After a long layoff, UFC is back with another pay-per-view event this Saturday with UFC 74: Respect. The headlines clearly belong to the main event fight for the UFC heavyweight title between champion Randy Couture and challenger Gabriel Gonzaga. However, there are a number of other intriguing fights on the card including the welterweight fight between Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck. Here is my preview of the event.
Who will walk out of UFC 74 with the heavyweight title?
Randy Couture made a surprise comeback to UFC earlier this year, jumping back to the heavyweight division and then dominating Tim Sylvia for five rounds to win the title. Couture has had an inconsistent career but he is best when he is underestimated. Very few picked him to defeat Sylvia and the same can be said this time around. However, he is a legend and UFC Hall-of-Famer and the fans will be in his corner.
While Couture is the titleholder, Gabriel Gonzaga is the betting man's favorite in this fight. Gonzaga comes in with a sparkling 4-0 UFC record including his memorable deconstruction of former PRIDE superstar Mirko Cro Cop. While fans may remember Gonzaga's kick that knocked Cro Cop instantly unconscious, don't forget that Gonzaga was dominating with his ground-and-pound before the referee mysteriously stood the two fighters up just before his kick. Gonzaga apparently has everything -- great ground skills and great striking. The only thing he doesn't have is Couture's fan appeal or name recognition. I believe after UFC 74, everyone will know who Gonzaga is. To recognize him, all fans will have to do is look for the belt around his waist.
Georges St. Pierre returns to action after losing his belt
Georges St. Pierre's loss to Matt Serra at UFC 69 to lose in his first title defense was nothing short of stunning. Whether St. Pierre didn't take the fight seriously enough, train hard or long enough, or was injured, most fans could not have predicted such a swift and decisive loss by UFC's golden boy. Serra is known for his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu so the manner of St. Pierre's loss was even more stunning.
St. Pierre has a history of pulling out of fights because of injury and some have questioned his mental toughness. There is no questioning his physical tools. But, who will we see at UFC 74 this weekend? The man who thoroughly dominated Matt Hughes to capture the title at UFC 65 or the man who looked lost in losing the title against Serra? This fight will be a test of where St. Pierre is as a fighter more than what his opponent, Josh Koscheck, will do.
Koscheck has earned a bad reputation from the fans for his controversial statements in the past and his perceived boring style of fighting. However, there is no doubt that the former collegiate wrestling champ is a superb athlete himself and that the former TUF fighter is a rising star in the welterweight division. Koscheck has continued to add to his arsenal and fought a smart fight in defeating rival Diego Sanchez in his last fight at UFC 69.
This match will feature an interesting contrast in styles between the striking St. Pierre and the wrestler Koscheck. I believe St. Pierre when he says he's a new fighter after his loss to Serra. And I believe he badly wants to atone for his embarrassing loss at UFC 69. Unfortunately for Koscheck, I believe St. Pierre will bring the complete package -- physical and mental -- to UFC 74 and win an exciting back-and-forth fight between the two.
Who else should we be watching?
This card has a number of notable names. As UFC continues to gobble up the best fighters in the world, these cards should be the norm. So, here are some other names to look out for on Saturday:
Roger Huerta and Joe Stevenson - These are two rising lightweight fighters who won't face each other on Saturday. In a division that is in upheaval after champion Sean Sherk's positive drug test at his UFC 73 title defense, a number of fighters can make a claim to legitimate title shots if the title is vacated. These two are right in the mix for that title shot. Huerta takes on UFC newcomer Alberto Crane while Stevenson takes on Kurt Pellegrino. Much about the lightweight picture will be clarified by these two fights.
Kendall Grove - The TUF 3 champ, Grove has been making steady progress in the UFC middleweight division. With long arms and long legs, he is a difficult matchup for any fighter in his division. With a win against Cote, who has a 1-4 UFC record, Grove will position himself on the cusp of the top of the division that features Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin, Yushin Okami, and Jason MacDonald.
Frank Mir and Renato Sobral - These two fighters make the list of those to watch for different reasons from everyone else on the list. They are on the list because they are one-time UFC stars who have struggled mightily in the last year. The former UFC heavyweight champ Mir has been unable to regain his old form. His last fight was a UFC 65 loss to Brandon Vera last year. While his UFC 74 opponent -- Antoni Hardonk -- is a relative newcomer with a 1-1 UFC record, what does Mir have left in the tank? I think we will find out this Saturday in a fight he should win.
Sobral is coming off two straight losses in the UFC light heavyweight division and really needs this fight to remain a legitimate pay-per-view fighter in what is an increasingly strong division. His opponent this Saturday is no slouch -- David Heath is 2-1 in UFC and while his resume is not as impressive as Sobral's, this fight could be a tough one for Sobral. Will Sobral be able to break out of his slump and return to the form that earned him a title shot last year? We will learn a lot this weekend.
For the entire UFC 74 card, go to UFC.com.