Sunday, March 4, 2007

Hall of Famer Randy Couture upsets heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia at UFC68

By Neil Davidson

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CP) - Hall of Famer Randy (The Natural) Couture came out of retirement with a bang Saturday night, defeating champion Tim (The Maine-iac) Sylvia via a well-earned unanimous decision to win the heavyweight title at UFC 68: The Uprising.

It took guts and a savvy game plan to dispose of the six-foot-eight, 265-pound Sylvia, who came in 13 years younger, six inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than the 43-year-old Couture.

Couture won every round in a masterful performance.

"Not bad for an old man," Couture said in the ring after the fight.

Sylvia was unable to get his offence started and seemed taken aback by Couture's accurate strikes. Couture, meanwhile, kept outside or ducked Sylvia's punches - dancing in to swing away when the time was right.

And he lived up to his promise of taking the big man down - and then subduing him on the ground.

A frustrated Sylvia mouthed an obscenity as the bell for the end of the fourth round rang. The fight ended with Couture on top of the big man and the crowd at the soldout Nationwide Arena roaring.

The win made Couture (15-8) a five-time mixed martial arts champion: three times at heavyweight and twice at light-heavyweight.

"He is very tough, very long, very strong," Couture said.

Sylvia dropped to 25-3.

"Randy just came, he brought it ... he kept me off balance all night," Sylvia said.

Sylvia said he came into the fight with an injury but was beaten "fair and square."

Earlier, former champions Rich Franklin and Matt Hughes bounced back from title losses to post convincing wins.

Franklin battered Canadian middleweight Jason MacDonald en route to a TKO while Hughes outmuscled welterweight Chris Lytle for a unnanimous decision.

MacDonald, a 31-year-old native of New Glasgow, N.S., who now calls Red Deer, Alta., home, was game but could not solve the defence or raw power of the Cincinnati-based Franklin. His corner ended it after two rounds and it was a good call.

Couture started with a rocket, knocking down the champion down with a big right. Sylvia got up but Couture rushed forward and bulled him down and then rolled the big man, trying for a choke hold from below as the crowd cheered.

Sylvia resisted but Couture kept working, his legs holding Sylvia in place the rest of the round.

Couture took Sylvia down in the second, firing some decent shots from above before referee (Big) John McCarthy stood them up. Couture took Sylvia down again as the bell rang.

Couture kept his distance in the third, picking his shots and avoiding danger. Another takedown came in the fourth, and another in the fifth, when Couture mounted the champion.

Couture, who retired a year ago after a second loss to Chuck Liddell, entered the arena to Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle." Sylvia opted for "Jesus Walks" by Kanye West.

It was past midnight local time by the time they both made it in the cage.

Croatian sensation Mirko (Cro Cop) Filipovic probably awaits Couture.

Earlier, MacDonald and Franklin bulled each other by the fence as their 185-pound fight opened before Franklin started nailing MacDonald with some accurate strikes when they returned to the centre of the ring. And he cut the Canadian around the eye when he got him on the ground, firing blows from above.

MacDonald had difficulty taking Franklin down, and paid for it every time he tried.

In the second, MacDonald tried to work from the bottom but Franklin was too strong. The ex-champ mounted him twice and punched away with MacDonald saved only by the bell.

MacDonald (19-8) staggered back to his corner, his battered face leaking blood and cornerman Mark Pavelich signalled the fight was over, giving Franklin the TKO win.

Franklin (23-2) was making his first foray into the ring since being outclassed last October by Brazil's Anderson Silva in just two minutes 59 seconds. Franklin required surgery after a string of Silva knees rearranged his nose. Now Franklin will be looking to replay the favour.

MacDonald came in on the strength of impressive wins in his two UFC fights to date, submitting Ed Herman and Chris Leben. A well-conditioned, well-rounded pro, Franklin represented a distinct step up in class from those two, however. An Ohio boy, the ex-champion also had the crowd on his side.

UFC president Dana White said prior to the bout that the winner would get a shot at Silva's title. But it is widely expected the Brazilian will face Nate Marquardt first.

Silva was in the crowd Saturday night and was booed loudly by the pro-Franklin crowd.

Hughes relied on his wrestling skills to take care of Lytle in his first outing since November when he lost his 170-pound mixed martial arts title to Montreal's Georges St. Pierre.

The two battled on the ground in the first round, with a game Lytle managing to hold off Hughes as the former champion gradually improved his position. It was more of the same in the second, but this time Hughes carved open Lytle's head with elbow strikes.

In the third, Hughes quickly got side position and went to work again. It wasn't pretty but it was highly effective. Still there were boos as the fight wore on.

Hughes improved to 43-5 while Lytle, the losing finalist in Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show, fell to 32-14-4.

UFC 68 was a success before the first punch was thrown. UFC officials said the planned sellout of 18,000 at Nationwide Arena was the organization's highest ever, garnering an expected gate in excess of US$2.8 million.

UFC fans couldn't wait, milling around the arena in impressive numbers before the doors opened at 7:30 p.m.

In earlier action, Jason (The Punisher) Lambert had Renato (Babalu) Sobral attached to his back like a clam for most of the first round of their light-heavyweight bout. But Lambert somehow held off the Brazilian, managing to cut him and then floor him late in the round.

Lambert administered some ground and pound in the second and when Sobral went for a kick, Lambert nailed him with a left. The Brazilian crumbled and Lambert tagged him on the ground with a right for good measure to end it at 3:36 of the second round.

It was the second bad ending in a row for Babalu, a loser to Liddell last August courtesy of a highlight-reel kick to the head.

Cincinnati's Matt (The Hammer) Hamill, a popular deaf fighter from The Ultimate Fighter TV show, had little trouble disposing of 37-year-old Columbus local Rex (Big Dog) Holman via TKO at 4:00 of the first round to improve to 5-0.

In other undercard action, lightweight Jamie (The Worm) Varner choked out previously unbeaten Jason (The Gizzard) Gilliam at 1:34 of the first round and Brazilian lightweight Gleison Tibau dominated but was unable to finish off Jason (Dynamite) Dent en route to a unanimous decision.

Welterweight Jon Fitch submitted Luigi Fioravanti by rear naked choke at 3:05 of the second round. Danish middleweight Martin Kampmann submitted Drew McFedries via arm triangle at 4:06 of the first round.

The UFC moves to Houston next, where St. Pierre will defend his welterweight title against Matt Serra on April 7 at UFC69: Shootout. Then it's on to Manchester, England, where Filipovic fights Gabriel Gonzaga in the headline event of UFC 70: Nations Collide on April 21.

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