History of the UFC 12.24.07: UFC XXVIII - High Stakes
Posted by Matt McEwen on 12.24.2007
Debuts - Babalu, Barnett, Arlovski - and returns - "The Natural" - mark the UFC's debut in New Jersey as SEG tries to stay on chapter 10 (that's a bad bankruptcy reference.)
Last time out, we were firmly in the middle of the road in every aspect of the show. OK match ups, OK fights, OK results.
Things are definitely looking up this time around as SEG makes the move that they had hoped would signal the turnaround they had been working for ever since they realized getting back on cable would be a lot harder than getting kicked off was. The Octagon makes it's debut in New Jersey, and the "Unified Rules of MMA" are born. Now, there is some conflict as to whether they were actually in place for this show, but I lean towards no. No mention of new rules are made, and there the 300lb Gan McGee takes part in a heavyweight - not SUPER heavyweight - bout. Either way, those rules were being at least conceived at this point, and that is a milestone that would pave the way to today's acceptance.
As for the card itself, it is one that might excite us more today than it did the live crowd in 2000. Tons of new fighters debut here - the aforementioned McGee, future heavyweight champions Josh Barnett and Andrei Orolovskiy (their spelling, not mine), Renato "Babalu" Sobral and, more interesting than important, Matt Hughes' twin brother Mark. On top of that, it's a RETURN that is the most important selling point of this show, as Randy Couture returns to the UFC to go after the heavyweight title he never lost in the cage, currently held by Kevin Randleman.
So, they've put together a card that could be exciting, in the biggest venue they've ever had, with the most legitimate athletic commission to sanction them in years.....Can they make it all count?
Banatamweights (155lbs and under)
(2-0-1, 5'7, 155lbs)
Lewis has been training with Tito Ortiz and Team Punishment since his debut several shows ago. At 6' he is a huge man at this weight, and is ripped. Of course, reach doesn't mean that much when you're going up against a superior boxer, which Pulver definitely is here. He'll be looking to make a big impression after a lack luster win that kicked of the bantamweight division last time out.
Lewis comes forward and wants to use his reach and box. A lazy jab that he just throws out and doesn't bring back almost results in him eating a big left, and the second lazy jab results in a Pulver left to the jaw that finishes the fight in roughly 15 seconds or so.
DAMN. What a KO victory by Pulver. That is how you make an impression.
Quick interview with Couture to hype the main event. He was an Olympic alternate for the Sydney games, so he obviously did a lot of wrestling during his nearly three years away. They make no mention of his 2-2 record in Japanese promotion RINGS during that time though.
Heavyweights (200lbs and up)
(0-0, 6'3, 239lbs)
(0-0, 6'3, 231lbs)
Despite the spelling, this is the "Pitbull" making his debut here. He is obviously a bit younger looking as he is only 21, but looks just as intimidating as he does today.
Brink enters to much more hype, as he is apparently a KO artist with great submission defense. He trains with former middleweight challenger Jon Lober, so he should have some decent skills here.
Brink circles to the Belarussian's left to keep away, and shoots with no real set up. Orlovskiy grabs a guillotine as he sprawls away, but gives it up and just misses landing a huge right hand on the break. He scores a takedown the second time that Brink shoots, then uses a reversal attempt to lock in a great armbar for the tap in just under a minute.
Orlovskiy debuts with a great submission win and shows a bit of what will make him so special for the next few years.
Next time out in Japan, we get two title defenses, as Tito Ortiz will defend his middleweight title against Yuki Kondo while Pat Militech will defend the lightweight title as well.
Heavyweights (200lbs and up)
(0-0, 6'10, 296lbs)
(0-0, 6'3, 257lbs)
Two big debuts here...literally. These guys are both kinda huge. Some will even report this a "Superheavyweight" bout, but Barnett is actually under the heavyweight limit of 265lbs, and they list this as a regular heavyweight bout on the show, so I'm going with that.
Barnett comes in with a reported 23-0 MMA record, and current fans will know him as one of the best all around fighters in the game today. At this point physically, Barnett is still a little soft and you can tell that "getting in shape" was still a fairly new situation for him.
For his part, McGee is a beast. Nearly 7' and 300lbs, the guy is one of the bigger MMA competitors you'll see.
They clinch to start and the bigger McGee is able to control and push Barnett up against the fence. Short elbows are about all the offense that Barnett can muster, along with a few short knees. McGee drags him down using a body lock, with Barnett immediately closing his guard. He looks very comfortable and calm on the bottom. He actually lands the better strikes from the bottom, but McGee is able to mount for a minute before Barnett regains 1/2 guard. He postures for an armbar a few times, but McGee avoids and mounts again just as time runs out.
I'll 10-9 for McGee in the first full round of the night. Barnett looked very good, but he did get mounted twice, and that's the difference even if no damage was done.
Barnett quickly gets in close again, negating the reach advantage of McGee. Big McGee eventually drags him down to the mat again, but he is starting to look quite tired. Barnett uses hi closed guard again, but quickly moves to a triangle choke, using a few elbows to up the uncomfortable level. McGee pulls free, but Barnett is able to gain his feet and score a takedown of his own. McGee is quickly back up, and they clinch against the fence. McGee tries for a sloppy single leg, but Barnett sprawls and ends up on top in full mount with about 35 seconds left in the round. A flurry of punches by Barnett with no answer from McGee ends the fight.
Big TKO by Barnett and he gets his UFC career off to a good start. Post fight, he says that he was comfortable on the bottom, "but [he] doesn't have any heavyweights to train with, and that mother fucker's heavy." I like Josh Barnett.
With some short early fights, we go to an earlier prelim.
Middleweights (170lbs to 199lbs)
(0-0, 5'8, 184lbs)
(0-0, 6'2, 188lbs)
Steibling is a student of UFC veteran Jason Godsey. He was training a lot of guys at this point, but I haven't heard of any in a while. Steibling is a long, lean fighter who will have a good reach advantage.
Hughes is a slightly thicker version of his twin. They say his is stronger than Matt, and I can see that. Bloody freakish farm boys.
Hughes clinches and tries for the takedown hard, but Steibling fights it off for a while before succumbing to being violently ripped off the cage. Once he is in Steibling's guard, Hughes looks to set him up for some strikes, but ends up caught in a leg lock. Hughes avoids and lands some nice hammer fists in response, and that all the action of the round.
10-9 for Hughes, but he didn't set the world on fire at all.
Hughes eats one jab and shoots. He pushes Steibling against the fence and pulls him down. Steibling tries to be more active from the bottom this time with elbows. Hughes passes to side control, then North/South with about 90 seconds left. He looks for an anaconda choke, but lets it go. Steibling regains guard with 30 seconds left, and that's the fight.
Hughes wins a unanimous decision in his only UFC fight. He'd have two more MMA fights before calling it a career. He might have been stronger than Matt, but definitely not as skilled.
Heavyweights (200lbs and up)
(0-0, 6'1, 225lbs)
(4-2, 6'2, 225lbs)
Another big debut here as Babalu steps into the Octagon as a heavyweight, looking a bit heftier than he does today.
Smith is 38 years old at this point, and slowing a bit. He has been adjusting his game as he ages though, so we'll see how he does.
They box to start out. This is obvously not where Sobral wants the fight to be, and sure enough he shoots and has the takedown to 1/2 guard. Sobral looks for a kimura or Americana throughout the rest of the round, but Smith defends pretty well. That's the round.
10-9 for Sobral easily.
A little stand up to start again, but Sobral clinches as soon as he can and uses the body lock to take Smith down again. Full guard for Smith this time, which leads to pretty much nothing going on on the ground. Sobral lets him up for a second, but grabs a leg kick and takes him right back down to finish the round on top.
10-9 Sobral again.
They dance around each other for the first minute and a half of the round, then Sobral gets another takedown and grinds out the time on top.
Easy unanimous victory for Sobral in a boring fight. Smith couldn't stop a takedown, while Sobral could do nothing on top. Unfortunately, this would be Smith's swan song in the UFC. He would fight Marco Ruas - Sobral's trainer in this fight - in May of 2007 in what would be his next fight after this one.
(3-1, 5'10, 214lbs)
(4-0, 6'1, 220lbs)
So Couture is 38, the same age as Smith, but looks a lot younger physically. The fact that Couture fought regularly over the next 7 years while Smith essentially retried says a lot about the wear a pro kickboxer takes over his career as well.
Fun to note that while this fight is for the heavyweight championship, these guys are glorified light heavys really. Both would move down to that division eventually, but for now they are the top of the big boys.
Couture is looking to clinch early, but Randleman takes him down and we get a look at Couture's guard. You don't get to see that very often, but we get about 4 minutes of it here. Randleman, to no one's surprise, looks to pound on Couture, but gets caught in a decent armbar attempt. He lifts and slams Couture down to get his arm free, and we end up back in guard to close out the round.
10-9 for Randleman for the takedown and light striking. Couture looked very comfortable and calm on the bottom though.
Couture looking to box to start, but it is Randleman that lands the big shots and then clinches. Couture is able to recover as the clinch is his world and starts to take control. They separate though, and Randleman lands two more big punches before they clinch again. Randleman drops and takes Couture down again with an ankle pick. He pretty much holds Couture down for the rest of the round.
10-9 Randleman again, based on the takedown and the big shots on their feet.
Boxing to start again, until Couture is able to get close enough for the clinch. He uses some knees, and they end up rolling around the walls of the Octagon for a minute or so until Couture scores his first takedown. He works out of Randleman's (undeveloped) guard, but is able to pound his way to mount, then pound his way to victory over a bloodied Randleman when McCarthy stops the fight.
Couture returns and takes his title back by ref stoppage. Classic Couture as he weathered the storm of a stronger, younger opponent, waited for his chance, and then finished it.
The 411: They put almost all their cards on the table...and delivered. A strong card with a highlight reel KO, and great submission, a really good main event and not a horrible fight (except maybe Sobral and Smith) to be found. In the end it wouldn't save SEG, but this card could very well have been the blueprint that Zuffa would follow when they took over. Good pacing and good fights equals a good show. Next time out, we close out 2000, SEG and UFC-J all in one.