“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
This year, I’ve proven to be very human with my MMA predictions. Thankfully, however, I have some of the most divine readers in the world. Besides, I argue, what’s the fun of reading Randy Couture’s picks, unless you’re a gambler? Couture takes all the fun out of the whole prognostication business by being so prescient with his predictions. With all that said, please don’t go anywhere near a bookie with my picks.
So, let’s go straight to my preview of UFC 77, a card which promises to be one of the more intriguing of the year.
Middleweight title: Champion Anderson Silva vs. Challenger Rich Franklin
Most fans remember the first Silva-Franklin fight just about a year ago at UFC 64. Silva dominated that encounter, controlling Franklin in a Muay Thai clinch and pounding the former champion with a series of knees to the body and finishing Franklin off with knees and kicks to the head.
Since then, Silva has continued to demonstrate his impressive all-around skills, first by getting Travis Lutter to submit in a non-title fight and then defeating Nate Marquardt by ground-and-pound in his first official title defense.
Franklin has not looked nearly as able. While he pounded an overmatched Jason MacDonald in his first fight back after losing the belt, Franklin had quite a bit of trouble with Yushin Okami in his next fight. Okami was very passive in the first two rounds of the fight, but when he became aggressive in the third round, he was almost able to get Franklin to submit. I believe that Okami would have won that fight had he been more aggressive earlier on in the fight.
Tonight, I simply don’t believe Franklin will be able to handle Silva's all-around superior game. Whether or not Franklin has learned how to deal with Silva’s clinch is almost irrelevant. Silva has too many other weapons.
Prediction: Silva by TKO in the second round
Heavyweight: Tim Sylvia vs. Brandon Vera
This is a fantastic matchup between two fighters now poised to challenge for the UFC heavyweight title after Randy Couture’s abrupt resignation from the promotion close to 10 days ago. The last time we saw Sylvia in action, he lost the heavyweight title to Couture in Columbus, Ohio in March. Since then Sylvia has had back surgery, correcting an ailment he claims hindered him in the Couture fight. Sylvia also promises to return to his old form of defeating fighters by knockout rather than being content with five-round decisions.
Vera, a local product who came up through Lloyd Irvin’s gym in Camp Springs, is one of the division’s most promising fighters. However, Vera hasn’t fought in close to a year. His last fight was a dominating performance against former heavyweight champ Frank Mir in 2006. Since then, Vera has been embroiled in a dispute with his management at City Boxing in San Diego (which Vera has since left) -- a dispute that Vera claims is the reason he didn’t re-sign with UFC earlier.
This fight is a match-up between the biggest (Sylvia) and the smallest (Vera) fighters in the division. Both are outstanding standing up, but I believe Sylvia’s reach and height will be too much for the athletic, charismatic Vera. While Vera has been impressive and is currently unbeaten in MMA action, Sylvia is his first true test. From everything that’s being said, the winner of this fight will fight for the heavyweight title next.
Prediction: Sylvia by KO in the second round
Light heavyweight: Stephan Bonnar vs. Eric Schafer
First, let me come out and say that Schafer is a contributor over at MMA Madness and that I’ve gotten to know him and his brother Nathan through e-mail correspondences over the last few months. Schafer isn’t just a witty, articulate fighter who at one time aspired to a career in medicine. He is also an outstanding up-and-coming MMA fighter who has worked well on his ground game (see his arm triangle choke against Rob MacDonald at UFC 62).
However, Schafer’s last fight came at UFC 66 and it was a loss to Michael Bisping, a fight Schafer says he came into injured. The injury bug struck again when Schafer broke a rib training for his UFC 71 fight against Sean Salmon. So, this will be Schafer’s first test of 2007.
Bonnar, on the other hand, served a nine-month suspension for testing positive last year for performance-enhancing drugs at UFC 62. He returned to action at UFC 73 and was impressive, especially on the ground, in submitting Mike Nickels. Apparently, Bonnar has taken the last year to work on his game and move beyond being a brawler.
This promises to be an exciting fight, but I believe Schafer has more tools in his toolbox at this point in his career.
Prediction: Schafer by submission in the third round
Middleweight: Yushin Okami vs. Jason MacDonald
The winner of this matchup could very well be fighting for the title in his next fight, which makes UFC’s decision to put this on the dark portion of the card rather strange. Both fighters have lost to Franklin this year, but I think Okami came very close to pulling a victory out. Both fighters have also won every one of their other fights in UFC’s weakest division.
MacDonald is very well-rounded and has a superior striking game to Okami. Okami is very strong, however, and loves to ground-and-pound. The major knock on Okami is that his fights are boring. However, I think Okami has learned his lesson from the Franklin fight and I believe he will start fast and eventually finish off MacDonald.
Prediction: Okami by TKO (ground-and-pound) in the second round
For the rest of tonight’s card, please visit UFC.com.
On a personal note, I would like to let my readers know that this will be my final MMA preview for Baltimoresun.com. Starting next week, I will be doing much of my MMA writing for Sports Illustrated (SI.com). However, please come back to Baltimoresun.com tomorrow for my UFC 77 recap (which will also be my final recap for The Sun).