable decision, but both of these guys are coming off recent painful losses and are looking to cement their place in the Light Heavyweight division.

UFC 70 will also feature England’s own Michael Bisping, but an opponent has yet to be named.

Take these news items with a grain of salt; my source is a pretty good one and in fact told me about the Cro Cop signing in early December, long before it was ever revealed to the rest of the world.

UFC 66 Injury Notes and News

  • Chuck Liddell fought last night with a torn ACL, which he sustained three weeks ago but kept secret from everyone but his trainer. That makes his win over Ortiz that much more impressive, indeed. Liddell will undergo surgery for the injury, which means his match with Quinton Jackson won’t happen for quite some time.
  • Ortiz sustained a broken foot in the first round after a low inside kick. They’d been planning on doing the Ortiz/Dana White boxing exhibition in late January, but that appears to be off now.
  • They’re going to make some changes to the new season of The Ultimate Fighter to keep the concept fresh. They start filming in a few weeks.
  • Andrei Arlovsky has challenged Tim Sylvia for the heavyweight title. Again.

Also, UFC 69 is now scheduled for HOUSTON, TEXAS. This is the greatest news of all time, as I just happen to live in Houston and will no doubt attend the show.