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UFC 68 preview, analysis and predictions

ufc 68 predictions and analysis
With UFC 68 literally right around the corner — tomorrow, actually — we thought it would be fun to provide readers with two unique perspectives on the main card fights.

In the blue corner, your loyal and dedicated host, UFCmania. And in the red corner, your insightful and witty contributor, Jesse Holland.

Who were you expecting, Kevin James and Michael Clarke Duncan?

Below, you'll see that we both took one fighter in each bout to support. It's important to note that while we may be lauding a certain fighter, he isn't necessarily the guy who we think is going to win.

Basically, we didn't want this to come out sounding repetitive. That's because, believe it or not, Jesse and I occasionally agree on a few things ... occasionally.

At the end of each analysis, therefore, you will see our picks.

(Note: we feel the Jon Fitch-Luigi Fioravanti fight is more compelling and interesting than the Martin Kampmann-Drew McFederies bout. Therefore, we're going to review that one instead ... and there's nothing you can do about it!)

And one more thing: This is our first crack at this ... so go easy!

Here we go:

Tim "The Maine-iac�? Sylvia (23-2) vs. Randy "The Natural�? Couture (14-8)

UFCmania: If there is one 43-year-old fighter on this planet who can take a year off and compete in a UFC heavyweight bout, it's Randy Couture. He relishes the underdog role and has won nine of 10 career fights in that capacity (Liddell II the lone exception). Couture has been training with giants such as Dan Christison (6'8�?), Dan Evenson (6'7�?) Frank Mir (he's fat) and others to prepare for the 270-pound, 6'8�? champion. At around 225 pounds, Couture is going to need to come out strong and set the tempo. Sylvia is well-conditioned and can easily go five rounds. Couture will be in shape, too, but with the long layoff and pushing Sylvia around for 15 minutes, he could tire significantly heading into the final two rounds if he doesn't end it before then. Look for Couture to mash Sylvia up against the fence early and often, pepper him with knees and short punches, and then go for the trip. Couture doesn't have knockout power and Sylvia has never been knocked out. However, "The Natural�? is quick and adept on the ground, which is where he will win this fight. In his two losses, Sylvia has proven that he can be submitted. And, in the fight with Jeff Monson, Sylvia showed that his takedown defense is not airtight. Look for Couture to exploit these two areas and do what Monson was unable to do and finish this fight early. Couture will make it a night of threes on March 3: He'll hand Sylvia his third submission defeat and wrap his third UFC title around his waste.

Jesse Holland: Tim Sylvia will not lose to Randy Couture. You can ridicule his striking, but you cannot dispute the facts: 70 percent of his wins come by way of KO or TKO. For someone who is supposedly lanky and devoid of rhythm, he's done an admirable job of knocking people out. Dangerous at any angle, Sylvia can KO an opponent with knees (Boyd Ballard), legs (Tra Telligman), and hands (too many to list). At 43, Couture has neither the speed nor the strength to topple the Maine-ac and his conditioning is almost guaranteed to fail from repeated attempts. Sylvia on the other hand can go five rounds without breaking a sweat as we've seen in his battles against Monson and Arlovski. In 2002 Randy made the decision to leave the heavyweight division because of two consecutive losses to larger opponents with dangerous hands (Barnett, Rodriguez). Now over four years later, history looks to repeat itself.

Final predictions:
UFCmania: Couture by submission — you gotta believe!
Holland: Sylvia by devastating KO

Rich "Ace�? Franklin (20-2) vs. Jason "The Athlete�? MacDonald (18-7)

UFCmania: After two consecutive first-round stoppages of Ed Herman and Chris Leben, "TUF Killer�? Jason MacDonald has earned himself the opportunity of a lifetime ... for now. MacDonald, whose confidence must be off the charts, has drawn the former middleweight champion and number one contender, Rich Franklin, proving that no good deed in the Octagon goes unpunished. Franklin is saying all the right things, but he will never be able to erase the feeling of being crumbled in a broken heap after his devastating loss to Anderson Silva five months ago at UFC 64. I'm no full-time fighter, but the mental part of this sport is just as important as the physical. And right now, MacDonald clearly has that edge. During the past year, MacDonald has poured himself into training and the results clearly show his improvement. He's on a six-fight win streak and looked to continue on that path, hooking up with super trainer Greg Jackson to prepare for this fight. MacDonald is long and wirey like Silva and holds a one-inch height advantage over Franklin. Granted, his striking is pitiful in comparison to Silva, but his submissions are no joke. Look for MacDonald stay alive in the standup long enough to get this thing to the mat. From there, he's crafty and technical enough to pull off an upset.

Jesse Holland: Come back Rich, all is forgiven. Many fighters are never the same after brutal stoppages like the one Anderson Silva handed Franklin. This will hold true in Franklin's case as well - only he will come back better than ever. Too smart and too driven for jitters or baby-steps, look for "Ace�? to punish MacDonald for the loss to Silva. MacDonald, who likes to promote himself as the TUF killer for choking out Chris Leben and Ed Herman, fails to disclose his TKO loss to Kalib Starnes and his RNC submission to Patrick Cote. He doesn't have the hands to test Franklin's unreliable chin and the former champ is too quick and too strong on the ground to be submitted by MacDonald. Against Leben MacDonald seemed to fight in slow motion (ironic since he calls himself "The Athlete�?) and if he expects to get out of the first round against Franklin he'll need to make drastic improvements or else find himself making the highlight reel with a Quarry-esque knockout.

Final predictions:
UFCmania: Franklin by late TKO after a few scares
Holland: Franklin by second-best KO of the evening (behind Sylvia)

Chris "Light Out�? Lytle (22-13-5) vs. Matt Hughes (40-5)

UFCmania: Matt Hughes is looking for redemption on March 3 and he will be redeemed thanks to Chris Lytle. For years, Hughes has been at the top of the food chain in one of the toughest divisions in all of mixed martial arts. During this time, Lytle was rescuing cats from trees back in Indiana as a local fireman. No disrespect to Lytle or his profession, but I'm just trying to make the point that these two are so far apart in terms of skill level that he shouldn't be considered a serious threat to the former champion. Sure, Hughes is coming off a loss. But, it was to Georges St. Pierre. And prior to that, he dropped one to BJ Penn. Hughes doesn't lose often, but when he does, he loses to the best fighters. Lytle does not even crack the Top 10 at welterweight in the UFC as far as I'm concerned. Look for Hughes to take this thing south from the get-go and soften up Lytle with a mean dose of ground and pound. In his fight with Matt Serra, Lytle spent a lot of time in the clinch thwarting tosses and takedowns. Make no mistake, Hughes will takedown Lytle in those same situations, unlike Serra, and then proceed to bash his face in. I see this ending similar to the Royce Gracie bout, only Lytle puts up more of a defense and tries to scramble. In doing so, he'll give up his back and leave himself open to a submission.

Jesse Holland: Hughes today, gone tomorrow. We'll eventually see the rubber match between Hughes and St. Pierre unless of course "Lights Out�? Lytle shocks the world with a win against the former champ. Hughes looked like a deer in the headlights against GSP and unlike Franklin, I don't know if he's put it behind him. I have my doubts about his mental preparation and the way he's been riding the bible lately I half expect him to float to the cage on Saturday with stubby little wings like a muscular, compact cherub. Lytle's been something of a journeyman himself, but even Desert Dog would be willing to bet he's been mastering his takedown defense in preparation for Hughes. If Hughes can't shoot, he can't score. Lytle has a background rich in boxing and if he keeps himself off the mat he could pepper his way to a unanimous decision.

Final prediction:
UFCmania: Hughes by submission
Holland: Hughes by TKO (Strikes)

Jason "The Punisher�? Lambert (22-6) vs. Renato "Babalu�? Sobral (27-6)

UFCmania: After his demoralizing loss to Chuck Liddell at UFC 63 in August 2006, Renato "Babalu�? Sobral disappeared. Now, he's back and will look to throw his name back into 205-pound title contention against Jason Lambert. Sobral is once again up against a striker with heavy hands. However, Lambert is nowhere near Liddell's level. Accordingly, Sobral can afford to exchange with Lambert to set up the takedown and not bumrush him like a suicide bomber. From there, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner should have carte blanche to sink in whichever submission he feels like applying. Lambert does have some impressive success prior to the loss to Rashad Evans and is extremely strong. He could catch Babalu and drop him, but I think Sobral will control a majority of this bout on the Octagon floor.

Jesse Holland: Babalu has a cult following in the MMA world and while I‘ll concede that he's a gifted grappler, he's not quite upper echelon due to his inability to defeat A-level fighters (Shogun - who was still wet behind the ears - doesn't count). Lambert finished 50 percent of his fights via KO/TKO and Babalu submitted his opponents 50 percent of the time. With such close records, this contrast can make the fight extremely exciting or extremely dull. I favor the latter, and predict a lot of Lambert's time spent defending the sub. Babalu's had the tougher journey (and more impressive wins) but with the Chuck loss still on his mind Lambert could capitalize and do just enough to squeak out the decision.

Final prediction:
UFCmania: Sobral by unanimous decision
Holland: Sobral by Submission

Jon Fitch (12-2) vs. Luigi Fioravanti (10-1)

UFCmania: Jon Fitch is a man on a mission in 2007 to be regarded as a noticable and dangerous welterweight title contender. He's taken out some of the top fringe fighters in the division such as Thiago Alves, Josh Burkman and Kuniyoshi Hironaka. In Columbus, Ohio, look for him to add Luigi Fioravanti to that list. I'm a big supporter of both these fighters, which makes it difficult to take one side. However, Fitch puts the mix in mixed martial arts. He's got tremendeous all-around skills, while Fioravanti has made a name for himself as a solid striker despite his jiu-jitsu background. Whether it's wrestling, kickboxing, boxing or grappling, Fitch showed against Hironaka that he is the real deal in all aspects. Ringside announcer that night, Randy Couture, even marveled at the display, commenting that Fitch was putting on a clinic. Fioravanti will do well in the stand up, but won't be able to avoid the quick takedowns. From there, Fitch will look to end this fight early.

Jesse Holland: Jon Fitch hasn't lost since 2002 and that may work against him on Saturday. He's been on such a tear lately that he may be looking past Fioravanti to get to fighters like Karo Parisyan. Luigi however is no pushover and while he's only been on the scene since 2005 his striking continues to improve and he's won his last three fights by KO/TKO. Fitch has the edge in submissions but I don't see this one ending on the mat. In fact they're so closely matched, this has the potential to be the fight of the night and I expect a three round war. I give Fiorvanti the edge as a frustrated Fitch starts to unravel in round three.

Final prediction:
UFCmania: Fitch by submission
Holland : Fioravanti by unanimous decision

That's all we've got for now. Our coverage of UFC 68 has been rather intense leading up to the event. Check everything out in our UFC 68 archives if you're just stopping in for the first time.

And don't forget to check out the column from our resident handicapper, Desert Dog, who is sharing some good tips and advice for the fights tomorrow that can help you make some serious cash.

Of course, we'll be around all weekend providing the latest reports and updates.

But, in the meantime, don't forget to watch the UFC 68 weigh-in today online at 4 p.m. EST on or MSNSympatico.

For the entire UFC 68 fight card click here.

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