Sunday, March 4, 2007

AMAZING! Couture Shuts out Sylvia to Win Third UFC Heavyweight Title

By Thomas Gerbasi

COLUMBUS, OH, March 4 – After losing two out of three fights to UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell and a tearful retirement in 2006, most believed that Randy Couture had run out of miracles. But before a packed house at the Nationwide Arena, the 43-year old UFC Hall of Famer shocked the world once again, dominating Tim Sylvia for five rounds, en route to a shutout five round decision that earned Couture a third UFC heavyweight championship.

“Not bad for an old man,” said Couture, whose three belts are now added to two UFC light heavyweight championships, giving him five total belts.

“He kept me off balance all night,” said Sylvia, a two-time champion himself. “He kept me guessing the whole 25 minutes.”

Entering the Octagon for the UFC 68 main event to the strains of Aerosmith singing ‘Back in the Saddle’, Couture smiled from ear to ear, seemingly overjoyed to be back in action as an active fighter. Conversely, Sylvia was all business – for him, this wasn’t a celebration; it was an affirmation that he was the UFC heavyweight champion and that an aging legend wasn’t going to change that fact in the next 25 minutes or less.

Then again, the former two-time heavyweight and light heavyweight champion never operated by anyone else’s plans, and with the first right hand he threw, Couture dropped the 6-8, 263 pound champion and pounced on him, looking to end the fight as the arena erupted. Soon, Couture had Sylvia’s back, but the champion took his time calmly as he tried to escape ‘The Natural’s clutches. Couture continued to work for the finish throughout the rest of the round though, as Sylvia arched backwards in an effort to weigh down and tire the challenger until the bell rang.

Couture quickly closed the distance to open the second, and despite being tossed back by Sylvia on his first attempt, his next try was more successful as he drove ‘The Maine-iac’ to the fence in an effort to get the takedown, which he got with 3:30 left. On the ground, Couture was active with both hands in order to not only score points but to keep his dominant position, and it wasn’t until there were 30 seconds left in the round that referee John McCarthy stood the fighters up. But it didn’t matter, as Couture landed with a solid left and took Sylvia to the mat yet again before the end of the stanza.

Sylvia pressed the action to begun round three, but Couture still amazed with his crisper standup and his impressive defense, complete with quick head movement and bobbing and weaving while he potshotted the 30-year old champion. Soon, his right hand was finding a permanent home on Sylvia’s left cheek, which began to swell, but he was still fighting with the discipline of a fighter who knew that one overeager mistake could mean the end of his night. Sylvia knew this too, and he kept trudging forward, hoping for the one right hand that would put him back in the fight.

Visibly winded between rounds, Couture had built enough of a lead that he could conceivably run out the clock for the next two rounds, but that’s just not his style, so he immediately sought – and obtained – another takedown of Sylvia to begin the fourth frame. From the ground, Couture conserved some energy while continuing to potshot Sylvia, who held the challenger until McCarthy stood them up with under three minutes to go. But again, it was Couture dominating the standup until he could put Sylvia on his back once again with just under two minutes left. As the one minute mark approached, Couture got into the full mount briefly before Sylvia escaped and started to put his own offensive together, but it was too little too late, and suddenly Couture was five minutes away from an unprecedented third heavyweight championship.

With his title slipping away, Sylvia again tried to land the equalizer on his opponent’s chin, but Couture would not be denied as he took the champion down and worked his way into side control. Sylvia had no answers on the bottom as Couture fired knees into his side and dropped forearms on his head, and then moved into the full mount with a minute and a half left in an improbable comeback that few believed he could realistically pull off. But in the final 30 seconds, the crowd that had been behind him from the opening bell roared and stood in unison for the new king.

With the win, Couture improves to 15-8. Sylvia falls to 25-3.

Ohio’s own Rich Franklin showed no ill effects from his devastating first round loss to Anderson Silva last October as he broke down and eventually stopped tough contender Jason MacDonald in two rounds.

“I was a little jittery at first, but I felt great in there tonight,” said Franklin, who has his sights set on regaining his UFC middleweight title belt in a rematch with Brazil’s ‘Spider’.

“Even though he doesn’t have the belt, he is still a champion,” said a gracious Silva of Franklin. “I hope I can give him the same opportunity he gave me.”

With the deafening roar from his home state fans ringing in his ears, Franklin (23-2) won the early battle with MacDonald (19-8) as he fought off his takedown attempt and came back with a quick flurry that put ‘The Athlete’ off balance briefly. MacDonald quickly recovered and again tried to put the Cincinnati native on the mat, but Franklin stayed upright as he looked to work his knees on the inside before again bringing the fight to long range, where he potshotted his foe with accurate shots from both hands. With a little over a minute to go, MacDonald hit the mat and tried to lure Franklin in, but all he got was a cut right eye and some punches to the head for his trouble. Finally, with 30 seconds to go, MacDonald got the takedown but Franklin was never in any danger as he put an impressive round in the bank.

MacDonald went for Franklin’s leg to start the second round, with Franklin pulling himself loose from his opponent’s grip and again going on the offensive. To his credit, MacDonald never stopped trying to implement his gameplan, and when the bout went to the ground at the 3:25 mark, he briefly got Franklin’s arm secure. Again, Franklin eluded trouble and soon got into the full mount position, where he began to rain down punches on MacDonald, who battled his way back to a more favorable position for a few moments until Franklin got the mount again and pounded away until the bell rang. Thankfully, the battered MacDonald’s concerned corner had seen enough, and they called the fight before the third and final round began.

Former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes got back in the win column for the first time since losing his title to Georges St-Pierre last November with a no-nonsense three round unanimous decision over Chris Lytle that saw the Hillsboro, Illinois native get back to his ground and pounding basics.

All three judges saw the bout the same: 30-27 for Hughes.

Lytle looked to test Hughes’ standup early with a quick combination, but Hughes took it well and immediately brought his foe to the canvas. Lytle responded by locking in a guillotine choke, but with the crowd screaming his name, Hughes eventually broke the lock. While still on the mat, Hughes continued to work, eventually getting into side control, where he started to finally open up a sustained ground and pound attack. Lytle refused to go away though, swinging his legs over Hughes’ head in a choke attempt, which Hughes turned into an armbar try just before the bell rang to end the opening stanza.

The bout quickly went to the ground as the second round commenced, but Hughes (43-5) jumped out in front this time, pounding and cutting Lytle (32-14-4) over the right eye with forearms as the two grappled against the fence. But just when things seemed bleakest for Lytle, ‘Lights Out’ was able to reverse his position and get some breathing room, albeit briefly as Hughes again assumed side control until the round ended.

Looking to turn the tide, Lytle made a last-ditch effort to work his standup game in round three, but again proved unable to stop Hughes’ takedowns. For his part, Hughes was steady but unspectacular on the mat, unable to provide the flurry that would end the fight, drawing boos from the crowd and a warning for more activity from referee Mark Matheny as the seconds on the round and the fight ticked away to zero.

“The fight didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I got the victory,” said Hughes.

Light heavyweight contender Jason Lambert scored the biggest win of his MMA career, stopping former UFC title challenger Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral in the second round of a back and forth 205-pound showdown.

After a few tense early moments, Sobral (27-7) pounced with a flurry of punches that took Lambert off guard and allowed ‘Babalu’ the opening he needed for a takedown. Once on the mat, the Brazilian proceeded to drive Lambert to the fence as he looked to take the Californian’s back and sink in a choke. With a little over a minute left in the round, he succeeded, but Lambert escaped and was able to find his way to his feet. Once standing, Lambert pounded away with uppercuts on the inside, cutting his opponent over the left eye. Seconds later a big overhand right stunned Sobral and sent him to the canvas in a delayed reaction. Lambert then went on the ground attack, only to have the bell intervene.

The combatants kept up the torrid pace in round two, with both fighters trading strikes before going to the mat. This time, it was Lambert in control from the top, as he fired away on Sobral until a standup from referee John McCarthy brought a break in the action. But what might have been seen as a break for Sobral turned out to be anything but, as a short left hook from Lambert when the two engaged dropped ‘Babalu’ hard to the canvas, with a follow-up by ‘The Punisher’ producing a stoppage at the 3:35 mark.

“I had confidence coming into the fight,” said Lambert, who upped his record to 23-6 in his first fight since a loss to Rashad Evans last year. “I knew his submissions were great, but I weathered the storm and my conditioning prevailed.”

In a middleweight swing bout, Martin Kampmann lost the standup battle to concussive punching Drew McFedries, but he won the war, taking the bout to the mat and scoring a first round submission to run his unbeaten UFC record to 3-0.

McFedries (5-2) looked for the home run shot early and often, with Kampmann (12-2) responding with head kicks to keep the Iowan at bay. McFedries dropped Kampmann with a right hand though and after a brief scramble on the ground McFedries continued on his seek and destroy mission, leaving an impression on Kampmann’s rapidly bruising face. With under three minutes to go, ‘The Hitman’ decided a better course of action was due and he took McFedries to the mat to try his luck there. He quickly worked his way to side control and sent knees into his foe’s side before suddenly sinking in an arm triangle that put McFedries to sleep at 4:06 of the opening round.

In a battle between Ohio wrestlers, Columbus’ former Division I National Champion Rex Holman (Ohio State) may have shown the right stuff to throw off the attacks of Cincinnati’s Division III National Champ Matt Hamill (Rochester Institute of Technology) if they were competing in a wrestling match, but when it came to striking and a complete mixed martial arts game, ‘The Hammer’ was leagues ahead of Holman as he pounded out an impressive first round TKO win in a light heavyweight bout.

Holman (4-2) showed his wrestling acumen early as he easily rose from the mat after Hamill (5-0) briefly got him to the mat, but his striking was poor in comparison to the veteran of the third season of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, a fact made more obvious as the seconds ticked away. By the second half of the round, Hamill, sporting a small cut under his right eye, was moving in for the kill, and once he got Holman to the mat, it was game over, as he pounded away on his foe until referee John McCarthy halted the bout at the 4:00 mark.

In welterweight action, highly touted contender Jon Fitch improved to 18-2 with a second round submission win over Luigi Fioravanti.

Fitch controlled the first round with a takedown and his trademark ground and pound attack, but Fioravanti (11-2) was able to escape with a nick over his left eye and a one point deficit on the scorecards.

Fioravanti was unable to get back in the fight in the second frame, and with Fitch seemingly able to put the fight wherever he wanted it, it was just a matter of time before the hard-hitting Floridian found himself on the losing end of the bout, and that time came at the 3:05 mark, when Fitch sunk in a rear naked choke that produced a tap out.

Gleison Tibau’s first foray to the UFC lightweight division was a successful one as he outpointed Jason Dent over three rounds in a fairly uneventful preliminary bout.

Scores were 30-27 across the board for Tibau.

Tibau opened the fight strong with a thunderous takedown and a sustained choke on the game Dent, who fought off the submission and earned himself a standup from referee Herb Dean which allowed him to last out the round.

It was more of the same in the second and third, as Tibau continued to control the action, albeit in unspectacular fashion, as Dent was unable to mount any offense against the Brazilian, who improved to 24-3. Dent falls to 12-8.

In the UFC 68 opener, Jamie ‘The Worm’ Varner (10-1), fresh off an impressive effort in defeat against number one lightweight contender Hermes Franca last August, got it right his second time around in the Octagon, making short work of UFC newcomer Jason ‘The Gizzard’ Gilliam (11-1) with a rear naked choke submission at 1:34 of the first round.

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