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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

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