by Ricardo Mendoza – MMAWeekly.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday night returns to Ohio, this time at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. Dubbed “Hostile Territory,” UFC 77 features middleweight champion Anderson Silva defending his title against the man he won it from, Rich Franklin, in the challenger’s hometown.
MMAWeekly’s Ricardo Mendoza takes an in-depth look at the entire event… fight-by-fight.
UFC MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT:
ANDERSON SILVA VS. RICH FRANKLIN
UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva defends his belt against former titleholder Rich Franklin. Silva has a 19-4 record and trains out of Black House with Lyoto Machida. Franklin has a 22-2 record and fights as part of Team Extreme and trains with Jorge Gurgel.
Silva is coming off an impressive stoppage victory over Nate Marquardt at UFC 73, while Franklin returns from a lackluster decision victory over Yushin Okami at UFC 72.
This will be the second time that these two have meet in the Octagon in the last year. In their first encounter, Silva destroyed Franklin with knees, knocking out the former champion early in the first round. He has looked like an absolute beast since becoming the champion with neither of his past two opponents being able to put Silva in danger.
On the other hand, Franklin hasn’t looked extremely impressive in his last two fights. He appeared lethargic against Jason MacDonald and in his last fight, against Okami, Franklin was too cautious in the fight and nearly got submitted in the last round.
Not much has changed since the last time these two met and it won’t be much different this time around either. Franklin will be a much smarter fighter and won’t be so willing to clinch up with Silva. Either way, Franklin hasn’t shown anything in his last couple of fights that would make anyone think he will take the belt back. Expect Silva to be calm and relaxed in the Octagon, but once he gets an opening, he will pounce and finish Franklin again with strikes.
Prediction: Anderson Silva by TKO in the first round.
TIM SYLVIA VS. BRANDON VERA
Former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia faces heavyweight prodigy Brandon Vera. Sylvia has a 23-3 record and trains out of Miletich Fighting Systems with Ben Rothwell. Brandon Vera has an 8-0 record Lloyd Irvin at Lloyd Irvin Martial Arts.
Sylvia enters this bout having lost a decision, and the heavyweight title, to Randy Couture at UFC 68. Vera returns after nearly a year removed from an impressive knockout victory over Frank Mir at UFC 65.
The heavyweight division is once again in turmoil because of Randy Couture’s sudden resignation. It has since been determined that the winner of this fight will get a shot at the now vacant heavyweight championship.
Sylvia has a reach advantage, but Vera is the more complete striker on feet as he excels at incorporating his knees and kicks with his punching combinations. On the ground, Vera is the more accomplished fighter, having won several Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu titles at brown belt, but he hasn’t shown it much in MMA because he hasn’t needed to.
Vera is going to have some ring rust when he steps into the Octagon, but expect him to turn it on as the fight progresses. The first round is likely to be a slow one, as they feel each other out, but Vera should turn on the heat in the second and mix up his knees and punches to finish Sylvia.
Prediction: Brandon Vera by TKO in the second round.
JORGE GURGEL VS. ALVIN ROBINSON
“The Ultimate Fighter 2″ veteran Jorge Gurgel takes on Ring of Fire lightweight champion Alvin Robinson. Gurgel has an 11-2 record and trains out of Team Extreme with Rich Franklin. Alvin Robinson has an 8-2 record and trains with John Crouch as part of Royce Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
Gurgel won a hard fought decision over Diego Saraiva at UFC 73, despite suffering a broken jaw for his efforts. Robinson returns following a stoppage loss to Kenny Florian in his Octagon debut.
Gurgel hasn’t been super impressive in the Octagon, barely squeaking past his last two opponents, when in all reality he was expected to have done better than he has. Robinson gets another shot to impress the UFC brass and prove that he does indeed belong.
Both guys are tremendous ground fighters with Gurgel being a more technical fighter and Robinson being more explosive. Gurgel needs to control the fight on the feet, while Robinson will want it on the ground where he can work his magic. Expect Gurgel to control the fight while on the feet, but Robinson will take it to the ground and outwork him with his explosive ground skills now that he has gotten past the Octagon jitters.
Prediction: Alvin Robinson by decision
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT BOUT:
STEPHAN BONNAR VS. ERIC SCHAFER
“Ultimate Fighter” finalist Stephan Bonnar takes on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt Eric Schafer. Bonnar has a 10-4 record and trains out of Xtreme Couture with Forrest Griffin. Schafer has a 7-2-2 record, training with Henry Matamoros in Wisconsin.
Bonnar submitted Mike Nickels at UFC 73, while Schafer lost a TKO stoppage at UFC 66 to Michael Bisping.
Bonnar looks to continue his path up the light heavyweight rankings after two disappointing losses in a row. Schafer made an impressive UFC debut and looked good in his fight with Bisping, almost finishing him with a side choke before he gassed out.
Schafer will want to get this fight to ground in a hurry, but he needs to pace himself so he doesn’t get tired too quickly. Look for Bonnar, now with a solid training camp, to control the fight on the feet and stay out of danger on the ground en route to a decision victory.
Prediction: Stephan Bonnar by decision.
KALIB STARNES VS. ALAN BELCHER
“Ultimate Fighter” veteran Kalib Starnes takes on talented middleweight Alan Belcher. Starnes has an 8-1-1 record and is part of the Revolution Fight Team with Kultar “Black Mamba” Gill. Belcher has a 10-3 record and trains out of Mississippi.
Starnes returns following a decision victory at UFC 71 over Chris Leben. Belcher, at the same event, submitted Sean Salmon early in the first round.
As both are well-rounded fighters, this is one of the more even fights on the card. It comes down to which fighter can dictate the fight and impose his will on his opponent. Starnes will likely try to control the pace of the fight on the feet, while Belcher, if he doesn’t land an early knockout, will probably opt to take it to the ground. This is a hard fight to predict, but Starnes has a more complete game than Belcher and that will make the difference. He should take home the decision.
Prediction: Kalib Starnes by decision.
YUSHIN OKAMI VS. JASON MACDONALD
Japanese middleweight Yushin Okami takes on Canadian Jason MacDonald. Okami has a 20-4 record and trains with Caol Uno at Wajyutsu Keisyukai Tokyo. MacDonald has a 19-8 record and trains out of Pro Camp with Scott Junk.
In his last fight, Okami lost a controversial decision at UFC 72 to middleweight challenger Rich Franklin. MacDonald, also last fighting at UFC 72, scored a TKO stoppage of Rory Singer.
The winner of this fight should receive a shot at the middleweight championship. Both have lost to former champion Rich Franklin, but Okami came close to beating him with a kimura, while MacDonald never really put him in trouble.
Okami has been impressive in the UFC, going 4-1 to MacDonald’s 3-1.
A deceptively powerful fighter who uses his ground control to maul his opponents late in the fight, Okami will attempt to do just that. MacDonald will also want the fight on the ground, but in a position for him to employ his submission skills. Expect Okami to get off to a slow start, while MacDonald will try to take advantage and finish him quickly. But in the end, Okami will survive and turn up the heat in the second round, finishing him with strikes.
Prediction: Yushin Okami by TKO in the second round.
JOSH BURKMAN VS. FORREST PETZ
“Ultimate Fighter 2″ veteran Josh Burkman faces Midwest fighter Forrest Petz. Burkman has an 8-4 record and trains out of Team Punishment with Tito Ortiz. Petz has a 13-4 record and is part of the Strong Style Fight Team.
Burkman, in his last outing, lost a decision to Karo Parisyan at UFC 71. Petz, at UFC Fight Night 10, won a decision over Luigi Fioravanti.
Burkman is a fighter that has been pegged as a future contender, but has never been fully able to get to that next level. Petz is an up-and-comer that, likewise, has yet to find his groove in the UFC.
Burkman needs to get over that hump because its getting to a point that he has less and less time to become a serious contender in the UFC welterweight division. Petz will be looking for the biggest win of his career to project himself as a serious contender.
Usually able to use his strength and size against his opponents, Burkman will do the same here. Expect Burkman to out-muscle Petz during the entire fight and grind out a decision victory.
Prediction: Josh Burkman by decision.
JASON BLACK VS. MATT GRICE
Pride veteran Jason Black gets a second crack in the Octagon as he takes on Midwest lightweight Matt Grice. Black has a 21-3-1 record and trains with Spencer Fisher at Miletich Fighting Systems. Grice has an 8-1 record and fights out of Oklahoma.
Both fighters are coming off of submission losses in their last outings, Black to Thiago Tavares at UFC Fight Night 10 and Grice to Terry Etim at UFC 70.
This is a second crack for each fighter at earning his first UFC win.
Black was out-classed against Tavares, as he was never able to mount any significant offense. Grice looked impressive in the early stages against Etim, showing some impressive ground and pound before getting submitted.
Black has faced the tougher competition and will be the bigger fighter of the two on Saturday night. Grice should consider cutting down to featherweight and making a move to World Extreme Cagefighting, as he will always be the smaller fighter in the UFC. Look for Black to use his wrestling and size advantage to overwhelm the smaller Grice with strikes late in the fight.
Prediction: Jason Black by TKO in the third round.
DEMIAN MAIA VS. RYAN JENSEN
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion Demian Maia squares off with late replacement Ryan Jensen. Maia has a 5-0 record and fights out of Brazil. Jensen has an 11-2 record and trains out of MidAmerica Martial Arts.
Maia scored a TKO stoppage over Ryan Stout at Gracie Fighting Championships: Evolution. Jensen lost via submission at UFC 74 to Thales Leites.
Maia is one the sport’s brightest prospects, as he has made a successful transition from the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He has beaten some of Brazil’s best MMA fighters and made a successful American debut back in May.
Jensen gets another crack in the UFC, but he faces a much more dangerous submission fighter then he did in his debut. Jensen needs to keep this fight on feet because he can’t match up with Maia’s ground skills. Either way, this fight will end up on the ground and Maia will eventually submit Jensen to make a successful debut in the Octagon.
Prediction: Demian Maia by submission in the first round.