From The Clinch: Review of UFC 68: The Uprising

From The Clinch: UFC 68: The Uprising

–Live from the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on March 3, 2007.

–Our hosts, as always, are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

–To start, we get the usual pre-card vignettes and hype, as Jason MacDonald refers to himself in the third person about four times in ten seconds. As for the main event, Joe doesn’t understand why the world hates Tim Sylvia, while Mike proclaims that Randy “has never abused drugs or alcohol.” This sets off a wave of commentary from our viewing audience, since most of us have abused one of those and some of us have managed to abuse both, about just how many drinks Randy has to have before he decides that enough is enough.

For the sake of our children, we pray that such an example of moderation will once again be world champion.

Renato “Babalu” Sobral vs. Jason Lambert: Again, this promises to be a pretty exciting fight between two massive ground specialists who need a win to stay afloat in the promotion. Lambert looks trimmed down (or at least hairier) here, while Babalu, making his entrance to “Simon Says”, looks like a serial killer who hasn’t slept for three days. Unfamiliar with both fighters, most of the room picks the far scarier Babalu on sight.

Round 1: Both fighters circle to start for about 15 seconds, then Babalu snaps off a leg kick and fires six straight hooks at Lambert, driving him back to the fence. He takes Lambert to the ground, but Lambert manages to tie his arms up; before Big John can restart them on their feet, Babalu manages to loop three straight punches over the top right onto Lambert’s face, and then blasts him with an elbow, busting him open. He then takes Lambert’s back and starts angling for a rear naked choke, but Lambert stays composed and initially shows excellent submission defense. Still, Babalu persists and eventually gets the choke, but Lambert slides out, manages to get back to his feet, and pulls Babalu into a clinch.

Holding Babalu’s shoulders, Lambert slips his right arm inside of Babalu’s left arm and just pastes him with three straight uppercuts. Babalu is reeling as he breaks free of the clinch, and Lambert, now swinging for the fences, just destroys him with an enormous right hook, knocking him straight to the floor. Lambert leaps on top and tries to finish, but Babalu is saved by the horn to end the round.

Almost the entire first round went exactly like everyone thought it would: Babalu was total control and it only looked like a matter of time until he could snuff Lambert out. Of course, Lambert had a little something to say about the ending of the round. Between rounds, they show the replay of the big right hook, and it was picture perfect; short, powerful, face-warping, and right on Babalu’s chin.

Round 2: Smelling blood, Lambert immediately rushes Babalu, pushes him to the cage, and takes him down. An excellent wrestler in his own right, Babalu escapes and pulls Lambert into a clinch, but Lambert takes him down again and immediately goes into his half-guard. From that position, Lambert nails him with several sharp right hands; Babalu tries to move his head and stay active, but Lambert still manages to land the occasional shot until Big John stands them up again.

Babalu goes for a left leg kick as Lambert completely obliterates him with another massive right hook, practically knocking him into orbit. Babalu hits the canvas, and Lambert gets a couple of gratuitous shots in before Big John steps in and ends it.

In the post-fight interview, Lambert immediately thanks Jesus for giving him the strength to beat another man senseless.

The Verdict: Raise your hand if you thought that this was how the fight was going to go. Conventional wisdom had Lambert, obviously talented but relatively inexperienced against world-class guys, being completely outclassed by an opponent with a much more impressive resume. Instead, Lambert destroyed Babalu with his striking, a weapon that we hadn’t seen from him in the UFC, and immediately vaulted himself back into the title picture at 205.

Babalu, on the other hand, is rudderless at this point: a win over Lambert might have gotten him another fight with a contender, but in a division with Jackson, Jardine, Evans, Ortiz, Griffin, and the returning Stephan Bonnar, he’s going to have a very long road to hoe before he can get remotely close to another title shot.

Matt Hughes vs. Chris Lytle: Lytle is in fantastic shape, while Matt gets a huge ovation for his usual long, drawn-out entrance. Our viewing audience seems to find it pretty funny that Matt walks through the backstage area for at least 90 seconds of that damn song before he actually reaches the arena itself: “Where the hell is he walking from–the airport?”

Round 1: Lytle comes out throwing, and Matt shoots in for a takedown. Lytle, on the way down, locks in a guillotine choke, and the crowd is in shock. Lytle keeps cranking away for about two minutes, but Matt finally gets free. Matt climbs into Lytle’s half-guard and tries to get a choke of his own, but Lytle tries to roll away. In a neat bit of counter-wrestling, Lytle manages to roll himself to the top position, but Matt rolls through and gets back on top, so Lytle grabs another guillotine. Matt easily slides out and into side control, but can’t capitalize.

With about 45 seconds left in the round, Matt finally lands a couple of elbows in side control, but Lytle (from the bottom) reaches his legs back and around Matt’s head, locking him in a bizarre triangle choke! Matt struggles in the hold for a little while, but reverses to an armbar and straightens it out just as the round ends.

Lytle did an excellent job this round, keeping Hughes off-balance with various submission attempts and generally not letting Matt impose his will on him on the ground. For his part, Matt stayed on top and in dominant positions, but had to keep fending off submissions and counters from the frisky Lytle.

Round 2: Matt immediately comes out and takes Lytle down against the fence but gets pulled into a guillotine yet again. Matt squeezes out into Lytle’s half-guard, then immediately transitions into side control, and then finally starts dropping those trademark nasty elbows, busting Lytle open. The two continue to grapple for position with Matt on top but unable to get Lytle into a position where he can end the fight; finally, with about two minutes left in the round, Matt passes guard and gets into full mount. He tries to drop elbows on the prone Lytle, but Lytle manages to reverse and put Hughes into guard. Matt snatches an arm and tries for a kimura, but Lytle escapes and ends up in guard as the round ends.

Matt was definitely in command of this round, but still couldn’t get Lytle locked in to a submission or put him into a position where he could pound him out. Lytle, on the other hand, was too busy holding Matt off to mount much of an offense.

Round 3: Both fighters circle to start: Lytle lands a big left, but Hughes takes him down and transitions into side control. From there, we hit a lull, with Lytle stuck on the bottom and Matt occasionally trying for something and not succeeding. After a couple of minutes, Matt lands a couple of elbows and tries for an armbar; Lytle reverses into mount, but the round ends before he can do anything there. We go to the scorecards, and the result is a unanimous decision win for Matt Hughes.

The Verdict: Lytle’s problem here was the exact problem that he had in the Ultimate Fighter finale: he was so concerned about negating his opponent’s offense that he could never really mount an offense of his own, and not letting your opponent kick the crap out of you is not necessarily the same as winning the fight. While I thought that a unanimous 30-27 decision was a bit harsh–I thought that Lytle did enough to win the first round–the better fighter definitely won tonight.

Matt can take positives and negatives from this fight: on one hand, we did see the return of Matt Hughes, the takedown-scoring, position-winning force of nature; on the other hand, we did not see the return of Matt Hughes, the fighter who finished five of his last six wins early. Not a good sign for a guy who not only wants to get his welterweight title back but also reportedly wants a shot at the 185-pound crown.

Jason MacDonald vs. Rich Franklin: Speaking of 185-pounders, here are two of the best in the UFC. MacDonald comes down looking loose and confident, smiling as ever; Rich, all business, enters to “To Those About To Rock (We Salute You)” as the room quickly rattles off a list of better AC/DC songs to use for a UFC entrance: “Dirty Deeds,” “TNT,” “Hell’s Bells,” “Thunderstruck,” or “Highway to Hell.”

Round 1: MacDonald leads with his face and immediately eats two hooks, then tries a takedown, which Rich balances his way out of. MacDonald tries to trade leather with Rich, which immediately backfires as Rich lands a knee and two more hooks to the head. MacDonald wisely backs off and forces a clinch, where Rich knees him in the ribs a few times. Rich breaks the clinch with a quick combination and a nasty left hook; MacDonald tries a kick but walks into a straight left instead. They clinch, and Rich blasts MacDonald with an uppercut, knocking him down. MacDonald tries to get his legs up to defend, but Rich stays standing and lands several nasty unobstructed shots to his head. Finally, MacDonald shores up his guard, so Rich steps back and lets him up. MacDonald shoots in for a takedown, but Rich reverses on the ground and pounds away through MacDonald’s guard as the round ends.

Look familiar? The first round was textbook Rich, as MacDonald unwisely stuck to his public pre-fight strategy of standing and trading with the former champ.

Round 2: Rich leads off by cracking his opponent upside the head with a crisp right hook, but MacDonald drops down and grabs a kneebar. Rich gets free, so MacDonald gets up and tries for a single-leg takedown, but Rich manages to defend it well and ends up on top. MacDonald tries for an armbar, but Rich slides out, switches to side control, and then passes to full mount. Looking to end it, Rich swings away, but MacDonald manages to slide him back out to full guard, which Rich passes almost right away. MacDonald rolls over onto his stomach, so Rich takes his back and slides both of his legs over and between MacDonald’s hips, flattening him out. MacDonald is taking serious fire from a rear-mounted Rich, so he rolls over onto his back into an even worse ground-and-pound beating. Mercifully, the bell rings: as he gets up, MacDonald tells Herb Dean, “It’s over.” Sure enough, MacDonald’s corner throws in the towel.

After the fight, Rich (as respectfully as possible) calls out Anderson Silva; Silva (with interpreter) goes right into the ring, congratulates Rich on his win, and says that he’s looking forward to the rematch. Hey, it was the most respectful interview that I’ve seen between two potential opponents in a long time: Silva is a class act, and Rich is a relatively humble guy.

The Verdict: I’m going to drop all pretense of objectivity here. I was thrilled to see Rich win: he’s a classy guy and an excellent fighter who went through a lot of rather unfair schadenfreude after losing to Silva. To me, MacDonald comes off as a little smug, and Rich completely wiped that little smirk off his face.

Alright, now I’m flipping the objectivity switch back on again: from a technical standpoint, Rich dominated the fight. While not as complete an ass-whupping as, say, St. Pierre-Trigg, at no point was Rich remotely in any danger of losing the fight, and he showed that his overlooked ground skills are something for opponents to be worried about.

MacDonald still has two quality submission wins in the UFC, and should be a force in the 185-pound division over the next few years, but he wasn’t quite ready to make that jump in class against that kind of a well-rounded opponent.

Drew McFedries vs. Martin Kampmann: McFedries, the red-headed stepchild of the Miletich camp, gets in there with Kampmann, a former kickboxer.

Round 1: McFedries comes out throwing hands right away, moving forward and nailing Kampmann with a strong left hook, but Kampmann backs him off with a head kick. McFedries keeps pressing the pace, dropping Kampmann with a big right cross. Kampmann eventually makes his way back to his feet, only to get rocked again with a huge left hook.

Kampmann is getting his ass kicked, so he goes to Plan B and takes McFedries down. He switches to side control and starts landing elbows to the head and knees to the body, then switches to side control on McFedries’ other side. He blows through what’s left of McFedries’ guard and doesn’t even waste time in full mount before grabbing a deep, deep arm triangle choke and choking McFedries out in a matter of seconds.

The Verdict: This is what happens when a boxer takes on a mixed martial artist. I enjoy watching McFedries and his single-minded go-forward mentality, but his lack of defensive skills are always going to cause him problems against guys who don’t just stand and trade with him. That said, he was beating the crap out of Kampmann with his striking, but Kampmann showed versatility and composure and managed to pull out the win.

With three wins in three fights (and two by submission), Kampmann looks like he might be ready for prime time at 185. Look for him to slide up into a number-one contender spot as soon as Swick or Okami gets a shot against the winner of the Silva-Rich rematch.

Tim Sylvia vs. Randy Couture: Because we all love Randy (come on, who doesn’t), we loved his choice of Aerosmith’s “Back In The Saddle” as his entrance music. But really, who can hear the music over the massive standing O that Columbus gives him? Tim, always the 6’8″ drama queen, chooses to come in to “Jesus Walks.” Randy’s certainly a little thicker but still cut, while Tim looks like he’s in great shape, or at least in great shape for Tim Sylvia.

Round 1: Randy immediately rushes forward and absolutely KILLIFIES Tim with a massive right hook, knocking him flat on his ass. Wow, talk about something coming completely out of nowhere: in any case, Randy quickly takes Tim’s back and starts pounding away, so Tim ties up Randy’s arms and rolls over. While Randy still has Tim’s back, Tim is now laying on top of him. Randy keeps trying to land shots, occasionally succeeding; he also looks to snatch a rear naked choke, but Tim’s submission defense is excellent. They hold their positions for the last three minutes of the round: Randy staying just active enough to keep Big John from restarting them, and Tim too busy to do anything but hang on.

In five seconds, Randy Couture did what Jeff Monson couldn’t do in five rounds. No one in their wildest dreams saw Randy flattening Tim with his very first punch, but it certainly happened. Still, for someone who looked to be in huge trouble, Tim did a fairly good job of recovering and even managed to make Randy exert far more energy just by laying on top of him.

Round 2: Both fighters circle and jab, but Randy smacks Tim with another big right cross and rushes in to clinch. He tries a takedown; which Sylvia blocks at first; and gets it with the second effort. Now Randy has to battle through Tim’s long legs: Tim takes the opportunity to land some excellent punches from the bottom, so Randy stands up and bounces Tim’s head off the mat with a diving right hand. He then climbs back into Sylvia’s guard and lands a couple of elbows, but gets stuck there, and Big John restarts them on their feet. Tim paws away with his jab a little, but Randy lands another big left hook and takes Tim down as the horn sounds to end the round.

Everything that Randy had complained about, particularly Sylvia’s lack of aggressiveness, is utterly killing Sylvia here. He’s completely hamstrung by his passive over-reliance on counterpunching, as Randy is constantly rushing in with absolutely no fear of Tim’s jabs, taking him down at will, and just generally giving him no room to breathe or think.

Round 3: Sylvia finally comes out a little more aggressively, actively jabbing away to start the round. Even so, Randy still manages to sting him with a left hook as Tim jabs and circles. Randy nails a couple of hooks and keeps moving, trying not to give Sylvia a stationary target; he then scores with a sharp combination and then follows up with another. Both men go back to trading jabs, and Randy is completely gassed: he keeps throwing a few jabs, then stepping back out of Tim’s reach and dropping his hands to his sides, breathing heavily. With 30 seconds left in the round, Randy surges forward with a four-punch volley culminating in a sharp right cross, but nothing concrete comes of it. Both men circle and trade punches until the round ends.

This is the only round that’s been remotely competitive so far, but Randy is still kicking Tim’s ass all over the place. Randy looks spent, but Sylvia has been on the defensive for so long that he doesn’t have the strength to capitalize.

Round 4: Sylvia immediately has to stuff a takedown attempt, but Randy keeps at it and brings him to the mat. He sits up a little in Sylvia’s guard, then nails him with a strong right hand, but Sylvia stretches out, makes Randy reach all the way across his body, and eventually ends up back on his feet. He leads with a solid right cross, but Randy smacks him with a left hook, lands two big overhand rights, pulls him into a clinch, and takes him down. Randy passes right into side control and starts landing elbows to Tim’s head; he passes into full mount, but Tim slides out and grabs a front facelock, which he holds until the round ends.

More of the same here: a little better effort from Tim, but Randy is clearly way ahead on the scorecards and there’s now a certain air of inevitability to the fight.

Round 5: Both fighters circle and trade jabs to begin the round, but Tim’s jab has lost its snap and he’s just pawing at Randy’s face. Randy shoots in for another takedown and eventually gets it, but Sylvia tries for a kneebar (!), so Randy switches to side control. From there, Randy really adds insult to injury, alternating between kneeing him in the ribs and elbowing him in the face. Randy climbs into full mount, but Tim slides out and gets back to his feet, so Randy simply takes him down again. Pounding away from inside of Sylvia’s guard, Randy keeps working until the final horn. Everyone watching knows who won the fight, and the crowd goes appropriately insane when Bruce Buffer announces the decision.

The Verdict: Again, Randy pointed out everything wrong with Tim Sylvia’s style and then exploited every weakness that he had on the way to a dominant win. There was only one round where Sylvia may have had a chance to get comfortable setting his feet and throwing punches; otherwise, Randy was completely relentless, never giving the big man a second to catch his breath or collect his thoughts. This was a war of attrition, and Randy just ground Sylvia down from the opening horn until the end of the last round until there was nothing left.

Like everyone else, I’m excited/terrified at the prospect of a Randy/Cro Cop title fight, but hey, everyone counted Randy out last night, and look what happened.

It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Sylvia: when he mentioned that he may have been injured before the fight in his post-match interview, the crowd completely turned on him, almost booing him out of the building. His future is not entirely certain, either: we won’t see Sylvia-Arlovski again, Cro Cop will probably get the next title shot, and there’s really only the new crop of heavyweight prospects as potential opponents.

Still, with Sylvia somewhat devalued and Brandon Vera contractually obligated for one more fight, I wouldn’t put it past His Eminence, Dana White, to finally make a Vera-Sylvia fight happen, if only for the money.

The Final Verdict: What an entertaining card! We saw new stars rising (Lambert and Kampmann) and old favorites re-establishing themselves (Hughes, Franklin, and Couture); as an added bonus, we saw a great spectrum of MMA skills, from Lambert, Franklin, and McFedries striking, to Randy and Matt’s wrestling, to Kampmann and Lytle’s submissions.

Besides, if you love MMA in general and the UFC in particular, you’ll want to see when Randy Couture showed us how wrong we were yet again. Order the replay if you can; it’s more than worth your time and money.

As always, anyone else with opinions and/or feedback are welcome to share them with me at fight_reviews@yahoo.com. Otherwise, see you soon with that long-promised UFC 58 review!

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