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Length: 181 mins
There’s no real intro that I can give to a review of UFC 68 – if you’ve any interest whatsoever in MMA, you’ve already seen it. Emanating from Columbus, Ohio’s Nationwide Arena on 3.3.07, the event registered the highest attendance for any UFC, which could be attributed to three factors: that this was the Octagon’s first stop in this neck of the woods, that a hometown hero was looking to rebound from a devastating defeat in the semi-main event, and….. um…. there might’ve been another point of interest, too.
- Heavyweight Championship
Tim Sylvia vs. Randy Couture
- Martin Kampmann vs. Drew McFedries
- Rich Franklin vs. Jason MacDonald
- Matt Hughes vs. Chris Lytle
- Renato Sobral vs. Jason Lambert
- Matt Hamill vs. Rex Holman
- Jon Fitch vs. Luigi Fioravanti
- Gleison Tibau vs. Jason Dent
- Jamie Varner vs. Jason Gilliam
I haven’t heard or read Jamie Varner’s name mentioned in UFC circles since his victory in the opening preliminary of “The Uprising”, and can’t claim to be too upset about that fact, primarily because he’s an irksome little tosser. “The Worm” took opponent Jason Gilliam’s back as the latter rolled from guard in attempt to avoid the pass, keeping Gilliam at bay with token punches and working in a Rear Naked Choke for the first round tapout. Varner gloated, mugged and paid tribute to Scotty 2 Hotty, all the time invoking memories of the delusional gobs***e with short-man syndrome who drinks in your local. You know, the one who everyone knows one day will say the wrong thing to the wrong bloke, and you simply can’t wait… I hate being down on the generally-awesome Lightweights, but I’m cantankerous and anti-social….
The bubbling undercurrent in the 155lb sea picked up further propulsion in the next fight, as Gleison Tibau dropped to a more natural class after a valiant but unsuccessful welterweight debut, squeezing a one-sided decision victory out of Jason Dent. The Brazilian clearly took the opening two rounds, exerting his authority in the first with an arm triangle from half-guard, and scoring with a pair of takedowns from where he worked with strikes in the second, although in a fashion reminiscent of Dustin Hazelett at the previous event, he accomplished the graphic of domination without ever seriously looking capable of finishing affairs. The trailing American pushed the pace in the final period, yet got a touch too acute in the closing stages, and ended the fight on his back, staving off Tibau once more.
Bring on the dancing horses and smell the goodness…. come UFC 76 this month, and the Jon Fitch juggernaut finally makes it onto the main card, opposite Diego Sanchez. Fitch had a game foe on this evening in the form of the misconjectured Luigi Fioravanti, who impressed by maintaining first round parity, displaying excellent takedown and ground defence to keep the tigerish Fitch at bay, and possibly even shading the standup exchanges. Fitch’s persistence paid off in the second, as he weathered a leglock attempt to take Fioravanti’s back, working to secure a choke for the tapout to end a thoroughly prudent, technical tussle.
The final prelim, pitting Matt Hamill against Rex Holman, was unquestionably the pre-show dud, loosely resembling as it did one of those horrific “Toughman” contests. The exchanges somehow tumbled onto the ground, with Hamill emerging in mount from Holman’s back, unleashing a series of unanswered punches to draw the merciful stoppage.
A slight, albeit totally understandable, irk about these releases is the royalty-ducking dubbing of stock music over many of the live entrance themes: not that it would’ve factored in this case, as both Renato Sobral and Jason Lambert’s entrances are left on the cutting room floor, but “Babalu’s” Godzilla-intro’d theme on the night of UFC 68 was pretty awesome. The fight itself was a bombastic affair, to boot. Babalu pressed for an advantage standing, to open the window for a takedown, studiously pushing “The Punisher” towards the fence from full guard, with Lambert admirably working back to his feet and into a clinch position, from where he worked a succession of uppercuts, putting Babalu on the back foot, with a final right punch putting him down as time ran out. The second began with a role reversal, as Lambert took the fight to the mat with Sobral working into full guard, and the fighters eventually being restarted. The Brazilian looked to pounce immediately, but Lambert clocked him coming in with a left hook for the KO…. not a monumental upset, but certainly a significant one.
Following his Welterweight title loss to BJ Penn, Matt Hughes’ first foray into the Octagon as a former champion, at UFC 48, saw him pick up a mildly unconvincing win over Charuto Verissimo. History was to repeat itself on this night, as the now two-time former top hand ground out a three-round decision over mid-card mainstay Chris Lytle, at one point invoking memories of his vengeance-fuelled 2006 triumph over Penn by locking “Lights Out” in the arm-pinning crucifix position, but spending the bulk duration in control from guard and side mount, picking off elbow shots and working for an opening. An undeniable victory for Hughes, but some way removed from the emphatic statement of intent that many, myself included, were expecting.
Genial Canuck Jason McDonald, fast emerging as something of a spoiler at Middleweight by this point, found the other fallen ex-champion a hurdle too far in his rise to prominence, as Rich Franklin forced “The Athlete’s” corner to concede between rounds in the evenings third most “name” fight. Affairs seemed even as the two tussled for position against the fence, exchanging knees from the clinch, but when they broke away, “Ace” took the upper hand, and with it the first round, by picking off several combinations standing up, and sweeping McDonald when taken down to finish the period in ascendancy. This set the tone for the second round, as the hometown hero thoroughly dominated from top position on the mat, ultimately forcing the concession as the five minutes elapsed, capping an encouraging exorcising of at least some of the Anderson Silva-demons.
The swing-bout offered up fireworks, as Danish striker Martin Kampmann overcame a formidable early onslaught from a boisterous and energetic Drew McFedries, taking the MFS man to ground with the aid of a hard-earned clinch, opportunistically scoring with knee strikes, and doggedly sticking with an arm triangle until the fight was stopped. Both men looked good in this one- McFedries displayed tremendous firepower on his feet, while the Dane showcased a tremendous chin, and a previously unforeseen facet to his game when the fight hit the deck.
The selling point of UFC 68, particularly with the retrospective feel-good factor well onside, was always going to be the main event, and in this regard it is truly unsurpassed. The old boy fair brought a tear to the glass eye….. legendary fighter Randy Couture came out of retirement at forty three years of age to challenge incumbent heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. Given how “The Natural’s” step down from said weight class years prior was instigated by the influx of more physically imposing men- with whom he was beginning to struggle- like Josh Barnett, Gan McGee, Ricco Rodriguez and Sylvia himself, coupled with his dual defeats at the hands of Chuck Liddell and subsequent lay off, many folks (once again, myself included) simply couldn’t forsee a happy ending here. There’s so much that can be written about these twenty five minutes, but ultimately the purpose of an epic yarn is not to wax intellectual (pseudo or otherwise) about the whys and wherefores, but simply to sit back and absorb it…. to let it take you somewhere…
Needless to say, Couture’s animus in the event was bang on the money, and perfectly executed. With a strategy built around quickly closing the distance to nullify “The Maine-iac’s” gargantuan reach advantage, the veteran set the tone by shooting immediately out of the blocks, feinting a leg kick and dropping the champion with a wild right hook. Intelligibly, the fight set out and remained firmly in fairytale territory, as the underdog from all conceivable angles controlled and took every single round; one of the main engrossing factors was watching Sylvia’s morale visibly, slowly weep away as the minutes ticked on, as the consternation of his situation dawned…. and eventually took over. Indeed, you knew we were firmly in never-never land as the big man looked, glass-eyed at Pat Miletich during a rest period to ask “What round is this?”. Reminscent of his playful spanking of Tito Ortiz en route to a previous unthinkable triumph, Couture- with the result already in the bag as time filtered out- put a late fifth-round exclamation mark on a monumental moment by taking the giant to ground one more time for good measure, ending with shots from inside the guard. Then, the delirium kicked in….. t’was truly insane…. and if you haven’t yet seen Randy Couture become UFC Heavyweight Champion for a third time, so are you.
Outside of Fitch vs Fioravanti, the prelims are surprisingly and unusually short of enticing material. Magnetic victories for Jason Lambert and Martin Kampmann spice up the undercard, coming as they do amongst somewhat routine-feeling Hughes/Franklin stuff, and a high score is assured as the most inspirational man alive chose this platform to deliver THE moment of 2007.
Overall: 8.5 / 10