Monday, March 5, 2007

The Monday Morning Reverie: Unbelievable

By Mike Sloan

EMF had a one-hit wonder way back in the day with the catchy You're Unbelievable. I'm starting to think that EMF were actually thinking of Randy Couture when they wrote that song, even though Couture had yet to actually have a professional bout under his bout at the time.

(Hell, I think Couture was still having plans of being a professional skier at that juncture in his life when that hit single was released, but that's neither here nor there.)

Unbelievable, in a word, is how I describe Couture, a man I will never — mark my words — ever pick against again for as long as I'm alive.

I doubted Couture when he fought Pedro Rizzo (Pictures) the first time. After I felt "The Rock" should have been awarded the victory, I severely doubted the almost-Olympic wrestler in their rematch. I then doubted "The Natural" when he first locked horns with Chuck Liddell (Pictures). I then doubted him against Tito Ortiz (Pictures) and then once again in his rematch with Vitor Belfort (Pictures). And again I doubted him when he fought the giant Tim Sylvia (Pictures).

Well, to be honest, I am finished doubting that man as he continuously makes me look like a buffoon. I might be a buffoon regardless, but Couture just has a knack for proving all of us so-called "experts" wrong and he loves it.

Not many people, myself included, gave the UFC Hall of Fame fighter much of a chance to last the distance against Sylvia, let alone actually win. Sylvia's always been difficult to take down, and his striking ability is among the best in regards to the heavyweight division. I figured with how badly Couture was twice knocked out against Liddell coupled with his age, the much larger and more powerful Sylvia would use Randy's head for batting practice.

Well, "The Maine-iac" didn't turn into Albert Pujols. In fact, he looked more like a little leaguer trying to hit against Sandy Koufax. I scoffed when Couture said he'd try to bang with his opponent, but 20 seconds into the fight, I snickered in disbelief when a felled Sylvia quickly found himself caught in a rear-naked choke attempt. From that moment, I knew undoubtedly that not only was Sylvia not going to win, but also my impressive six fight Great Sherdog Debate winning streak was going to end.

Couture could do no wrong on Saturday. He out-struck the self-proclaimed master striker and took down the lurching Sylvia at will. Couture expertly defended every submission attempt and busted up Sylvia's face, leaving him with a swollen, purple left eye. Couture, for the record, didn't have a scratch on him and if he did, I didn't notice it.

Watching Sylvia plod around the Octagon in hopes of figuring out a way to solve the riddle was amusing to me. No, it wasn't amusing because I dislike Sylvia (I don't dislike him); it was amusing because watching Randy have his way with the enormous and dangerous Sylvia was astonishing.

It's one thing to batter light heavyweights around the cage; it's another to replicate that wizardry against a Top 5 (some even said Top 3) heavyweight, a massive man in a weight class Couture wound up leaving because he couldn't hang with the big boys anymore.

Like I said at the top, Couture's feat in Columbus was unbelievable. I can usually pick the winners of fights and I had a Sylvia early KO signed, sealed and delivered once the fight became official. I honestly felt bad for Couture and was worried about his health and safety. He is ancient in "fighter years" and was knocked cold in two out of his last three bouts. Randy also hadn't fought in over a year and was going to fight a top-level heavyweight champion. I actually was scared that he might not make it out of the Octagon on his own two feet.

What was I thinking?

People can gripe all they want about Sylvia not being a world-class fighter, but the fact of the matter is that he is. He's lost only twice going in and aside from "Cro Cop" and the two studs in PRIDE (Fedor and Nog), Sylvia was clearly the best heavyweight in the world. Now Couture is in Sylvia's pre-UFC 68 spot and after watching that performance, he's got a great chance to beat anybody in the world, even Fedor.

That's the last time I ever bet against Couture and make ridiculous statements about one of his fights being a farce. Never in my life have I been so wrong but then again I should have known better. We all should have known better: this is Randy Couture (Pictures) we're talking about, a man who has made us all eat crow time and time again.

But then again, eating crow isn't too bad when we are given the pleasure of watching a miracle in front of our eyes.

A perfect comeback for Franklin?

I'm not sure if I'd call it a perfect comeback, but Rich Franklin (Pictures)'s win over the ultra hot Jason MacDonald (Pictures) was important. Though Franklin looked a bit tentative at times while on his feet, he did what he had to in order to secure the victory.

You could see the relief on his face once the bout ended after the second round, and to be honest, I'm glad those demons were exorcised.

Questions about Franklin's future ran rampant in the days leading up to UFC 68. Would he bounce back from defeat? Would he look as good as he usually does? Would MacDonald pull off the upset? Well, all those questions were answered with exclamation points and it's safe to say that "Ace" is back.

Granted, I'm not going on record to say that he'll bounce back and snatch the title back from Anderson Silva, but it's clear that Franklin's focus has returned. He took his time against MacDonald and fought intelligently. He also turned up the heat when he needed to and forced a corner stoppage. In the end, Franklin administered an old-fashioned beatdown to the durable MacDonald, a fighter who finally earned enough respect with wins over Ed Herman (Pictures) and Chris Leben (Pictures).

While it'll take MacDonald a few wins to get back to where he was on Saturday, it's safe to say that he has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. He's a good fighter and a good guy and a loss to a former middleweight champion shouldn't dampen his spirits too much.

As for Franklin, he will be fighting for the title, barring any injuries, by year's end.

Hughes did what was expected, props to Lytle

Not many insiders picked Chris Lytle (Pictures) to upend Matt Hughes (Pictures) but he did do better than how most predicted. Even though Hughes won every round and clearly dominated Lytle, the Indianapolis fighter gave it his all every second of the contest. He escaped expert submissions and made Hughes earn the win.

But in the end, it was clear that no matter how good of a fighter Lytle is, he wasn't good enough. Hughes is an all-time great. He did what he was supposed to do and Lytle should be proud of his performance.

While Lytle dropped a unanimous decision, my guess is that UFC president Dana White will welcome him back with open arms because he hung tough with Hughes. I can understand not bringing Lytle back if he got subbed in 10 seconds, but he forced the former welterweight monarch into a grueling battle. Kudos to Lytle.

Hughes' win over Lytle was proof enough that the Illinois farm boy is not shot and that'll he'll find himself immersed in a five-rounder in a year's time.

I never had anything against former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia (Pictures) and I probably never will. He took his defeat to Randy Couture (Pictures) like a true champ and his post-fight speech was a perfect look into how a real man, a real champion, takes a loss. It was refreshing to see Sylvia speak humbly about losing his title and give Couture all the credit he deserved. It was terrific seeing Sylvia make absolutely no excuses for the loss …

… until he claimed to have been injured going into the fight. The crowd, of course, angrily booed him and rightfully so. I, along with everybody else under the sun, am just sick and tired of fighters making excuses for losses. How many times do we have to be insulted by fighters claiming injuries; pre-fight distractions; illness; they beat themselves; etc. If you are injured going into a fight, be smart and do what GSP does and pull out. My solution to this epidemic of fighters who lose making more excuses than a pregnant nun is to fine them. Plain and simple. Fine them because nobody likes excuses. It makes the loser sound like a blubbering crybaby. …

What a terrific win that was for the underappreciated Jason Lambert (Pictures). He certainly looks like a viable contender after bludgeoning former title challenger Renato Sobral (Pictures), but, like all contenders, the jury is still out. My only question is which statement is more truthful: Lambert a legitimate threat or "Babalu" is more hype than substance? …

There is a local pub in Las Vegas called Screwballs. It's a nice little joint and I'd know because I've been there a few times. I'm not sure how many there are in town but they had a peculiar AM radio commercial that ran for at least a day or two that promoted their fun and free UFC 68 party. The commercial had this wacky Vaudeville circus music in the background that almost drowned out the voiceover actor. The funnier part is, however, it said in the commercial on two separate occasions to "come down to screwballs to watch UFC 68 featuring Sylvia vs. Couture and Franklin vs. Hughes!" What? Get your facts straight, guys. …

I didn't understand referee John McCarthy standing up Couture and Sylvia several times from rounds two-through five when there was actually some action taking place. What was more puzzling was the fact that McCarthy let Sylvia lay on Couture in rear-naked defense mode for four and a half minutes with literally no action. I wonder if McCarthy heard Joe Rogan complaining that he hates stand-ups. Wait, isn't Rogan a stand-up comedian? (cue the pies) …

Maybe I was the only viewer who had this problem, but my pay-per-view telecast (yes, I actually bought a UFC PPV for the first time in well over a year) had screwy sound. The sound was about a second or two early than the actual video feed, making it even better to watch. It was like watching an old Super Samurai Sunday flick, except it had Joe Rogan, Mike Goldberg and some guy named Randy Couture (Pictures). …

My wife thinks Andrei Arlovski (Pictures) is a good-looking guy. So do quite a bit of other women I know and have met who enjoy the UFC. But what was up with that shirt on Saturday? His chest was exposed because the top three or four buttons were unbuttoned and it was fluffy. All "The Pitbull" needed was a thick handlebar mustache, a pool and two women to go along with his ‘70's porn attire. …

When Mike Goldberg was pumping up Mark Wahlberg's new movie, Shooters, he called him "Marky Mark." Oh, bad move, Goldie, you best be looking out! Don't you know that Wahlberg be droppin' suckas who call him Marky Mark? …

What was up with the 19,000-plus fans booing UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva when he stepped into the Octagon to respectfully great former champ Rich Franklin (Pictures)? Knowing that was ill-advised and being one of the classiest guys on the planet, "Ace" reprimanded the crowd for booing his conqueror. They boo one of the best fighters in the game for doing nothing but winning without cheating? And people wonder why American fans make this proud American sick to his stomach. …

In between the Vic Darchinyan-Victor Burgos and Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez boxing matches on Showtime, the Showtime telecast crew interviewed female MMA fighter Gina Carano (Pictures). I've been saying this for a few years now, but she is very easy on the eyes! She will be pretty huge in the coming years, mark my words. …

After watching how Couture dismantled Sylvia, I couldn't help but chuckle thinking back to when Sylvia said in his pre-fight monologue that Couture had problems with heavyweights and strikers and that Sylvia is the best at both. Does that now make Couture better than both "Cro Cop" and Fedor? …

Now that Couture is the UFC heavyweight champion again, how much of a chance do you give him to beat "Cro Cop"? Or better yet: How much of a chance do you now give the Croatian of beating Couture?

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