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Preview: Sylvia Defends Against Couture at UFC 68

Preview: Sylvia Defends Against Couture at UFC 68

After last weekend's surprises and upsets, who knows what's going to happen in the Octagon this Saturday. The main card is chock full of battles with the potential to go either way.

In the night's featured fight, the recently unretired Randy Couture (Pictures) gets another crack at the heavyweight title against champion Tim Sylvia (Pictures). You have to have serious stones to climb inside a cage at the age of 43 and agree to fight just about the largest heavyweight champion on record.

But before the title bout, other former UFC champs take to cage to reclaim recently lost glory. Former welterweight champ Matt Hughes (Pictures) faces TUF 4 runner-up Chris Lytle (Pictures) and former middleweight king Rich Franklin (Pictures) takes on rising star Jason MacDonald (Pictures).

Two fearsome light heavyweights clash when Renato Sobral (Pictures) and Jason Lambert (Pictures) settle their differences. And rounding out the main card, Martin Kampmann (Pictures) knuckles up with Drew McFedries. Martin Kampmann (Pictures) vs. Drew McFedries

Martin "The Hitman" Kampmann is an engineering student from Aarhus, Denmark and trains in Las Vegas, Nevada. He began competing in boxing and Muay Thai kickboxing before taking up submission wrestling. Kampmann began fighting MMA five years ago and is 14-2 as a pro. "The Hitman" is the 2001 Danish Thaiboxing champion. He can grapple as well, placing first in the 2004 Fight Back submission wrestling tournament and winning a 170-pound grappling match at the Battle of the Vikings.

Kampmann took part in the 2004 M-1 Grand Prix, where he faced UFC and PRIDE veteran Andrei Semenov (Pictures). He sustained a cut and the bout had to be stopped, giving Semenov the win, en route to his eight-man tournament triumph.

Kampmann has not lost since that M-1 bout. He was a late replacement for Jose Landi-Jons (Pictures) in the WFA last July, where he stopped Edwin Aguilar (Pictures) with strikes in the first round, serving notice to middleweights that his crisp striking and aggressiveness make him a dangerous opponent.

He debuted in the UFC a month later against Crafton Wallace (Pictures). Kampmann caught a kick and put Wallace on his back, where he showed his ground skills and tapped Wallace, with a rear-naked choke. His subsequent domination of Thales Leites (Pictures) in a unanimous decision victory prompted the UFC brass to put him on pay-per-view.

Drew McFedries trains out of the Miletich Fighting Systems camp and brings a 5-1 record into his UFC debut. By his own admission, he is usually in the shadows and is always the guy who helps other fighters prepare for battle. McFedries quietly did his thing and compiled a solid record, returning to form even after a three-year absence from the sport to rehab from Crohn's Disease; he's a fighter on every level.

The Iowa native began fighting in 2001, suffering a decision loss to Nathan Quarry (Pictures). He would hand striker Claude Patrick (Pictures) his first pro loss, via decision, and go undefeated in 2003. McFedries returned to action last October and stepping up in his Octagon debut in November was just business as usual. His knockout of Alessio Sakara (Pictures) then propelled him into the UFC spotlight.

McFedries' wrestling is solid but his hands were a huge secret weapon going into the Sakara match. He spars on a regular basis with current UFC heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia (Pictures) and others at MFS, so his timing, accuracy and footwork rival that of many of the sport's top strikers.

McFedries has the ability to take the fight where it needs to go - a true Miletich fighter trait - without fear of being caught in a bad position or being dominated in an unfamiliar aspect of the game. It is that mindset, coupled with the huge heart of fighter who has come back from death's door, which makes him incredibly tough to beat.

He may be just another member of one of the most successful camps in all of MMA, but McFedries has shown the heart and ability to hang with anyone. Like McFedries, Kampmann has skills on the ground but the Dane is going to keep it standing whenever possible. That works in McFedries favor, because his quality of training partners and environment is superior to his opponent.

I think it will be competitive bout, with McFedries taking the win via submission. Jason Lambert (Pictures) vs. Renato Sobral (Pictures)

Jason "The Punisher" Lambert trains out of the North County Fight Club, and is the former WEC light heavyweight champion and held both the Gladiator Challenge heavyweight and light heavyweight championships, as well. He carries a record of 22-6 in MMA.

Jason got his first big exposure at the end of 2001 when he had the opportunity to fight Brazilian fighting legend and UFC 8 tournament champion Marco Ruas (Pictures). Although Ruas submitted Lambert via heel hook in under a minute, he went on to take part in the huge Super Brawl 24 heavyweight tournament. Lambert won his first two fights before being pounded by current UFC heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia (Pictures). Wesley "Cabbage" Correira KO'd Lambert in Super Brawl as well but "The Punisher" stayed focused and went 4-1 in 2003.

Lambert entered the UFC last March at UFC 58 where he submitted Canadian Rob MacDonald (Pictures) and stopped his next 2 opponents, Brandon Lee Hinkle and Terry Martin (Pictures), with strikes. He re-enters the octagon off his first loss in three years when he was KO'd by TUF 2 contract winner Rashad Evans (Pictures).

Renato Sobral (Pictures) is a former Brazilian national wrestling team member, a RINGS King of Kings 1999 finalist and the IFC Global Domination eight-man tournament champion.

Sobral is a former Ruas Vale Tudo fighter and currently trains with the Gracie Barra Combat Team with Marcio Cruz (Pictures) and a virtual army of top Brazilian fighters. Lately he has been training with Carlos Gracie Jr. and at the Cuban School of Wrestling. "Babalu" sports a 27-6 record in MMA.

Sobral started fighting in Vale Tudo events in Brazil. He defeated Carlson Gracie Team member Fernando Cerchiari in the IVC 8 event and won the Circuito Brasileiro de Vale Tudo 5 eight-man tournament, beating PRIDE veteran Pedro Otavio among others. Much of Sobral's fighting history has taken place in RINGS (where strikes to the head of grounded opponents were prohibited), where he faced some of the event's best including PRIDE champions Dan Henderson (Pictures) and Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures).

His most impressive MMA accomplishment came in 2003 when he captured the IFC Global Domination eight-man tournament championship defeating three opponents in one night. This included a rare submission defeat of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and decision wins over UFC veterans Trevor Prangley (Pictures) and Jeremy Horn (Pictures).

In the Octagon, he debuted at UFC 28 against Maurice Smith (Pictures) and won a decision over the former heavyweight champion. He is 5-3 under the UFC banner and unfortunately is best known for his dramatic KO losses to current UFC light heavyweight champ Chuck Liddell (Pictures).

These two wrestlers are fairly evenly matched but the level of competition faced is dramatically different. In my opinion Lambert has only faced top competition a handful of times. The move down in weight in 2003 was a smart one and his takedown defense and striking have shown real improvement as well. With Sobral, he's gone through a major transformation since dropping to light heavyweight and switching camps.

He's always been a good wrestler but his kicks are nasty and his submission skills have taken center stage as an opponent's biggest concern. Lambert's best game plan is to use his wrestling to Sobral's back and try and work the choke from there. He also strikes well from the mount but "Babalu" has superior ground skills. I look for Sobral to win by submission. Jason MacDonald (Pictures) vs. Rich Franklin (Pictures)

Jason MacDonald (Pictures) is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylist training out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In addition to MacDonald studying BJJ under Josh Russell, he has recently trained at BTT Canada with Fabio Holanda (Pictures) and TUF 4 veteran Patrick Cote (Pictures), as well as Greg Jackson's camp in New Mexico. He began training for MMA in 1999 and has amassed 18-7 professional record.

"The Athlete" won the Maximum Fighting Championships first light heavyweight championship title last September and entered the UFC a month later. He made his Octagon debut at the UFC's Fight Night card last October against TUF 4 veteran Ed Herman (Pictures).

MacDonald played Herman like a fine instrument, quickly dominating him in the first round. Herman scored a takedown to counter Jason's attempt but he was put in guard and then the magic began. From side control to mount to a triangle and tap, MacDonald made it look easy.

To prove the debut wasn't a case of beginner's luck, Jason tapped Chris Leben (Pictures) two months later with a stunning guillotine choke. "The Athlete" was stunned in a stand-up exchange, but he had the wherewithal to keep his head in the fight and finish Leben by submission.

Rich Franklin (Pictures) has a professional MMA record of 20-2. "Ace" is the former UFC middleweight champion. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based Franklin started fighting in '99 and first gained exposure at WEF 9 with a win over EF veteran Gary Myers, where Franklin threw a roundhouse kick to Gary's head, making him crumble to the floor.

He would continue climbing the ladder and entered the UFC in 2003 with a spotless professional record. Evan Tanner (Pictures) was Franklin's first target. Tanner was punished on the feet early in the opening round before retreating to the mat, which only accelerated Franklin's efforts to finish him.

"Ace" suffered his first pro loss against Ryoto Machida (Pictures) in Japan, where he was knocked out on New Year's Eve 2003. "Lyoto" had Franklin in trouble in the first and turned up the heat early in the second round, dropping "Ace" with a series of strikes.

It took a decidedly different four rounds to put away Tanner in the rematch bout at UFC 53. A bloodied Tanner would not give in until the doctor's said he could take no more and Franklin was crowned middleweight champion.

In his first defense, Rich picked apart Nathan Quarry (Pictures) and then went the 25-minute limit with David Loiseau (Pictures) in his second defense, breaking his hand in the second round. Last October, Rich experienced his first loss in the UFC and only the second of his pro career.

Anderson Silva entered the Octagon with a reputation as one of the most feared strikers in the middleweight division, and in less than three minutes he showed why, overwhelming Franklin in the clinch and dropping him with strikes.

He is a complete fighter with great throwing abilities, solid takedowns with good takedown defense and his submission skills are adequate enough to take out somewhat skilled grapplers while giving him the confidence to avoid trouble spots.

MacDonald is most dangerous on the ground and he can pull off modified, more risky maneuvers as well as the traditional submission finishes. His weakness is striking on the feet, though he professed to working on his stand-up striking prior to the Leben fight. However, he was visibly hurt in the exchanges there and that is where Franklin will capitalize. Franklin has the takedown defense to keep this out of MacDonald's comfort zone and finish him with knees to the body and elbows in the clinch. Franklin by TKO. Chris Lytle (Pictures) vs. Matt Hughes (Pictures)

Matt Hughes (Pictures) is a two-time Junior College All-American, two-time NCAA All-American and two-time UFC welterweight champion with a 40-5 record in MMA. He trains with Pat Miletich (Pictures) in Bettendorf, Iowa.

Hughes began fighting in 1997 and has fought around the world in RINGS, Shooto, Super Brawl, Warriors War and numerous events in the U.S.

He debuted in the UFC in 1999 and carries a record of 14-3 in the promotion. Hughes has been a regular in the Octagon since 2001 and won the title from Carlos Newton (Pictures) in the infamous "first one to regain consciousness wins" bout at UFC 34. He finished Newton with strikes in the rematch at UFC 38, leaving little doubt the title was his.

Hughes turned away all comers for two years including Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) and Sean Sherk (Pictures) until 2004. In the title bout with B.J. Penn (Pictures), Hughes' attempted armlock late in the round allowed Penn to seize his back. Rather than defend his neck, Hughes works on Penn's legs and Penn sunk the choke for the win.

Against Renato Verissimo (Pictures) at UFC 48, Matt won a unanimous decision that left some fans scratching their heads. Hughes then submitted Canadian Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) via armbar in the final second of the first round of their match and choked out Frank Trigg (Pictures) in the same manner as their previous encounter. First round stoppages of late-replacement Joe "Diesel" Riggs and UFC legend Royce Gracie (Pictures) paved the way for a rematch with BJ Penn.

The former champ worked over Hughes and had him looking out of sorts in the early going but wrestler took advantage of the visibly injured jiu-jitsu fighter in the third round and finished him with strikes. Hughes' second reign at champ was squashed he met an improved Georges "Rush" St. Pierre last November.

The confident St. Pierre wasted little time picking apart his foe and nearly finished him in the opening round. The bout would end suddenly as a roundhouse to the head sent Hughes crashing to the floor. Georges rushed in for the finish, handing Hughes his first defeat in two years.

Chris Lytle (Pictures) (22-13-5) trains out of the Integrated Fighting camp, Marcello Montera, and represents Ring Sports/Palmers Gym.

Lytle can be considered an "old school" fighter given the fact he comes form the generation of combat athlete that needed to travel to acquire his skills rather than finding them all under one roof like they are today. He has excellent control from the top in guard and makes his opponents work to free themselves. He also has good submission avoidance, rolling out of danger and countering before any real threat materializes.

Lytle began fighting professionally in 1999 and fought in many local shows in the U.S. before making the transition to compete on the Japanese fight circuit, where he fought more frequently and the money was better. Lytle has faced many UFC veterans, beating Aaron Riley (Pictures) and Laverne Clark and losing to Dave Menne (Pictures), Shonie Carter (Pictures) and Nick Diaz (Pictures).

He performed well in a wild scrap with Robbie Lawler (Pictures) in a loss and also fought a memorable bout with Karo Parisyan (Pictures). A veteran of the UFC since 2000, Lytle sports a record of 2-5 in the Octagon and made it to the final round of TUF 4, losing his bid at a contract in a decision loss to Matt Serra (Pictures). But he will actually return to the cage before Serra gets his crack at the title.

Hughes needs a confidence builder to bring him back to speed but Lytle is no easy win. Lytle did show some weakness avoiding strikes from his back in guard against Riggs and I think that is where Hughes will finish this one.

On the feet, Lytle likely has the better all-around game — especially boxing. We've seen knees and even roundhouse kicks to the head from Hughes, so he doesn't always just wait for his chance to take you down. Once you're on the ground, you're in trouble. Lytle has had problems avoiding punishment from his back and Hughes is certain to employ elbows. Hughes via TKO. Randy Couture (Pictures) vs. Tim Sylvia (Pictures)

Greco Roman Wrestler Randy Couture (Pictures) is a three-time Olympic Team alternate ('88,'92 and '96), a semifinalist at the 2000 Olympic Trials, a three-time NCAA D-1 All-American, a two-time NCAA finalist, and a three-time national Greco-Roman champion.

Couture (14-8-0) trains out in Las Vegas, and recently worked with Forrest Griffin (Pictures), Mike Pyle (Pictures), Dan Christison (Pictures), Wes Sims (Pictures) and Eric Pele (Pictures). He also spent time with Ron Frazier, the assistant boxing coach at UNLV.

"The Natural" is also a two-time UFC heavyweight champion and former two-time UFC light heavyweight champion with a 14-8 record in MMA.

Couture was wrestling in Puerto Rico when he got the call that there was a slot open in the UFC 13 heavyweight tournament. He took a chance relying only on his wrestling and boxing and easily won the four-man tourney. Randy pulled his first shocker with a stoppage of the Vitor Belfort (Pictures) and traveled to Japan to capture the heavyweight title from Maurice Smith (Pictures). He was later stripped by SEG when financial negotiations went sour and never defended his belt. Randy came back in 2000 and beat Kevin Randleman (Pictures) for his second UFC heavyweight title.

He defended his title twice against Pedro Rizzo (Pictures), but lost to Josh Barnett (Pictures) at UFC 36 and could not reclaim the belt from Ricco Rodriguez (Pictures). Ten months later a slimmer Couture punished Chuck Liddell (Pictures), stopping him in the third round at UFC 43. He beat Tito Ortiz (Pictures) to become the undisputed light heavyweight title at UFC 44 but "lost" it to Vitor Belfort (Pictures) on a controversial cut stoppage at UFC 46.

Couture got his rematch with Belfort at UFC 49 and pounded Vitor bloody for three rounds until doctors ruled the Brazilian could no longer continue.

In April of 2005 Couture lost the rematch with Liddell when he was knocked out for the first time in his career. He would pick up a win over another standout wrestler, Mike Van Arsdale (Pictures), and he wanted another shot at Chuck. Their third meeting resulted in another KO of Couture, sending him, it seemed, into retirement.

Tim Sylvia (Pictures) trains with Pat Miletich (Pictures) and members of Miletich Fighting Systems. The six-foot-eight heavyweight is a former Gladiator Challenge super-fight champion, a Super Brawl eight-man tournament winner, and currently the UFC heavyweight belt.

He debuted in the Octagon at UFC 39 against Wesley Correira (Pictures) and treated those in attendance to the best bout on the card. "Cabbage" hung tough until his corner had seen enough and threw in the towel in the second round.

Sylvia (23-2-0) went on to make short work of Ricco Rodriguez (Pictures) to earn the heavyweight title and pounded fellow giant Gan McGee (Pictures) in his first title defense, but submission fighter Frank Mir (Pictures) rained on his parade in June of 2004.

Though unwilling to acknowledge it (or unable to feel it), Mir had broken Sylvia's arm early in the first round and relinquished his title. Sylvia would re-enter the cage seven months later and was forced to tap in his first meeting with Andrei Arlovski (Pictures). The Belarusian smacked and submitted Sylvia in under a minute at UFC 51.

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Re: Preview: Sylvia Defends Against Couture at UFC 68

Not to be forgotten, Tim returned to the cage and KO'd Lion's Den fighter Tra Telligman (Pictures) with a kick in the final seconds of the first round. Tim was back and given the opportunity to welcome the much talked about Assuerio Silva (Pictures) into the UFC. The Brazilian fought hard but never had the upper hand against the giant and the win gave "The Maine-iac" another shot at the title. Sylvia took a KO victory over Arlovski in a controversial bout last April and the less-than-stellar five-round rubber match took place in July with Sylvia getting the nod.

In his first defense Sylvia faced Jeff Monson (Pictures). Unfortunately the opening round and subsequent rounds were difficult to distinguish from one another. Monson employed the same formula (shoot for the takedown) and Sylvia offered the same response (stuff the takedown and drop your weight to make him work). There were a few breaths of life from Monson late but nothing to change the inevitable outcome of Tim keeping his belt.

I've gone back forth on this but I'm going to say Couture. Any time I've ever picked against Couture he pulled out the win and that makes me feel foolish because he simply used his tools better. That is no disrespect to Sylvia: he's the champion and I'd give him the nod against most competitors in the division.

What makes me doubt his continued reign is that Couture is a strategist. Sure, he's older and been away for some time but this is a single fight. I seriously doubt Couture is going to hang around fighting when he's truly past it. His 43 and most guys that are aren't the same as they were earlier in their careers. Plus, he never really left. He did the grappling match with "Jacare" and has continued to train, so all he really did was take a break to heal and regroup.

The game plan for each fighter is straightforward. Sylvia needs to use his reach, his killer right hand and his polished takedown defense to keep this fight standing. Couture needs to close the distance, take the fight to the side of the cage, engage in close-quarters "dirty boxing" tactics and try to bring it to the mat.

Couture's conditioning is the key to winning or losing. Trying to take down Sylvia down will tax those 43-year-old muscles and could zap his strength quickly. If he does get Sylvia to the ground and it is early enough in the fight that he has enough in his tank to keep going, his chances of submitting him are good. Both of Sylvia's pro losses were by submission. I feel Couture is going to take a lot of abuse standing before he'll get his chance to seize a limb but it will happen. Couture by submission.

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