Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Minute-by-Minute: UFC 68

By Jake Rossen

There would normally be little incentive to recap what many assumed would be Randy Couture's career funeral. (Even though much of Sherdog.com's offerings are dejecting, it's not on purpose.) But UFC 68, telecast Saturday from Columbus, Ohio, had a radically different result, one that was less Brian's Song on the Depress-o-meter and more Rocky Balboa.

Because the evening is destined to be remembered fondly — and because my gas bill is due — I offer these observations.

10:00 p.m. A last-minute run for Baked Doritos has gone awry; I'm sitting at a stop light in my car. Sepia Gladiator Guy will have to start fondling dirt without me.

10:02 p.m. Well-fed Mike Goldberg announces a raucous crowd of 19,000 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Despite combined efforts, their slurred cheers fail to drown him out.

10:04 p.m. Goldberg and Joe Rogan discuss Randy Couture (Pictures)'s chances in tonight's main event against gargantuan Tim Sylvia (Pictures). Because of his age, I'd slot his odds somewhere in the lower middle of the warrior spectrum, with the high end being "Cro Cop" and the low end being Urkel.

10:06 p.m. Rogan explains that Jason McDonald trains with Greg Jackson's crew. "You know what a phenomenal camp that is," he tells Goldberg, who nods. Somehow, I really doubt he does.

10:12 p.m. Underdog Jason Lambert (Pictures) enters the arena to Johnny Cash.

10:13 p.m. Renato Sobral (Pictures) enters, sporting a scowl that seems a little too forced to really be effective. Then again, it's not me in the ring with him.

10:17 p.m. Sobral opens with a flurry, then scoops Lambert up for the takedown. Six months of having a punching bag with Liddell's face taped to it is about to pay off for Babalu.

10:19 p.m. Sobral works a rear-naked choke on the stout Lambert, which is akin to trying to grapple with a fire hydrant. Sobral is failing to find a neck to apply pressure to.

10:21 p.m. Lambert lands a big right hand, and Sobral goes down to recover. Round's over.

10:24 p.m. We have a possible upset in the making. Lambert is on top of Babalu, doing a drum solo on his head.

10:26 p.m. "The Punisher is truly … punishing right now," Goldberg intones. Subtle.

10:27 p.m. Lambert knocks out Sobral, continuing the streak of upsets that began last weekend.

10:29 p.m. Lambert thanks Jesus for helping him give Babalu a concussion.

10:35 p.m. "I'm gonna crack ya." Matt Hughes (Pictures) and Chris Lytle (Pictures) exchange verbal barbs with all the grace of the Algonquin Round Table.

10:45 p.m. Hughes takes Lytle down immediately, with Lytle working a choke. This is a strange return bid for Hughes, since Lytle never fails to make anyone and everyone look bad.

10:49 p.m. Shades of Ric Flair, Lytle attempts a leg scissors lock on Hughes' head. It appears to be less effective than it was at Starcade '89 against Lex Luger.

10:54 p.m. After being on the bottom for most of the first two rounds, Lytle reverses Hughes, who appears to be unconcerned with his changing fortunes and continues a conversation about repairing a tractor motor with brother Mark.

11:01 p.m. Hughes wins a decision against the "durable" Lytle, which is the PC term for "boring."

11:05 p.m. Rogan and Hughes exchange awkward banter, with Hughes having previously professed little love for the comedian. How a devout Christian and a staunch atheist can be at odds is beyond me.

11:06 p.m. Rich Franklin (Pictures) is sporting one hell of a black eye. That's remedial high school math for you.

11:09 p.m. Former underwear model and recent Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg — a phrase that indicates a sign of the Apocalypse if there ever was one — discusses his new film, The Shooter.

11:10 p.m. "You competed at a high level for a long time in mixed martial arts, Joe." Goldberg is, at this point, certifiable.

11:17 p.m. An emotional Rich Franklin (Pictures) enters the arena to oppose Jason MacDonald (Pictures), his laconic expression reminiscent of Jim Carrey's after seeing the opening weekend grosses for The Number 23.

11:22 p.m. Much-maligned Herb Dean (Pictures) gets a receptive chorus of boos. Whatever they're paying him, it's not enough.

11:23 p.m. Franklin is unloading early, fighting with the ferociousness a man in pink shorts has no choice but to possess.

11:34 p.m. After an extended bludgeoning, MacDonald and his corner make the not-unreasonable decision to wave off any more cranial trauma.

11:38 p.m. Anderson Silva makes his way to the cage to respond to Franklin's challenge in Portuguese. The Midwest crowd, sensing he's probably not a corn farmer, boos.

11:40 p.m. Seventy-two percent of UFC's site visitors believe Couture will beat Sylvia. In a sheer coincidence, 72 percent also admit to sniffing paint thinner before the event.

11:44 p.m. Goldberg, MD mentions that Drew McFedries recently battled Crohn's Disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder. I'm sure he was delighted to have that shared with viewers.

11:47 p.m. Irate colon be damned, McFedries knocks down Martin Kampmann (Pictures).

11:51 p.m. After being peppered with strikes, Kampmann takes control on the ground and finishes with an arm-triangle.

11:57 p.m. The broadcast's wandering microphone gets opinions on tonight's main event. With few celebrities in Ohio, no one says anything stupid enough to mention here.

11:59 p.m. Couture and Tim Sylvia (Pictures) discuss their bout, offering contrasting opinions on Randy's abilities at the age of 43. "The Natural" is adamant he can still hang; Sylvia infers he needs to be in a rocking chair and wearing a diaper.

12:01 a.m. Couture enters to a deafening reception in Ohio. He looks much healthier hydrated. In the kind of classy display only a UFC fan could offer, a spectator tosses him a condom. Feel free to explore the subtext, because I won't be.

12:04 a.m. A hyperbolic Goldberg alleges that Sylvia could be 285 pounds tonight. Rogan chimes in that, if not for the 265-pound heavyweight cap, he might be 300 pounds. By the end of the night, I expect both men to report Tim Sylvia (Pictures) has been seen stomping over Tokyo.

12:05 a.m. The tale of the tape: Sylvia is six inches taller, 40 pounds heavier, and 13 years younger. My concern turns to outright apprehension. I loathe the UFC's perpetual mishandling of aging athletes to "put over" their fresher talent.

12:11 a.m. The first round opens. I really am wary of Randy getting hurt here. He's practically a geriatric and oh my Christ he just dropped Sylvia.

12:16 a.m. Round one expires as both fans and Sylvia try to regain their bearings. Couture spent most of the round working from Sylvia's back and trying to apply a choke.

While I'm reeling from his efforts, I remind myself that he looked good early on against both Josh Barnett (Pictures) and Ricco Rodriguez (Pictures) before their size wore him out. And Sylvia is built like Paul Bunyan. It's far from over.

12:22 a.m. Round two is in the books, proving the first stanza was no fluke. Couture scored with a takedown and started landing … but Sylvia has a scary guard, able to clip Randy's chin with those lanky limbs.

12:28 a.m. Fifteen minutes in, and Couture has never been in an ounce of danger. Incredibly, Randy is getting the better of the stand-up, bobbing and weaving like an Amish craftsman.

12:29 a.m. Sylvia sits humbled in his corner. He emits two loud belches.

12:34 a.m. Another five minutes of domination by Couture, who seems to delight in making me look like a giant idiot. As if I needed the help.

12:41 a.m. The fight is over. Sylvia's face is a swollen mess, a total Rick Baker special. Barring Helen Keller sitting at the judges' table, Randy Couture (Pictures) is about to regain his heavyweight title.

12:44 a.m. He's done it: Couture is now a five-time UFC champ. The crowd gets their fairy tale on and cheers when Randy embraces wife Kim. The only thing missing is fireworks and a bad Nickelback song.

12:46 a.m. Sylvia drops a reference to an injury during his post-fight interview, further endearing himself to the crowd. Sensing the tension, he immediately ushers in a handicapped child to hug.

12:50 a.m. I try to log on to various forums to gauge reaction to Couture's umpteenth magic trick. The pages won't load due to high traffic volume, which probably says it all about what happened tonight.

Or we could look to screenwriter William Goldman, who can help meet my pretentious quotes quota for the evening.

"Nobody knows anything," he said. And while he was speaking of Hollywood, it's just as relevant to MMA — and the legacy of the Natural.

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