Tuesday, December 11, 2007

UFC 77: Hostile Territory – Preview, Analysis, and Opinion

By Nathan Schafer

There is less than two weeks to go before the UFC hosts the UFC 77: Hostile Territory show in Cincinnati, Ohio. I thought I would give a little analysis and opinion of some of fights on the card. While I’m disappointed I’m not to be going out to Las Vegas in October to watch some fights; I will say that nothing beats a Midwest crowd when you see a UFC event live. Vegas fans only come out to watch the main event, while Midwest fans pack the house before the first preliminary fight has begun.

The story lines are as follows: Rich Franklin tries to avenge his loss to the man who stripped him of his title. While Silva may have the psychological advantage from the victory, Franklin has the home Octagon advantage in an event being dubbed Hostile Territory. Also, Tim Sylvia returns to Ohio again after losing his belt and recovering from back surgery. Can Sylvia regain his championship form in a heavy weight division that has had a make over in his absence or will the future of the heavyweight division Brandon Vera send him back to Iowa? Can Brandon Vera who has been sidelined for almost a year with no action, shake off the ring rust and silence his critics by taking out a top caliber heavyweight and keep his undefeated streak alive? Fan favorite Stephan Bonnar returns to the limelight (main card) after a first round victory over Mike Nickels, will the fans welcome him back with open arms after a doping scandal last fall? Jason MacDonald and Yushin Okami both lost to former champion Rich Franklin and sit near the top of the thin UFC middleweight division. They square off in a battle in a bout where neither fighter can afford to lose if they want to stay in title contention. Now on to the bouts.

UFC Middleweight Title Bout
Rich Franklin (22-2) (9-1) vs. Anderson Silva (19-4) (4-0)

Rich Franklin

Rich Franklin is riding a two-fight winning streak since losing his title to Anderson Silva at UFC 64 in October of 2006. Those wins have come against notable contenders Jason MacDonald at UFC 68 in March and Yushin Okami at UFC 70 in June. He managed to beat MacDonald rather handily but turned the Okami fight into one of the most disappointing fights of the year on a card that was rumored to be free, but later turned into a PPV. It left many fans disappointed that they shelled out $50 for a weak card, and later, a main event in which neither fighter wanted to win.

Anderson Silva is the only blemish on Franklin’s UFC record, while the other loss on his MMA record came at the hands of currently undefeated 205er, Lyota Machida.

The key difference in this fight is the home Octagon advantage. While many who have not attended a live event may not know that there is electricity in the air at a UFC event, I do not see how it cannot play a factor into this bout. While Franklin has never been good in the clinch (see the Jorge Rivera fight for proof), he was manhandled by Silva in their first fight. He cannot let this happen again if he wants to regain his title. I believe the key to Franklin winning this fight is to get Silva to the canvas via takedown and unleash a ground and pound attack similar to his fights with Ken Shamrock and Jason MacDonald.

Anderson Silva

Anderson Silva’s career has been on fire since he joined the UFC. He is undefeated in the Octagon after four bouts. What is amazing is that he has shown us different aspects to his game in each of these bouts. He showed off his precision strikes, great footwork, and punching power in his bout against Chris Leban at UFC Fight Night 5 in June of 2006. He showed off a dominant clinch against Rich Franklin that left the champ defenseless and dropped him late in the first round leaving Franklin’s beak warped like a crescent moon. Against Jiu-Jitsu specialist and Ultimate Fighter 4 Champion Travis Lutter, Silva showed that he has the ability to be a ground fighter and is a fighter who is able to overcome adversity in a bad situation. Against Nate Marquardt, Silva showed us just how dominant of a champion is going to be.

There are very few fights where I am able to not root for either guy because I am a big fan of both, this happens to be one of those fights. If Franklin is able to intelligently give up his stand up fighter reputation and strategize like the great champion Randy Couture, take this fight to the ground and pound out a win, he will overcome with what is going to be one of the loudest crowds in UFC history cheering for him in Cincinnati. If not Anderson Silva is going to run through him just as fast as before and likely fear for his life as he tries to leave the city and take the belt with him. The only pick I’m going to make for this bout is that it comes packaged as fight of the night with a bow on top.

Heavyweight Bout
Tim Sylvia (23-3) (8-3) vs. Brandon Vera (8-0) (4-0)

This fight has question marks all over it, but first I want to say, Brandon Vera welcome back because we’ve missed you.

Tim Sylvia

The last time we saw Tim Sylvia was at UFC 68, which was also in Ohio. Sylvia was greeted by a house of boos as the crowd eagerly awaited the return of their hero Randy Couture who came out of retirement to save the world from boring UFC Heavyweight Title fights, get the fans talking about match-ups, and not how disappointed they felt after watching Sylvia bouts. In that bout, Couture overcame his underdog status and showed all the naysayers he still has what it takes. Since that day Sylvia has had back surgery and is ready to make his return to the Octagon in a quest to regain the Heavyweight Title Belt he believes is meant for him.

To his credit, Tim Sylvia only has three losses in his career: Arlovski, Mir, and Couture, all who have been champions at one point or another. Two of these three losses have come by submission, Mir broke his arm and Arlovski heel hooked him.

How is Tim Sylvia going to recover from his recent back surgery? Has it hampered his training or his already limited movement? How will his psyche be after a brutal five round beatdown he suffered against Couture? These are the biggest questions as to how this fight will play out.

Brandon Vera

Vera is (8-0) in MMA and is (4-0) in the UFC. He originally made his debut at UFC Fight Night 2 in October of 2005 against Fabiano Scherner with a TKO victory in round 2. He followed that performance with a round one knock out of the slugger Justin Eilers at UFC 57 the following February. At UFC 60 in May of 2006 he would guillotine Assuerio Silva; this fight would again end in the first round.

Unfortunately, Brandon Vera has not seen action inside the cage since UFC 65 last November where he beat Frank Mir via TKO in the first round in just over a minute. Since then I have read various reports about him signing with the upstart Elite XC and a fallout with his management which has weaved its way through the judicial system. Many fans turned on him for going for the money but I can’t blame him for that. Whatever the facts are behind the hiatus do not matter anymore as he prepares to make his return against the former UFC Heavyweight Champ in Sylvia.

Vera has shown us in his fights that he is well rounded and is a fight finisher. Vera is a small heavyweight and likely could easily make the light heavyweight 205lb limit since he generally weighs 220 and is 6’2” tall. However, three of Vera’s opponent vastly outweighed him, all were primarily grapplers and he showed he is able to easily out grapple larger grapplers like Scherner and Mir and able to finish them via TKO or KO where he truly shines. His standup arsenal holds great knees, kicks, punches and footwork. This combination of grappling and stand-up make him one of the truly well-rounded fighters similar to Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre, both of whom hold or held the championship bling around their waists.

At first I scoffed at having to watch another Tim Sylvia fight live. When I found out his opponent was Vera, I realized that this could be an outstanding fight if Vera doesn’t suffer from ring rust and Sylvia is fully recovered from his surgery. Both fighters possess good stand-up skills, which can make for a decent fight. I believe that Vera holds the advantage on the ground, but Tim holds the cardio advantage due to all those 5 round decisions. Vera has been relatively untested which his critics are proud to state; if Sylvia tests him how will his cardio be? I don’t think the weight of Sylvia will be a factor but his long range could present Vera with some problems. I feel Vera should try to out grapple Sylvia and take him out of his element and TKO or submit him from the ground, which is also my prediction for this bout.

Middleweight Bout
Jason MacDonald (19-8) (3-1) vs. Yushin Okami (20-4) (4-1)

Jason MacDonald

Jason MacDonald burst on to the UFC scene with a first round Triangle Choke of TUF 3 runner up Ed Herman at Ortiz vs. Shamrock 3 one year ago. He then handed Chris Leben his second loss in the Octagon during the UFC’s largest event of 2006, UFC 66, last December. While it may have been premature in MacDonald’s UFC career to be fighting Franklin after only two Octagon wins, MacDonald was riding the hype train created by the fans, which came to a screeching halt when Franklin dismantled him with ease. Franklin exposed him as a weak and small middleweight fighter. While MacDonald nonetheless is a talented ground fighter with decent standup, he was not able to showcase any of these skills against the larger Franklin. Most recently at UFC 72 in April, MacDonald was able to secure a TKO victory over Rory Singer who was close to submitting MacDonald. Even though MacDonald has almost 30 fights on his resume it will take some more time to truly develop as a well-rounded fighter before he able to take on the top-tier fighters at 185. Okami is going to be a good test for MacDonald to truly see how his development is coming along as Okami is another large 185er similar to Franklin but bigger and just as strong.

Yushin Okami

Yushin Okami has fought in K-1 Heros, Rumble On The Rock, Superbrawl, Pancrase, and Pride FC. Yushin Okami made his UFC debut last August at UFC 62 against Alan Belcher who is also on this card. While Okami was not able to finish Belcher, he showed exactly what he all about, wrestling, positioning, and ground and pound, which is unusual for a Japanese fighter. His submissions however need some work; he applied the same kimura to Alan Belcher as Rich Franklin and was not able to finish the bout.

At UFC 64 in October, Okami faced TUF 3 contestant Kalib Starnes, a well-rounded fighter who was not able to deal with Okami’s size. Okami finished him via TKO on the ground in the third round. At UFC 66 last December, Okami fought Rory Singer, another TUF 3 contestant, who formerly trained with Forrest Griffin down in Georgia. Singer was able to keep the fight standing in a lackluster first round. Okami was able to get his takedowns and control most of the second and third rounds before he TKO’d Singer again using his ground control. Okami’s fourth UFC fight in eight months was against the highly touted Mike Swick, whom he also dominated by using his size. Swick has since contemplated a move to 170 after an embarrassing defeat where he was almost pounded out.

The Common Opponent – Rich Franklin

Okami was riding a four-fight win streak and looked to be gunning for a title shot when he lost a close fight to Franklin at UFC 72 in Belfast this June. Had been able to finish Franklin with the sloppy kimura, we might have seen a different title fight on this night. The fight was disappointing in every aspect with neither fighter trying to impose his will on the other. Jason MacDonald on the other hand was dominated by Franklin in their common opponent.


In this fight I see Okami pushing the pace on MacDonald, taking him and down at will and using his size for ground control, which is his bread and butter. MacDonald will be unable to take down Okami unless he learns to set them up with strikes. His only chance to win is via submission after Okami takes him down. My prediction is Okami via unanimous decision.

Middleweight Bout
Kalib Starnes (8-1-1) (2-1) vs. Alan Belcher (10-3) (2-2)

Alan Belcher

Alan Belcher made his debut against Yushin Okami at UFC 62 in August 2006. Belcher is a stand up fighter but he was never able to close the distance in that fight. His lack of takedown defense made him susceptible to Okami’s takedowns and he lost a unanimous decision. He was then able to secure a victory over Jorge Santiago at Fight Night 7 last December before losing a one-sided affair to Kendall Grove at UFC 69 in Aril via a D’arce Choke. He filled in for an injured Eric Schafer and fought Sean Salmon at UFC 71 this May on less than two weeks notice at a weight class of 205lbs. Salmon made a rookie mistake and left his neck open while attempting a takedown. Belcher was able to capitalize and end the fight via guillotine in under a minute in the first round. Belcher’s contract would get extended and Sean Salmon would be cut from the UFC.

At only 22 years old Belcher has a lot of things to work on to successfully develop his game. He has decent kicks and footwork. He uses the cage well to set up escapes and he has a decent scramble. He’s the type of fighter who always moves forward, has a great chin and good heart. However his guard, takedowns, and takedown defense are sub par at best, which inevitably sap his already questionable cardio. Lastly, he had serious problems in the clinch against Grove and threw mostly single punches with few combinations or flurries. Belcher recently began training with the Duke Roufus gym for this fight and we’ll see how his development comes along.

Kalib Starnes

Kalib Starnes was a contestant on TUF 3. He appeared to be one of the most well rounded fighters on the cast, quickly defeating Mike Stine via TKO in the first episode of the show. However, he was unhappy with his coach Ken Shamrock, complained about training, and proved his lack of heart in the semi-finals by getting beat via verbal submission by Kendall Grove, who went on to win the show. In the season’s finale he beat the weakest link Danny Abbadi with ease in the first round via a rear naked choke. At UFC 64 in October 2006 he faced Yushin Okami who convincingly took him out his game with size and strength. Starnes would not fight again until UFC 71 in May where he beat Chris Leben via unanimous decision. Starnes has also been plagued with injuries throughout his UFC career.

Common Opponents – Yushin Okami and Kendall Grove

Common opponents may not tell the tale in terms of who is going to win a fight, but it does give us some insight to a certain matchup. Both Starnes and Belcher lost to both of their common opponents in Grove and Okami. It appeared Okami was able to break Starnes will when Starnes realized he could not beat him. Belcher on the other hand never gave up but fought to a unanimous decision loss. The way I see this matchup is we have a well-rounded fighter with all the talent in the world who loses focus and is injury prone in Starnes. On the other hand we have a fighter who has all the heart in the world but a game that needs serious work in Belcher. In order for Belcher to win he needs to learn from Chris Leben’s mistake and not take this fight to the ground.

Light Heavyweight Bout
Stephan Bonnar (10-4) (4-3) vs. Eric Schafer (7-2-2) (1-1)

Stephan Bonnar

I consider Stephan Bonnar to be a gatekeeper of sorts in the UFC Light Heavyweight Division. He is a well-rounded fighter and a fan favorite. He has decent stand up and a decent ground game with a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under the world famous and now deceased Carlson Gracie. He has only been stopped once in his career and that was by Lyoto Machida via a cut. He and Forrest Griffin are partly responsible for the UFC’s mainstream popularity when they fought a famous battle for the TUF 1 contract in April of 2005. While there was very little technical striking in that bout, it was entertaining watching two guys throw haymakers for three rounds each vying for a UFC contract. Every fight Bonnar has fought in the UFC has been against a TUF contestant other than James Irvin who he holds a victory over by a first round kimura. He also holds unanimous decision victories over Sam Hoger and Keith Jardine. He then proceeded to drop two fights in a row, one by majority decision to Rashad Evans and then a rematch against Forrest Griffin at UFC 62 in August of 2006, losing via unanimous decision. A post fight urine test showed that Bonnar had tested positive for Boldenone Metabolite. The Nevada State Athletic Commision proceeded to suspend him for nine months. Most recently Bonnar defeated Mike Nickels by a first round rear naked choke at UFC 73 in July. After this fight Bonnar would relocate from Chicago to Las Vegas and he nows trains at the Xtreme Couture gym.

Eric Schafer

Eric Schafer fights out of Milwaukee, WI and trains under Stephan Bonnar’s former stand up coach Duke Roufus where the two fighters formerly trained together somewhat regularly. Schafer holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under MMA veteran Henry Matamoros. Schafer made his UFC debut at UFC 62 in August of 2006 against TUF 2 contestant Rob MacDonald from Canada. Schafer was able to quickly end the fight by an arm triangle in just over two minutes in the first round. His next bout was scheduled for the TUF 4 finale against TUF 3 winner Michael Bisping last November but was cancelled due to Bisping’s visa issues the week of the bout. It was quickly rescheduled to UFC 66 in December. Six weeks prior to the bout Schafer suffered a torn meniscus in his knee that affected his ability to train properly. At UFC 66 he suffered a first round TKO loss to the English fighter in the final minute of round one. Despite the loss he was able to showcase some takedowns and submission attempts in that bout before succumbing to defeat. Early in 2007 he underwent surgery to repair the knee injury and returned to training. His next bout was to occur at UFC 71 in May against the popular blogger Sean Salmon who had been previously knocked out by Rashad Evans at Fight Night 8 in January. Two weeks prior to the scheduled bout Schafer suffered a broken rib in training and was forced to withdraw.

Fight breakdown

Stephan definitely holds the experience edge in this one, posting a (4-3) record in the Octagon. He has never been finished in the UFC and 5 of his 7 fights went to decision, which also gives him the edge in the cardio department. I believe that Bonnar also holds an edge in the standup. On the other hand, I have to give the edge in takedowns and submissions to Schafer. He has superior grappling skills if this fight hits the canvas, which is exactly where Schafer needs to take this fight. He has ability to get good positioning and quickly transitions from submission to submission. The fight gets my upset pick of the night as Schafer takes Bonnar to the canvas similar to the Evans-Bonnar fight and finishes Bonnar via submission for the first time in Bonnar’s career.

Welterweight Bout
Josh Burkman (8-4) (4-2) vs. Forrest Petz (13-4) (2-2)

Josh Burkman

Josh Burkman began his UFC career as a TUF 2 contestant. On the second episode of the season he fought and defeated Melvin Guillard via unanimous decision. An injury sustained during the bout sidelined him for the remainder of the show. He returned to make his official debut in the TUF 2 finale against Sammy Morgan in September of 2005 who he finished via knockout in only 21 seconds. His next bout pitted him against Drew Fickett whom he guillotined early in round 2 during Fight Night 3 in January of 2006. His win streak would come to an end in April when he faced then unknown, Jon Fitch. Fitch was able to finish Burkman in the closing seconds of round two with a rear naked choke. Burkman was able to rebound from the loss with unanimous decision victories over Josh Neer at UFC 61 in July of 2006 and Chad Reiner at Fight Night 8 in January of this year. Looking to make a name for himself in the crowded welterweight division Burkman then faced Karo Parisyan at UFC 71 who easily secured a unanimous decision victory over Burkman.

Forrest Petz

Forrest Petz of Cleveland, Ohio has not had a televised fight since he began his career in the UFC, therefore it has been rather difficult to watch tape on him. I do know he boasts a (2-2) record in the Octagon, (13-4) overall, and is the former FightFest and CageWarrior welterweight champion. He holds UFC vicotories over Sammy Morgan at Fight Night 6 in August of 2006 and more recently Luigi Fioravanti at Fight Night 10 this June; both victories came by way of unanimous decision. His UFC losses include Marcus Davis, who finished Petz via guillotine choke at Ortiz vs. Shamrock 3 in round one a year ago and a unanimous decision loss to Kuniyoshi Hironaka at Fight Night 9 in April. Petz favors a standup strategy and I’ve read that Petz was dominating Marcus Davis prior to getting choked out. The judges scorecards in his bout with Sammy Morgan read: (30-27), (30-26), and an unbelievable (30-23). With that being said, I think this fight will be a competitive bout, probably going the distance.

Other bouts on the card include:

Lightweight Bout
Jorge Gurgel (11-2) (2-1) vs. Alvin Robinson (8-2) (0-1)

Middleweight Bout
Ryan Jensen (11-2) (0-1) vs. Demian Maia (5-0) (0-0)

Lightweight Bout
Jason Black (21-3-1) (0-1) vs. Matt Grice (8-1) (0-1)

I would like to thank Luke Thomas and www.bloodyelbow.com for allowing me to post this article, my first stab at MMA writing. For the sake of disclosure I am the brother of Eric Schafer. Enjoy the fights and thanks for reading.

This story originally appeared on http://www.bloodyelbow.com/ on 10-14-07

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