The UFC will hold its 68th event at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio tomorrow night. The show is headlined by the UFC’s heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia defending his title against the legend, Randy “The Natural” Couture. This bout will mark the return of Couture to active mixed martial arts competition since retiring in 2006. This will also be Couture’s first bout back at heavyweight since UFC 39, way back in 2002.
The card should not be titled “Uprising”, but instead be called “What have you done for me lately?” The sport of mixed martial arts is taking on more and more of an attitude that suggests that a fighter is only as good as their last fight, and UFC 68 is full of fighters returning to the octagon coming off of losses. Randy Couture returns from retirement and steps into the octagon for the first time since being knockout by Chuck Liddell. Matt Hughes returns to action fresh off losing his welterweight championship to Georges St.Pierre via a tko stoppage. Rich Franklin will be looking to get back to poster boy status with the UFC and he will look to do it in his home state of Ohio; but like Hughes and Couture, he will be fighting for the first time since suffering a devastating loss which cost him his middleweight crown. Like Couture, Hughes, and Franklin, Renato Sobral, Jason Lambert, and Chris Lytle will all be stepping into the octagon looking to get back into the win column.
It is really hard to picture a UFC event that has more questions and career altering fights taking place on the same card. Can Randy Couture make a run in the heavyweight division like the run he made in the light heavyweight division back in summer of 2003? Will Couture be demolished and be sent back into retirement? Can Tim Sylvia win over fans by defeating Couture? How will Matt Hughes bounce back from losing for the first time since 2004? Is Matt Hughes still motivated? Can Chris Lytle send Matt Hughes into retirement? How will Rich Franklin look after losing in such a devastating fashion to Anderson Silva? Can Jason MacDonald keep winning? Can Babalu return to form after suffering such a nasty quick knockout at the hands of Chuck Liddell?
For many of the fighters on the UFC 68 card, the fight that they find themselves in on March 3rd will be the most important fight of their career. No matter how great they were at one time, no matter how long they held a championship title, it will not matter. The sports is changing and new talent is rising fast. The careers of many of these fighters will depend on a victory in the octagon on Saturday night. Losses by the likes of Hughes, Franklin, Sobral, and even Couture could very well be the end of their respective runs as elite UFC fighters. So what have you done for me lately?
UFC Heavyweight Championship Fight: Tim Sylvia (Champion) vs. Randy Couture (Challenger)
Tim Sylvia will be entering Saturday night’s title bout with a mixed martial arts record of 23-2. However, no one seems to care how good Tim Sylvia actually is. Sylvia is one of the top heavyweight fighters in the world, it is impossible to argue against it. He has not lost since UFC 51 to Andrei Arlovski in 2005. He has defeated Arlovski twice (once ko, once decision), Assuerio Silva (decision), Tra Telligman (ko head kick), and most recently Jeff Monson (decision) at UFC 65. Sylvia has been criticized by almost everyone. Arlovski was thrown into a rematch so fast with Sylvia after losing his title to the Miletich trained fighter that it seemed that the UFC desperately wanted the title removed from around Sylvia’s waist. Randy Couture repeated over and over again while he was doing the broadcasting for the UFC during the Monson bout that “Tim was playing it safe”, “fighting not to lose” and “not trying to finish the fight”. Sylvia has heard these complaints from everyone and his attitude and actions in response to these claims has not helped his cause. Flipping off the crowd and cursing as the fans in the front couple of rows was truly a terrible P.R. move on his part. Nothing will get fans to hate you faster than to not act gracious in both victory and in defeat, as well as acting like a complete jerk when either a microphone is put in front of you or when a few fans boo.
It is truly a waste of time to break down this fight in terms of styles, skill, and cardio. Tim Sylvia is 6’8 and cuts weight to make the max weight of 265 pounds. Randy Couture is a fan favorite who left the heavyweight division because he was stopped by strikes in back to back fights in 2002 to much bigger opponents. Couture lost his heavyweight title, dropped down to 205 and rejuvenated his career, and became the legend his is today. Neither of these fighters is going to submit each other, Couture wants to take Sylvia down and ground and pound out a victory. Sylvia wants to jab away and try and take off Couture’s head. Sylvia will not want the fight on the floor unless he is on top raining down blows. This is all simple stuff and is the very typical “striker verse grappler” match up that has defined the sport for so long.
However, there is more to this fight than just the typical “striker verse grappler” match up. This fight is very different than the Ortiz/Liddell, Ortiz/Shamrock, St.Pierre/Hughes, Couture/Liddell, or even Sylvia/Arlovski rivalries of the UFC’s past. Sure, Randy Couture is going to make a great deal of money by returning to the octagon, but there is more to this. Couture coming out of retirement to challenge Sylvia for the heavyweight championship is nothing short than Couture questioning Sylvia’s manhood. This has not been a match that has had the sound bite trash talk that the UFC has used in the past to bring in pay-per view dollars and stir up a rivalry. Couture is back because he thinks he can take the belt away from Sylvia. Couture did not work his way up the UFC heavyweight division in the last few years. He is starting at the top, calling out Sylvia.
Sylvia now has the chance to prove himself to the world that he can finish a fight and can be a great champion, and he gets to do it against one of his biggest critics. This fight will define Sylvia’s career. Anything short of a knockout victory for Sylvia will be considered a failure. A decision win for Sylvia in many ways is a real win for Couture. Couture is not supposed to win this fight, he is out sized, and out gunned on the feet. However, Couture loves the challenge and there is something or someone telling Randy that this is not a crazy idea and that this is a fight he can win. The pressure of Sylvia needing to knockout Couture and to win in fantastic fashion will be weighing heavily on the shoulders of the champ.
This is a fight that should go to Sylvia, but I am not going to take him. I think Randy Couture will take the belt away from Sylvia by earning himself a five round unanimous decision. Sylvia needs to take out Couture in highlight reel fashion. A big time knockout win for Sylvia against Couture would in many ways prove to many people that he is a great champ. In reality, Sylvia would be taking out a much smaller fighter who many argue is past his prime. However, I feel that Randy Couture will steal rounds with takedowns and frustrate the champ. The crowd will back Couture 100% and it will be Couture with his hand raised at the end of the bout.
Matt Hughes vs. Chris Lytle
Matt Hughes is the greatest welterweight fighter of all time. In his career he has earned a record of 40-5. However, Hughes was dethroned at UFC 65 at the kick and hands of Georges St.Pierre. Hughes has taken on the best, beaten the best, and has left very little for himself to accomplish in the sport of mixed martial arts in the 170 pound division. Hughes steps into the octagon with Chris Lytle (23-13-5). Lytle has been in the sport a very long time and lost a very close spilt decision to Matt Serra in the season finale of the Ultimate Fighter Four. Serra earned himself a title shot, Lytle earned himself a shot a Matt Hughes.
The question that needs to be answered in this bout is just how motivated Hughes is? How bad does he want the welterweight title back? Does he want to go up to 185? Does he want to retire? The question of retirement hangs over Hughes head as he steps into the octagon with Lytle on Saturday night. A victory for Lytle would send Hughes into a world that he has never been in, a two fight losing streak and a career that would be coming to an end. A win for Lytle would move him up the food chain at 170 and into some big money fights, a loss would just keep him where he has been his entire career, stuck in the middle. Hughes is a great fighter and is still one of the best in the world. However, just like when Randy Couture was defeated by Chuck Liddell twice at 205 pounds, the idea of working his way back up the food chain with no real title shots in sight just is not attractive to guys the caliber of Couture and Hughes.
If Hughes is not motivated, than Lytle will pull off the upset and leave the octagon with his hand raised. Lytle has the edge on the feet and could knockout Hughes if he is able to catch the welterweight legend. However, Matt Hughes is an athlete and a true competitor, and I cannot see him taking a fight lightly coming off a loss in the fashion he lost by. Hughes will get back on track and win by stoppage due to strikes in round three. Lytle is a gamer and will push the pace, but Hughes will just be too strong and muscle his way to a ground and pound victory.
Rich Franklin vs. Jason MacDonald
Rich Franklin (20-2) was on top of the world before UFC 64. Franklin’s name was mentioned in every conversation for best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and was ranked in the top three 185 pound fighters in the world along side Paul Filho, Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland. Then he met Anderson Silva. The Rich Franklin who had made Evan Tanner’s face ground beef, gave Nate Quarry instant rigormortis, and smashed David Louiseau was not to be found in the octagon that night. The stronger and larger Franklin, could not out muscle Silva and was ripped apart by knees and elbows. The knees hurt Franklin bad and left his nose placed on the side of his face. The loss would only be Franklin’s second of his career, but it was a loss that was so devastating that many feel that it will have a major impact on the rest of his career.
Jason MacDonald (18-7) was a mid-major fighter who was brought into the UFC to lose to Ed Herman. MacDonald had other plans and dismantled the Team Quest fighter in round one with sleek ground work. MacDonald was tested again at UFC 66 when he was put into the octagon with another Team Quest member in Chris Leben. MacDonald survived Leben’s stand up early and was able to lock in a nasty choke to earn his second straight UFC win. MacDonald now faces an even bigger step up in competition, as he now squares off with Rich Franklin.
Franklin will have the crowd 100% behind him, as he is a native of Ohio. MacDonald is going to have to overcome being the smaller of the two fighters in mass, but will have the height and reach advantage. Franklin is a very big 185 pound fighter and even Anderson Silva’s knees cannot take Franklin’s size away. The real test is to see how Franklin will handle being hit and tested.
MacDonald is no joke on the feet and he is extremely deadly on the ground. Franklin will need to return to form and blast away on the feet to win this bout MacDonald does have the capabilities to win this fight and I think he will pull off the upset. Franklin is coming into this fight with a great deal of pressure. He is fighting in his home state and fighting his first fight back after taking one of the worst beatings in recent memory.
MacDonald has been on fire and Franklin is coming in with many questions needing to be answered. I just feel this is a very bad match up for Franklin and if they had fought prior to UFC 64, there is no way I would have taken MacDonald. I will be pulling for Franklin come Saturday night, but I just do not like the match up and the momentum of MacDonald in this fight. MacDonald will pull off the upset victory when he locks on a triangle choke from the bottom in the middle of round two.
Renato “Babalu” Sobral (27-6) will defeat Jason Lambert (22-6) by armbar towards the end of round one.
Jon Fitch (12-2) will continue his quest to become an elite 170 pound fighter when he defeated Luigi Fioravanti (10-1) by decision.
Martin Kampmann (14-2) will lose by knockout at the hands of Drew McFedries (5-1) during the middle of round one.
Matt Hamill (2-0) will earn himself another victory by decision as he defeats Rex Holman (4-1).
Jason Dent (12-7) will win by stoppage due to strikes in round two over Gleison Tibau (11-4).
Jamie Varner (11-2) will knockout Jason Gilliam (9-0) with a big right hand at the end of round two.