Chris Howie, Justin Bullock and Darrin Antler reporting…
Randy “The Natural” Couture (c) VS Gabriel “Napao” Gonzaga
Chris Howie: As has been the norm for him throughout his career, Randy Couture comes in to this fight with Gabriel as the underdog whilst wearing the UFC Heavyweight championship. At 44 years of age Couture will be defending the title against Gabriel Gonzaga who is coming off a stunning upset victory over one of the top Heavyweight's in the world in Mirko “CroCop” Filopovic. It may not be considered a huge upset had it been via submission or ground and pound but what made it so stunning would have to be the fact that Napao defeated CroCop at his own game by knocking the Croatian out with a devastating high kick. Couture, who defeated Tim Sylvia to win the title after coming out of retirement, could find himself in trouble against the bigger Brazillian as Gonzaga is an ace on the ground and one could only assume that Couture will want to take him down and try and pound him out. It is hard to pick who could win this one as both fighters are equipped to tangle in all environments. Gonzaga is a BBJ black belt and for a Heavyweight moves very well and will be hard to get out of position and to top it off, as was displayed in his last fight, Gonzaga has a stand up game that could be very scary for a champion who is no stranger to being KO'd. Couture on the other hand has been around the block and back again over his career and brings in much more experience than Gonzaga and he is also no stranger to high-profile fights. His wrestling skills are second to none and he could give Gabe some problems in the clinch. Couture is excellent in the ground and pound situation and has enough knowledge in his arsenal to keep himself out of trouble should Gonzaga gain top positioning on the mat.
Although he is the underdog Couture is hard to count out in any fight he is in. He beat Chuck Liddell when he was the underdog, same with Tito Ortiz, and at 43 years of age he came out of retirement and defeated Tim Sylvia who was a much bigger than him and it was no secret that in the past Couture had problems with bigger fighters. Gonzaga is coming into this fight with nothing to lose and everything to gain. He is young and still has many years left in the tank and losing to Randy Couture is nothing to hang your head about. He is coming off a win over CroCop who at the time was the consensus number two Heavyweight in the world behind Fedor Emelianenko and he handled CroCop with ease on the mat and then finished him off with a vicious KO.
Randy Couture is one of my favorite fighters of all time and it is hard to go against him but I'm going to have to in this one as much as I do not want to. It should be a very entertaining fight and should deliver from all angles.
Prediction: Gabriel Gonzaga VIA Round 2 TKO
Justin Bullock: Yes, I know how foolish it is to bet against Randy. It seems like just about every time he is counted out, he comes out on top. But this time is different because not everyone is counting him out; in actuality, Randy is the favorite to win this fight in most people's eyes. And while I so desperately want to see Randy get the win, I am going to have to bet against him yet again.
Sure, Randy's dismantling of Tim Sylvia was impressive especially when you consider the circumstances surrounding the fight, but Tim's style suited Randy much better than Gonzaga's does. Randy has never really had a hard time with strikers when it came to the Heavyweight division; it was guys like Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez — big, established ground-fighters — who really gave him trouble. Gonzaga poses the exact same threat that Barnett and Ricco did and then some; he is a decorated BJJ champion with good wrestling and he has heavy hands. And while I'm not one of those fans who have started hailing Gonzaga as the man to beat Fedor since his destruction of Mirko, I do think he has the skill set required to dethrone Couture.
He is deceptively quick on his feet for a man his size and I think his stand up is very underrated considering he has finished three of his last four fights by TKO stoppage set up by strikes. He has great subs too, even though the only chance he had to really display his ground skills was when he easily submitted the over-matched Carmelo Marrero at UFC 66.
The only weakness I see in Gonzaga's game is his conditioning. He has never had a fight go past the third round — many fans contribute his lone loss to Fabricio Werdum to the fact that Gonzaga gassed out — and Randy himself has said that he plans on using Gonzaga's inexperience against him.
In the end, this fight (like any other) is going to come down to whoever can do the best job implementing their game plan. I think Gabriel is going to come in hungry and push the pace, and I think he is going to finish Randy with strikes from the top in the fourth round.
Prediction: Gonzaga VIA Rd. 4 TKO
Darrin Antler: Much of the talk surrounding this match-up in recent weeks has been about how Gonzaga will fare in the “championship rounds.” Randy has been there on many occasions before, with more title fights in his repertoire than hairs on his head, while this will be “Napao's” first foray into a five round fight.
Much of this talk, in my opinion, will prove to be moot. This fight will not go to the judges. While there is no doubting “The Natural's” heart and technical acumen as well as his ability to game plan for whatever is thrown his way; Gabriel Gonzaga presents Couture with a challenge that he has not seen since UFC 39, in the form of Ricco Rodriguez before he obtained his lifetime food supply from McDonald's.
Gonzaga is a quick, explosive monster of a man. While Tim Sylvia is much larger than Napao, the former champ does not possess the sheer aggression and speed that has confounded Randy in the past when faced with a larger opponent. Unlike Big Tim, Gonzaga will not be waiting for his opportunity; he will seek to create it. And with the arsenal that Gabriel Gonzaga possesses, he will be able to assert his will upon Randy no matter where the fight happens to end up:
On the ground: Napao is a Mundials BJJ black belt champion in the heavyweight division.
In the clinch: This may be the only area where Randy has a slight edge, but Gonzaga is the Abu Dhabi Submission Grappling runner up for 2005.
On the feet: Ask Mirko Filipovic about what Gabriel brings to the table in this respect.
In his eight professional victories, Gonzaga has not needed the judges' assistance raising his hand and on August 25, it will be no different.
Prediction: Gabriel 'Napao' Gonzaga VIA Rd. 2 TKO
Georges “Rush” St. Pierre VS Josh “Kos” Koscheck
Chris Howie: I hope this one is an entertaining as it could be but there is always a chance it could be a bore fest. GSP, who defeated Matt Hughes to win the Welterweight championship, went on to face The Ultimate Fighter 4 winner Matt Serra at UFC 69. Serra on some lines was an 11 to 1 underdog and most assumed GSP had this one in the bag (I know I did). Those who had that feeling would be in for a shock when only a couple minutes into the first round, Serra would KO GSP and win the Welterweight title in a stunning upset. On the same card that night in Texas, Josh Koscheck would go up against Diego Sanchez in a fight that many fans were excited to see for the shear fact that these two hated each other and when there is hatred involved fireworks are a definite, right? Wrong. Both fighters appeared to be fighting not to lose and the fight ended up being extremely hard to watch and left many screaming at their TV's for these two to throw down.
Koscheck is a great martial artist. Love him or hate him he has all the tools to be a contender in the Welterweight division for a long, long time. His wrestling skills are amazing and he can use his wrestling by itself just to win the fight. His striking has really grown since he first came on the scene after TUF 1 and he has shown that he can win by submission if it presents itself. He has the attitude and his cardio has never really been a problem for him. GSP on the other hand is one of the most skilled fighters in the world and has shown it time and again in each of his fights in the UFC. He always seems to be getting better and better each time he fights going back to his days in the TKO organization. One thing many have been questioning is his mental game. It reared its ugly head against Matt Hughes the first time they fought, when he had Hughes in trouble and could have sealed the deal. It was obvious that GSP was not the same GSP everyone was use to seeing when he came in for his fight against Serra so the question that many will be asking when he makes his way down to the Octagon on the 25th is which GSP will be showing up tonight? If it is the GSP that ran a clinic on Frank Trigg or made Sean Sherk scream in pain than Koscheck will be in trouble, if it is the GSP that showed up to fight Serra than it will be a long night for fans of the French Canadian.
At the end of the night I believe GSP will prove all the people that doubt him wrong and find himself back in the number one contender slot come August 26th.
Prediction: GSP VIA Rd. 2 TKO
Justin Bullock: It's going to be interesting to see how Georges performs after the most decisive and most shocking loss in the history of his career. Hopefully, he will come out like the “Rush” we saw dismantle Frank Trigg, Sean Sherk, and Matt Hughes. It will be interesting to see if he can do the same thing to Josh Koscheck, who many fans consider the best wrestler in MMA today. It is obvious what both fighters are going to do: Georges is going to try and keep the fight standing while you can bet Koscheck will shoot for the legs as soon as he can.
Sure Koscheck has shown improved stand up against Jonathan Goulet and Diego Sanchez, but when he fought Jeff Joslin – someone who actually has decent stand up – he was forced to revert back to his lay-n-pray days of old in order to eek out a somewhat boring decision. GSP's striking is at least on the same level as Joslin's, but his wrestling is much better and I don't think Koscheck will be able to take him down as easily. Granted, it is almost a sure thing that Koscheck will get a takedown sometime during the fight, but I just don't see him being able to do much once it's there. And while Kos might be able to hold Georges down for all three rounds, I expect “Rush” to come out and prove why he is considered one of the best Welterweights in the sport.
Look for GSP to implement his superior stand-up and put Koscheck down before the end of the fight.
Prediction: Georges St. Pierre VIA Rd. 2 TKO
Darrin Antler: Which Georges St. Pierre is going to show up? The one who demolished Matt Hughes or the one who was KO’d by a little Italian fellow from Long Island? Well, my friends, they are one in the same. The notion that GSP is mentally weak and somehow damaged from his shocking title loss at the hands of Matt Serra is more hype than substance. Georges took Serra lightly (and for good reason, I might add) and it cost him. This is a mistake that will not be repeated.
Taking nothing away from Koscheck, but he is not in the same league as “Rush”. Not even close. Koscheck's snoozer of a win over Diego Sanchez gets more credibility than it deserves. Diego Sanchez was misdiagnosed with Hepatitis C less than 48 hours before the fight and was ready to announce his retirement from MMA until the genius quacks realized that he actually had a staph infection. The Diego who showed up that night is not the Diego who was running through every fighter in the Welterweight division.
While Josh has undoubtedly added to his wrestling-first base with a much improved stand up game, it will matter not against Georges St. Pierre. Koscheck will not and cannot out strike GSP. His only hope at a victory will be to get St. Pierre on his back and see what he can do from the guard. This is easier said than done.
GSP has stood in front of opponents who brought a superior wrestling game to the table before and with only one exception, has humbled them all: Hughes, Sherk, Trigg anyone? Although none of those names boast the same NCAA credentials as Koscheck, it will matter not. GSP is the antidote to the wrestler, with an incredible sprawl and quick feet. St. Pierre dares his opponents to shoot on him so he can get out of the way and counter with speedy and powerful hands and feet.
Georges St. Pierre will once again prove why he is the best fighter in the world at 170. This one will be quick and violent as “Rush” carves his path back towards the UFC Welterweight crown.
Kendall “Da Spyder” Grove VS Patrick “The Predator” Cote
Chris Howie: “Da Spyder” will be looking to move up the UFC Middleweight rankings when he faces off against UFC vet Patrick Cote in Middleweight action. Cote, who is coming off a victory in his last fight in Canada's TKO organization will be looking to pick up another win against Grove, who is also coming off a victory in his last outing against Alan Belcher. Cote's last fight in the UFC came at UFC 68 in February in a fight that he turned in a less than stellar performance when he faced off against Scott Smith. Cote stood back in this fight and fought to win instead of fighting to finish it and because of that went back to TKO to prove himself to the UFC and gain another shot in the Octagon. Grove was impressive in his last fight and will have Tito Ortiz's knowledge on his side as Ortiz faced off against Cote at UFC 50.
Grove should bring the best out in Cote and push the pace. Cote will not have the option of standing back in this fight as Grove will be coming at him from all angles and will cause Cote to showcase his skills. Cote will also try to take the fight to the ground and pound Grove out with his ground and pound skills. It should be a good back and forth fight with the winner moving up the rankings and looking to possibly fight in a number one contender’s fight.
I can't see Cote wanting to stand up with Grove as his kickboxing could give The Predator problems so I see Cote looking to get the takedown early and use his strength to control Grove on the mat. Grove will try to keep it standing but if he does end up on the mat he does have a submission background so he could possibly submit Cote from his back. Either way I see this one going to a decision.
Prediction: Kendall Grove VIA Unanimous Decision
Justin Bullock: Patrick Cote is better than his UFC record of 0-4 would indicate. The guy just seems to have awful luck. He has won every fight he has fought outside of the octagon in impressive fashion, but it seems like whenever the cage doors close “The Predator” is nowhere to be found. In his last fight in the UFC against Scott Smith one thing was clear: Cote fought not to lose. By the end of the fifteen-minute snooze-fest Cote was crowned the winner, giving him the guarantee of another fight in the UFC.
As much as I would like to see him pick up another victory, I don't see it happening. In fact, I see his opponent, Kendall Grove, giving him fits for the entire fight. After his stint on The Ultimate Fighter 3, Kendall's improvement as a fighter has been obvious. Every fight he seems to be getting better and better, and there is no telling how high he could climb in the UFC's less than stacked Middleweight division, given a few more wins.
What makes Kendall such a dangerous fighter is his incredible height and reach advantage over most of the opponents he faces. He has such a long, awkward frame and so far he has shown a great ability to use it to give his opponents all sorts of trouble. His ground work and his stand up game have been steadily improving since he trained with Tito Ortiz at Big Bear and now that he has been training at Xtreme Couture there is no doubt that he will only get better.
The only issue I have with Kendall is that he has shown that he can be knocked out if his chin is tested, as we've seen in the past with his fight against Joe Riggs. Anyone who saw Cote's debut against Tito Ortiz at UFC 50 knows that he has some heavy hands, and if he connects with Kendall's jaw it could be nighty-night for “Da Spyder.” That being said, I'm sure Kendall is aware of the danger of standing toe-to-toe with Cote and I think he will only stand with Patrick in order to set up a takedown and work his ground and pound.
It is going to be a tough fight for both fighters, but I think that Grove will win in what will be his most impressive victory to date.
Prediction: Kendall Gove VIA Rd. 3 Submission
Darrin Antler: After finally notching his first win in five tries in the Octagon, Patrick Cote was sent home to Canada as punishment for what was deemed a boring fight against Scott Smith. After annihilating Jason Day in June in TKO, Canada’s premier MMA promotion, Cote got the call back to the big show.
In front of Cote will be `Da Spyder’ Kendall Grove. Grove has been on a roll since winning The Ultimate Fighter and is yet to lose in the octagon. His long and lanky frame has caused nothing but problems for his opponents. He presents a well-rounded game and is pegged as one of the up and comers in the title hunt at 185 lbs. By his own admission, Grove is “four or five” fights away from a title shot. After this bout, that can be amended to “five or six.”
Patrick Cote is a natural 205 lber who gave Grove’s mentor, Tito Ortiz, all that he could handle when the Canadian made his UFC debut in 2004. Cote will draw on his experience and strength to negate Grove’s skills. Cote also has deceptive punching power that has been tempered for his tendency to telegraph his punches — Cote has claimed that he has tightened up his boxing and this is no longer an issue. These factors will produce another “lackluster” performance, but also a victory for Cote and perhaps a plane ticket back to Montreal and TKO. Grove's first loss in the octagon will prove that there is only room for one Spider/Spyder in the UFC's Middleweight division, and he happens to be wearing gold around his waist.
Prediction: Patrick Cote VIA Unanimous Decision
Roger Huerta VS Alberto Crane
Chris Howie: Huerta will be fighting for the second time in two months when he steps into the cage with UFC newcomer Alberto Crane. Huerta is making quite the name for himself in the UFC Lightweight division, going 4-0 since making his debut and upping his record to an impressive 20-1. Alberto Crane will be making his Octagon debut with an 8-0 record and will be looking to make a quick name for himself by defeating Huerta.
Crane will be no pushover for Huerta even though many fans probably have never heard of him. He is a BJJ black belt and holds many titles and championships from competing in BJJ tournaments. Huerta who has looked good since debuting in UFC and could possibly be facing his toughest opponent to date even though it will be Crane's first fight in the UFC.
It is hard to find a boring Lightweight fight lately as anytime the Lightweights have locked up on a UFC card they have always been very entertaining from bell to bell. I expect much of the same from this fight and both fighters have something to prove, Huerta wanting to further himself up the ranks and Crane wanting to let people know who he is. I'm going to go with the underdog in this one because I like his background and credentials.
Prediction: Alberto Crane VIA Rd. 3 Submission
Justin Bullock: Roger Huerta is one of the fastest rising stars in the UFC, and for good reason. Every single one of his fights in the UFC has been exciting, and on top of that, he fights more than almost any other fighter I can think of. This fight will be his fourth fight this year, and I can't help but think that the UFC brass is looking to make him the Mike Bisping of Latin America. He has all the makings of a huge star, but he has yet to really face a quality opponent. Not taking anything away from his impressive performances, but every fighter he has faced was making their UFC debut including the fighter he is about to fight at UFC 74: Alberto Crane, a King of the Cage Lightweight world champion and Ring of Fire Lightweight champion.
Alberto, who is undefeated in MMA at 8-0, could prove to be a bad match up for Huerta. In his last fight against Doug Evans, Huerta's wrestling was somewhat exposed as being so-so. The whole first round he was dominated in what mostly resembled a wrestling match and even though he came out in the second round like a new man and finished the fight, he left many fans wondering how he would stack up against the likes of a Sean Sherk or even a Kenny Florian. He will have his chance to allay some of those doubts this weekend, as he faces Crane, a BJJ black belt who has won multiple world titles.
No doubt Crane will look to take the fight to the ground immediately and try to exploit the weaknesses in Huerta's ground game, and if Roger gets sloppy on the ground like he did against Evans in the first round he could earn his first loss in the UFC. But I don't see that happening. Crane is no doubt slick on the ground, but his 8-0 record is a little misleading in that most of the opponents he has fought have losing records. Obviously you can't judge a fighter solely on his past fights, but the fact that he has been fighting less than mid-level opponents for the bulk of his career is definitely noteworthy.
There is no doubt in my mind that this will be a good fight. Say what you want about Huerta being overrated, but no one can argue with the fact that the guy always puts on a good show for the fans. I really think he will overwhelm Crane, and finish him with strikes from the top.
Prediction: Roger Huerta VIA Rd. 1 TKO
Darrin Antler: Not much is known about Crane. He has toiled in many of the smaller and obscure shows that dot the MMA landscape since 2002, amassing a perfect 8-0 record with 7 submissions. He is also the former King of the Cage Lightweight champion. The one thing that is known about Crane is that he has a serious BJJ game, having captured the Mundials BJJ Championship in 2002.
Huerta is a fast rising UFC star, having been on the cover of Sports Illustrated after only three UFC fights. His last showing was a TKO victory over tough Alaskan, Douglas Evans. Huerta is a freak of nature with a motor that never quits.
This fight will be interesting from the perspective that both fighters are likely going to be after the same thing: Huerta will look to put Crane on the ground to unleash deadly ground and pound that has served him well in the past while Crane will seek the same position to work his submission game from the guard.
Everything will boil down to who can assert their dominance from their respective ground positions. In this case, it will be Huerta who comes out on top due to his experience in the octagon.
Prediction: Roger Huerta VIA Rd. 3 TKO
Joe “Daddy” Stevenson VS Kurt Pellegrino
Chris Howie: Stevenson is coming off a huge victory with his 25 second submission victory over Melvin Guillard. Pellegrino is also coming off his second victory in the UFC with a first round submission victory over Nate Mohr. This should be an interesting fight and could show off both fighters immense ground skills. Stevenson is training in Big Bear right now so he'll definitely be working his ground and pound and striking, and with guys like Quinton Jackson and Brandon Vera up there training he will most likely be well prepared for this fight. Pellegrino, who trains at the Armory in Jupiter, FL. with guys like former Lightweight contender Hermes Franca, will be ready to come and try to submit Stevenson early. Pellegrino has stated in the past that he wanted to run the UFC Lightweight division with Hermes on top with the title and him right behind him at number two. It looks like Pellegrino may want to try and go for the title since Hermes will be out of action for a year after testing positive for steroids in his fight for the title with Sean Sherk back in July. Stevenson is a power house at Lightweight and should be able to use his strength to control Pellegrino on the mat and either pound him out or go for the submission.
Prediction: Joe “Daddy” Stevenson VIA Unanimous Decision
Justin Bullock: “Joe Daddy” has been looking more and more impressive since he dropped to 155 after losing a unanimous decision to Josh Neer at 170 last year. In his first fight at the new weight class, he defeated Yves Edwards via cut stoppage in what would prove to be his toughest fight so far at 155, and possibly the bloodiest fight ever in the UFC. Since then he has submitted both Dokonjonosuke Mishima and Melvin Guillard via guillotine choke in the opening minutes of the first round, almost making it look easy.
Pellegrino has followed a similar route. He also dropped to 155 from 170 after his loss to Drew Fickett at UFC 61, and since then he too has looked impressive, submitting both Junior Assuanca and Nate Mohr in under one round. After his last fight with Mohr at UFN 11 Kurt said in his post fight interview with Joe Rogan that he and Hermes Franca were going to lord over the Lightweight division; Hermes would be champ, and he would be the number one contender forever. But now that Franca is out for the next year due to his steroid suspension, Pellegrino has his eyes on the belt. Depending on whether or not Sean Sherk fails his appeal, this fight could be to determine who will get the shot at the vacant Lightweight title at UFC 78 in New Jersey against BJ Penn.
But regardless whether or not the fight is for a title shot, it has all the makings of a great grappling battle the likes of Guida/Griffin, and while Pellegrino is no pushover, I think Joe Stevenson is going to be the one with his hand raised by the end of the fight.
Prediction: “Joe Daddy” VIA Rd. 2 Submission
Darrin Antler: On paper, this is Stevenson's fight to lose. Since dropping down to the 155 lb. division after winning The Ultimate Fighter 2 at 170 lbs. and a tough loss at that weight to Josh Neer, Stevenson has been impressive defeating three top-tier 155ers, in a row. Kurt Pellegrino is a solid fighter in his own right, with a terrible, terrible nickname. 'Batman' has notched impressive wins against lesser competition, but has failed to live up to the challenge of name fighters. This case will be no different. While it is likely that Pellegrino will remain conscious for the entire fight, it is less likely that he will have his hand raised when all is said and done.
Stevenson is just too strong, too skilled and too good for the outmatched 'Batman.'
Prediction: Stevenson VIA Unanimous Decision
Make sure to join us for the most detailed live results coverage of UFC 74 “Respect” this coming Saturday night. We'll have the weigh-in results up at around 7:15PM ET / 4:15PM PT later today.