UFC 77 comes into Cincinnati, Ohio for a fight card that doesn’t seem to be too intriguing to the casual MMA fan, but for the hometown fans, it will be spectacular. With many names on the card from the Ohio area, it should be electric in the arena. The middleweight title will be on the line, and a possible contender spot in the heavyweight division is up for grabs as well. There also looks to be some exciting main card battles along with some undercard fights that I hope make the telecast. Let’s go in-depth into this card and see what we can dig up.
Main Event: Middleweight Championship Bout
Rich Franklin vs. Anderson Silva
I will spare you the history lesson on both fighters. Silva is a devastating Muay Thai striker. He absolutely obliterated Franklin in their first bout. Although I believe Franklin didn’t realize the caliber of striking that Silva possessed in the first matchup, Silva’s standup is unbelievably effective. His great range and reach allow him to stay away from counters while he picks opponents apart. He has great kicks and his knees complement his clinches perfectly. His height is an unfair advantage for him at Middleweight along with his Muay Thai. Along with his standup, his ground game is supposedly improving significantly and he does have a black belt in ju-jitsu from the great “Minotauro”. His long legs would definitely make it difficult for opponents in his guard as he would have multiple options to try to submit opponents. You can really make a case that he is becoming the complete fighter.
Franklin is coming off two straight wins in a run to regain the title. He absolutely crushed Jason MacDonald, but won a very boring and drawn out battle with Yushin Okami. Franklin trains with Jorge Gurgel in ju-jitsu and possesses a brown belt. He is primarily known for his standup skills and from his style, looks to always want to go for the knockout and ground and pound in his battles. Interestingly enough, Franklin has only lost twice in his entire career. Once to Silva and again to Lyoto Machida. He looks to keep on winning and retain the belt in this very tough title bout at UFC 77. This is also the last fight on his contract, so coming out on top could definitely be financially great for him.
As cliché as my analysis will sound, it’s what I think. Anderson Silva is a dominant fighter in both aspects of the game. In the words of Joe Rogan, his striking is INSAAANNNEEE. His range and height are huge factors in his game. He can stay at range and still throw with power. Once he tags an opponent, he moves in quickly for the kill. Clinches are almost impossible to break once he sinks them in as we saw during the first Franklin bout. If you’ve seen some of Silva’s other battles before he came to the UFC, he pulled off some amazing things in many of them. He straight elbowed Tony Fryklund while standing with him and knocked him out cold with one of the quickest standing elbow blows I’ve ever seen. His only big loss was to Ryo Chonan. Ask anybody out there what one of the most unbelievable comebacks in MMA are. Chonan vs. Silva is probably on their list. Chonan pulled off a flying scissor kick to heel hook after he was literally being demolished by Silva’s standup. The one thing Chonan exploited was Silva’s long legs. Chonan used a surprise move that is rarely used to catch him off guard. Franklin should somehow gain wisdom from that battle. He needs to surprise Silva in some manner during this fight. The only way I see this going down as an upset is if Franklin can catch Silva with a punch and proceed to blast him to the ground and pound him out immediately. If Franklin lets this battle go for too long, he runs the risk of dropping his hands or getting desperate and making mistakes. You do not want to make mistakes against a guy like Anderson Silva. With all of that said, it’s obvious who my pick is. Anderson Silva, second round TKO/KO.
Tim Sylvia vs. Brandon Vera
This is a tough fight for me to analyze due to the fact that I am not a fan of Tim Sylvia. No, I don’t have any problems with him personally, but I was very put off by his performances in the past. The “Maniac” out of MFS in Iowa has put up a 23-3 record in his MMA career with notable wins over Andrei Arlovski and Jeff Monson recently. He’s primarily a standup fighter that uses his immense size to overpower people and trap them. He does have a fairly tough chin and has went to decision against guys who have a superior ground game but were unable to finish him. This will be a good test to see where Tim currently is.
Vera is coming off a long layoff after a dispute with the UFC over his contract. He stated that his manager wasn’t telling him some of the things the UFC was saying to him and offering him. After canning his manager, he has re-signed a contract and we now have the possibility of seeing him in title contention fairly quickly with the leaving of Randy Couture.
Brandon is primarily a Muay Thai striker with a good wrestling and submission grappling game on the ground. He has a dominating style and is very quick to take his opponents out. He has faced some of the better competition and still remains undefeated. His most notable wins are over Assuerio Silva, Frank Mir, and Justin Eilers. If you haven’t seen some of Brandon Vera’s fights, do so. He’s one of the best up and coming heavyweights out there.
In my best Frank Trigg impression – “Here’s the thing…” I’m not a big believer in all the hype that Tim Sylvia is going to come out guns blazing and hungrier than ever because he wants to regain the title. Sure, the dominating Couture is out of the picture for now but that simply does not expunge the fact that Sylvia is solely focused on striking. I have said in the past that MMA is moving so quickly, guys are learning multiple martial arts, and ground fighting and standup are both equally important. Sylvia would have to show me some kind of miracle step in his game for me to ever consider him beating someone as top caliber as Vera. Sylvia could potentially knockout Vera and his size isn’t something to laugh about, it can help him win. But Vera has taken on behemoths before and if he studied the Randy Couture fight, he knows it’s easily possible to cut down the tree that is Tim Sylvia. I have a feeling that Vera will come out and stand with Sylvia for a bit. If he can’t seem to get inside on Sylvia and land some strikes, I see this fight going down to the canvas quickly. Instead of predicting a decision, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Vera will end this fight by submission in the second round.
Yushin Okami vs. Jason MacDonald
A bout that will probably determine who fights for the title next, it looks to actually be fairly intriguing to this writer. MacDonald is currently 19-8 with only one loss in his last 8 fights. That loss being to Rich Franklin. MacDonald is currently fighting out of Jackson Fighting Systems. MacDonald has a background in ju-jitsu, but possesses a decent standup game. He likes to throw the leg kicks at times to cut opponents down, but loves to throw the punch to shoot combination to take opponents down. Interesting because I feel Okami will be looking to do the exact same thing.
Yushin Okami is a veteran to the game of MMA. He currently has a record of 20-4, with his only recent loss coming from Rich Franklin. In the matchup, Okami nearly submitted Franklin late in the third round, but Franklin escaped amazingly. Okami was impressive in the third round, but it was far too late for Okami to overcome the first two rounds he lost.
Okami has some decent power in his hands, but his main strength is his wrestling ability. He is able to really impose his will against opponents, working in the clinch, and taking them down. MacDonald has had some unimpressive showings in the past. His battle with Starnes awhile back showed that even a lankier guy like Starnes can easily take down MacDonald. MacDonald will undoubtedly have huge problems with Okami’s power and size. Look for Okami to win by submission in the second round, but don’t count out a decision here.
Eric Schafer vs. Stephan Bonnar
Schafer is a mainly a ju-jitsu fighter with some decent standup skills. He has some decent Muay Thai skills from the looks of his previous fights. He shoots pretty quickly and can catch opponents off guard rather quickly. He lost his last fight against Michael Bisping at UFC 66, but had rattled off 4 straight wins previously. Schafer’s ground experience may be tough for Bonnar to handle, but Bonnar’s size may be rather hard for Schafer to takedown.
Bonnar was the runner-up in the first TUF season. He’s currently 10-4, only losing to notable names like Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and Lyoto Machida. He’s been criticized for not being able to finish opponents, but did come out blazing after his suspension for steroids against Mike Nickels. His recent move to Las Vegas to join Xtreme Couture gym will also bode well for his success. He should have a solid gameplan and a very tough opponent to defeat. Bonnar has a durable chin that can take a lot of damage as well.
This is an interesting fight because Bonnar isn’t exactly the finisher that many other fighters in the division are. Are we on the verge of seeing a different Stephan Bonnar? I think we may be, especially after changing gyms. Schafer, although a decent grappler, will have a tough time taking down a big guy like Bonnar. Bonnar also has some fairly decent grappling of his own. I think we may see a surprise here and Bonnar finishing this fight by submission. I’ll take second round. It’s a stretch, but either way, I believe Bonnar will win this bout.
Josh Burkman vs. Forrest Petz
Exact same records, exact same weight, exact same height, that’s the line on the fight. Both fighters come in at 19-4, according to the UFC. I have Burkman at 8-4 by the Fight Finder. But leaving that out of the conversation, Burkman is a Team Quest fighter who has some solid wrestling skills, but has seemed to focus on working huge haymakers lately. He’s most recognizable due to his stint on TUF Season 2. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Burkman since his fight against Karo. I will say that I understand his decision to try to stand against Karo because he did have much more power and wanted to avoid his judo skills. Fact is, he loops almost everything he throws and it was fairly easy for Karo to avoid most of those shots.
Petz is currently 13-4, different from the UFC.com record as always. He recently defeated Luigi Fiorvanti at UFC Fight Night 10 by unanimous decision. It was by far his best win to date. Stylistically, Petz and Burkman match up well as far as standup goes. Both have great power, but Petz definitely has an advantage as far as technique goes. If anybody watched the Karo Parisyan matchup, Burkman’s looping punches weren’t fooling anyone. Petz may have power and standup, but Burkman does have a respectable wrestling game that he absolutely needs to use in this fight.
I believe this battle will come down to striking vs. wrestling. Unless Burkman is living under a rock, he should realize that Petz isn’t that great on the ground. Burkman doesn’t have a reach advantage or any type of real range fighting, so he will have to avoid taking a huge hit when trying to get inside. I think Burkman will be looking for redemption from his fight against Parisyan. He gassed in the middle of the fight and should have great cardio considering the guys he trains with at Team Quest. Along with a great gameplan, Burkman should have the skills to take out Petz. It could be a great brawl if they both decide to stand though. I’ll take Burkman by decision.
Kalib Starnes vs. Alan Belcher
For me, Starnes has been a bit of a surprise. Most notably known for his stint on the Ultimate Fighter 3 series, he won a decision victory over Chris Leben at UFC 71 after dropping a hard fought battle to Yushin Okami at UFC 64. His real knock has been his cardio game, but overall he has had some decent battles with some mid-tier fighters. Starnes overall is a very good ju-jitsu practitioner who usually is able to stick to a solid gameplan. He also has some underrated power in his fists, although he sometimes sits hesitant when up against a powerful wrestler. With an 8-1 record and his only loss to Yushin Okami, he stands to gain a step up if he can get past Belcher.
Alan Belcher comes straight out of the deep south in Biloxi, Mississippi. He’s currently 10-3 with 4 solid fights in the UFC to his credit. In his debut in the UFC, he took a tough decision loss to Yushin Okami at UFC 62, but regained his footing with a knockout of Jorge Santiago in the third round of their bout via a head kick. He came back looking to prove himself, but was beaten by Kendall Grove at UFC 69. UFC 71 proved to be a gain as he choked out Sean Salmon inside a minute. Alan seems to be a guy that could be a gateway between the low-tier and mid-tier fighters in the Middleweight division. To be fair to Belcher, both losses were taken on extremely short notice.
Belcher is primarily a Muay Thai and ju-jitsu fighter. Early in his career, he was known for showing some brutal knockout power, but has recently become a choke artist with the better competitive fights he has taken. This should be a fairly decent matchup considering both fighters have some decent power along with good ground tactics. Both of these guys will be looking to stand for a bit, but I believe Starnes will try to take down Belcher if he can get close enough. Belcher will be a bigger Middleweight since he did fight at Light Heavyweight at one point. Starnes has never been a large fighter, but he is rather tall. Belcher also equals his height though. This is a much tougher fight to predict than I really thought. It’s really a matter of who shows up with a good gameplan. I want to pick Belcher, but I think Starnes is the more calculated fighter. He’s very meticulous in his game, and I think he may have the patience to beat Belcher. Starnes by second round submission.
Jorge Gurgel vs. Alvin Robinson
Let me first start off by admitting that Alvin Robinson was my sleeper pick in his last fight. I thought Robinson would come out and handle Kenny Florian. I was wrong. But I wasn’t completely wrong. Robinson did come out of the gate and throw Florian around a bit, but Florian’s much improved ground tactics proved way too much for Robinson. Robinson isn’t a slouch on the ground either. He’s a brown belt in ju-jitsu and trains under Royce Gracie. Robinson (8-2) doesn’t have really any impressive wins on his record, but he does have a very aggressive style of fighting. He loves to rush opponents and pummel them into the clinch, enabling him to put them to the ground. His tenacity really allows him to cause his opponent to make a lot of mistakes and allows Robinson to get the back of a lot of his opponents and choke them out. Will that happen in this fight?
Jorge Gurgel is currently 11-2 with his most recent wins over Diego Saraiva and Danny Abbadi. If you can remember his last battle at UFC 73, which earned the Fight of the Night award, Gurgel won the scrappy fight by decision, but suffered a broken jaw and had some internal bleeding. Obviously, the guy can take a beating and keep on going. Aside from his toughness and cardio, Gurgel is notably a Brazilian ju-jitsu black belt with 9 of his wins coming by submission. Since facing stiffer competition, he hasn’t had the luck in the submission aspect as he has in the past.
This is one of the tougher bouts to pick. Although Gurgel has the BJJ background, so does Alvin Robinson. Gurgel hasn’t been able to pull off a submission win in awhile, and his BJJ skills aren’t spectacularly better than Robinson’s skills. Robinson also has some very aggressive “bulldoggish” skill. He seems to run at guys and just pounce on them. Gurgel is very tough though, and he has some great cardio. We have yet to see if Robinson’s cardio is up to Gurgel’s conditioning. Gurgel is a bigger 155’er than many of the other fighters in the division. He also loves to standup, but has great ju-jitsu to fall back on. Add in his granite chin and you have a pretty complete fighter that needs to work on his standup to really be dominant. Don’t count out Robinson though, he’s very explosive. To be honest, Gurgel isn’t a finisher and he lacks the straight knockout power it takes to beat someone like Robinson. Robinson goes for the knockout or submission fairly quickly and he tries to end fights. I’m going to take Robinson as my sleeper pick, surprise 2nd round TKO/KO.
Demian Maia vs. Ryan Jensen
Demian is a newcomer to the UFC hailing from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He’s primarily a submission grappler with a background in ju-jitsu. He has a record of 5-0 in mixed martial arts and is fairly new to the cage, but he isn’t new to grappling… at all. The winner of the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club’s Submission Grappling Championship at 77-87kg, Maia has plenty of credibility on the mat. Along with his ju-jitsu, he also has a background in karate. He brings in a much needed danger in the Middleweight Division, but he is still fairly new to the MMA game. Even with that said, his ground game is good enough to win most bouts without the need for an extensive standup game.
Jensen is recently coming off a loss to Thales Leites at UFC 74. After Lutter withdrew from the fight due to injury, Jensen was faced with a significant challenge in up-n-comer Leites. Jensen is mainly known for his solid grappling abilities, but isn’t significantly better than anyone in that facet of the game. He has standard striking, but was unable to nullify Leites’s ground game in their bout. Jensen does have some notable wins over Rob Kimmons and our favorite TUF Fighter, Marlon Sims. I don’t see Jensen’s luck turning in this fight. Demian, although fairly new to the cage, should easily be able to pick apart Jensen on the ground. I’m going to stretch it and say that Maia will win in the first round by submission.
Matt Grice vs. Jason Black
A classic matchup of two wrestlers with extensive backgrounds, this battle should prove to be an interesting ground battle. Black, known for his unique mutton chops facial hair, is a veteran to the mixed martial arts scene. He sports an impressive 21-3-1 record with stints in PRIDE: Bushido events, Extreme Challenge, and recently made an appearance at UFC Fight Night 10, in which he dropped a tough loss to Thiago Tavares. Black trains with the Miletich Martial Arts with a great background in wrestling. He has fought some of the best in the world, most notably Shinya Aoki at PRIDE Bushido 12. He has problems against opponents who have extensive ju-jitsu backgrounds, but his own wrestling abilities make him dangerous on the ground.
Matt Grice is fairly new to the sport of mixed martial arts. A product of Oklahoma wrestling, he won the state championship four years straight. To get a sense of how hard that is, he was winning a championship when he was a freshman! His most recent fight was against Terry Etim at UFC 70, in which he dominated Etim for the first four minutes of the bout. Thirty seconds later, Etim managed to pull of a guillotine choke that ended the fight, amazing the English crowd. Although Grice lost, he showed great potential. He had no problems taking down Etim, and his ground and pound was fairly accurate. Fans should look forward to seeing this wrestling prodigy work the cage
With that said, it may seem I’m pro-Grice in this bout. I liked the way he handled Etim, but Etim didn’t have a wrestling background and his takedown defense was horrible. That won’t be the case in this fight. Both fighters are accomplished wrestlers with a good amount of power to boot. Grice won’t have an easy time taking Black down and simply pounding him. Stylistically, they match up for a ground war. Black’s experience is a definite factor here. He has over seven years of solid MMA experience and has fought a few great fighters out there. I don’t anticipate a knockout by Grice either, unless he has simply improved is standup a lot. I give this one to Black by a chokeout, second or third round. I wouldn’t put this past going to a decision though.
It doesn’t look to be an impressive card, but I am excited to see how Franklin does. He could potentially surprise all of us, as well as Sylvia. Vera and Silva should both win, but both Sylvia and Franklin may have some determination and improved training to aid their bounce back to the title. I’m looking forward to possibly seeing Robinson upset Gurgel, although I think Gurgel’s granite chin and cardio will see him to a win. There are definitely some undercard battles that will be interesting. It looks to be a decent card and for any MMA fan, will satisfy your hunger for a bit.