Monday, March 2, 2020

THE GREATEST MMA FIGHTS OF ALL-TIME: Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia (March 03, 2007)

Revisiting the night NO legitimate MMA fan can ever forget — no matter how badly Tim Sylvia wished we would

By: Jimbo X

If I had to pick my favorite moment in MMA history, it would have to be the main event of UFC 68. And that’s for several reasons.

First and foremost, it was the first UFC show to take place after my 21st birthday, which meant I was finally old enough to travel one county down the interstate to the Irish pub next to Cold Stone and watch the fuckin’ PPV around actual adults who understood what MMA was. Yes, the fact that I could legally drink Heinekens served to me by big-titted junior college students was a plus, but it was the fact that I could watch a UFC show — in a social environment — that had me the most excited about the PPV. You see, up until then, if I wanted to get my UFC on, the best I had to work with were slow-ass text updates on Dave Meltzer’s website, then I’d have to wait a couple of months for the local Blockbuster to carry the numbered show on DVD, if they even fuckin’ bothered. I’m telling you, all of you streamin’ and piratin’ motherfuckers have no idea just how bad it was before 2015; I mean, at this point in the collective technological impasse, as fans we had actually taken a mammoth step back from listening to the pristine audio of WWF and WCW shows on scrambled PPV broadcasts. Aye, the George W. Bush Years, they were tough, indeed.

So, symbolically, it was the first UFC show that made me feel like a real adult, and for that, it’ll always have a special place in my heart. Of course, the fact that UFC 68 was also headlined by the single greatest, feel-good ass-kicking in MMA history probably had a lot to do with it, too. This might require a little bit of context, so hold on for a bit, won’t you?

Alright, Randy Couture. Here’s a guy who, before his first pro MMA fight, was all of the following: a U.S. Army Sergeant in the 101st Airborne, a legit Olympic-caliber wrestler and a three-time NCAA All-American at Oklahoma State in his late 20s. He was 34 when he had his first UFC fight —a one-minute mauling of WWF-bad guy Ludvig Borga, of all things, and less than seven months later, he won the goddamn UFC Heavyweight Championship in Japan. 

So he dicks around in Japan for awhile and comes back to the UFC in 2000, winning the Heavyweight title back in his return fight against Kevin Randlemean. And for the next five years, he was involved in some of the most important fights of the UFC’s “Bronze Age,” so to speak, with all-time classic tilts against the likes of Pedro Rizzo, Ricco Rodriguez, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort and Chuck Lidell — the last guy effectively “retiring” Couture at UFC 57 via a round two KO.

Now, let’s talk about the other person involved in this dyad, one Tim Sylvia. Sylvia won the UFC Heavyweight Championship by beating Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 41. He failed a drug test and got stopped of the title, then Frank Mir broke his arm in one of the grisliest moments in MMA history at UFC 48. Eventually, he beats Andrei Arlovski by TKO to re-win the UFC Heavyweight Championship, and from there he proceeds to put on two of the absolute WORST fights in MMA history in the rematch against Arlovski at UFC 59 and against Jeff Monson at UFC 65. In fact, Sylvia’s performance against Monson was so fat, slow and unwatchable that Randy said “shit, I can do better than that,” so he unretired and got an automatic title shot against “The Maineiac” on March 3, 2007.[*]

At the time, Sylvia was the HEAVY favorite, with Vegas spotting Randy as -238 underdog heading into the card in Columbus, Ohio — which, as an aside, would  go on to break the then-UFC record for attendance and gate revenue. 

EVERYBODY wanted Randy to win, but that damn common sense just screamed to the contrary. Couture was old, and in his last fight he got knocked out REAL bad by a guy who weighed almost 100 pounds less than Sylvia. By fight time, Sylvia would outweigh Couture by at least 70 pounds, and he was damn near half a foot taller — with a reach advantage spanning into the double digits. By all empirical wisdom, this was a fight that Couture just couldn’t win, although virtually every MMA fan in the world was hoping against hope that the impossible was going to happen.

And as fate would have it — it did

What, you didn't expect to see Randy throw a real-life Falcon Punch in the first 10 seconds of the fight?

"Undoubtedly, they are two of the most decorated champions in UFC history," an almost impossibly fresh-faced Mike Goldberg comments in the lead-up to the bout. Then he throws it to random people you've never heard of before and/or totally forgotten about like Adam Dunn and Keith Jardine sharing their thoughts on the bout. Fuck, they even managed to pull Francas Hermes out of the woodshed for this one. Per a probably unscientific XYIENCE fan poll, roughly three-quarters of the home-viewing audience thinks Randy's going to pull off the upset here tonight. Joe Rogan talks about Randy's tremendous heart and says you can't ever count him out, then Goldberg asks Rogan why everybody hates Sylvia. Somehow, he never brings up the fact that his fights are boring as goddamn fuck, to the extent he even calls him "the most underrated fighter" in the promotion. Sheesh.

Then we get a video vignette with Sylvia saying Couture is old and out of his element and Randy, naturally, disagrees with his sentiments. "I have great takedown defense and I'm not bad on the ground, either," Syliva says, because sometimes, the foreshadowing is just TOO obvious. 

The lights go low and "Back in the Saddle" by Aerosmith plays over the P.A. system. "The Natural" begins his long, slow march back to the Octagon, and the fans are behind him, I'd guesstimate a solid 101.8 percent. "The most beloved champion in UFC history is back" Goldberg says while a buncha' guys in Tapout shirts hold up signs talking about how much they fuckin' love this man. "You couldn't ask for a better hero," Rogan fanboys.

The lights go low again and people start booing the shit out of Sylvia before they even show his visage on the video screen. He comes out to "Jesus Walks" by Kanye, and how weird is it that Kanye is STILL relevant 13 years later? Obviously, Syliva has a major height and weight advantage over Couture. "He's got fists the size of canned hams," Rogan says while recounting Tim's victories over the likes of, uh, Gan McGee and Wesley Correira. 

A reminder, tonight's main event is brought to you by XENERGY, the ultra premium energy drink brought to you by XYIENCE. Oh, and by the way, Sylvia only has a ONE FOOT reach advantage over Randy. Just something I figured you should be aware of. 

Couture gets a MONSTER reaction from the audience during the Octagon intro, as you'd expect. Conversely, Sylvia is damn near booed out of the building, and let's don't pretend like he doesn't deserve the reception, either.

Well, assuming you haven't been living in a cave since 2007, I'm guessing you already know how this one gets started. Just eight seconds into the fight, Couture drops back in the pocket and uncorks a MONSTER right hand square on Sylvia's jaw, right while Goldberg is pimping the latest Mark Wahlberg movie, Shooter. In a now iconic MMA moment, Sylvia drops flat on his ass, Couture chases after him and starts hammerfisting the fuck out of him, and the arena is fucking DEAFENING. Couture gets Sylvia's back and he has HOOKS IN. Sylvia uses wrist control to prevent the rear naked choke, but there's no denying, Tim is all shades of fucked right now. Couture keeps the leg grapevine, but he's just not able to go for the choke. Rogan talks about how Couture was going through a divorce and how he has a new woman and now, he doesn't have the same psychological problems that he had back when he lost to Chuck Liddell. Then Rogan talks about how boring baseball is and if you want the ref to stand up guys like Sean Sherk while they're doing some ground and pound, "tough balls." Couture holds onto Sylvia's back and Rogan talks about this one time Randy had a sparring match against Ronaldo Souza. Man, that sounded awesome. The good news for Sylvia is that Randy hasn't been able to do too much offensively on the ground. Still, he's looking for that opportunity to sink in the RNC. "You see how difficult it is to submit a guy when he has good back defense," Rogan comments. About thirty seconds left in the round; Sylvia continues to successfully ward off the choke as the bell sounds.

Round two. They show Kim Couture's fine, big-titted ass in the crowd and replay Couture fucking dropping Sylvia like he was in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! again in slow-motion. Obviously, Eddie Bravo scored that one a 10-9 round for Couture. Couture tries to close the gap and Sylvia lands a defensive uppercut. Couture looking for a straight left jab and he ROCKS Tim with another right. Tim lands a hard knee to the abdomen and now Sylvia has Couture clinched against the cage. Randy reverses position and works for a double leg takedown. And he LANDS IT. Couture in the full mount, and now he's dropping some BOMBS on the reigning, defending Heavyweight champeen. Sylvia with some elbows from the bottom, and the fans start chanting "Randy!" Couture lands another right from the top and Sylvia, for all intents and purposes, is defending fairly well. Couture is back to his feet and he hammerfists Sylvia again. Randy drops another big right hand. Couture lands an elbow and Sylvia goes for the fattest triangle you've ever seen in your life. Of course, he doesn't get it. The ref stands them up with about thirty seconds left in the round and the crowd, for a change, boos the shit out of the decision. Couture staggers Tim with a sweeping left hook. Sylvia goes for a kick, Randy grabs the leg and he sweeps his ass to the canvas right at the horn.

At was around this point in the fight that Randy Couture literally said "fuck Newton's law of universal gravitation, right in the ass."

Round three. Eddie Bravo has it 20-18 for Randy at this juncture. Man, I miss this crypto-open scoring shit in the modern UFC product. Couture hits Tim with a left hook and Sylvia tries to use his range. Randy keeps moving side to side and he almost connects on another overhand right. Randy rattles off a great combo and Couture dodges a straight jab from Sylvia like a goddamn pimp. Couture is just RAINING left hooks, but to his credit, Sylvia ain't going down. Randy connects on ANOTHER right overhand. Randy lands a left and Tim counters with a knee in the clinch. Alas, Couture just eats it and keeps pushing forward. Randy hits a left, dodges like four punches from Sylvia and ends the sequence with ANOTHER left hook. Sylvia looks beyond gassed at this point. Randy lands back to back over-the-top right hands, a'la Chuck Liddell. Couture hits an uppercut a few seconds before the bell clangs.

Round four. Bravo has it 30-27 at this juncture. Sylvia burps in the corner and it's really gross. Couture shoots for another takedown, but Sylvia sprawls. Randy, however, doesn't let go of the waistlock and completes the takedown anyway. Couture in the full mount and Sylvia is desperately, direly looking for a submission. "There is not one fan sitting for this title fight," Goldberg says. Couture lands a HARD left hand and a couple of weak-ass body shots. Mike pimps UFC 69 while the ref stands up our two competitors. "Tim has got to throw with some reckless abandonment here," Golderg says. Randy with ANOTHER big overhand right. And Couture secures ANOTHER takedown and starts working from side control. "43-year-old guys are not supposed to dominate in combat sports," Rogan famously remarks, while Goldberg alludes that the victor MAY face Cro-Cop at an undetermined point in the future. Yeah ... that didn't quite happen. So Randy gets the full mount and has Sylvia's back for, like, two seconds, then Sylvia has a whizzer and Couture sprawls to close out the round. 

Round five. Bravo says this one is a 40-36 fight for Randy, easy. Sylvia HAS to finish Couture to win this fight and retain his title. Tim asks his cornerman if this is the fifth round, so you KNOW he's all kinds of fucked up right now. Randy goes for some rights, then Sylvia clinches. Randy backs him into the cage and lands ANOTHER takedown. Couture takes the full mount and, yep, Sylvia is FUCKED. Sylvia goes for a desperation leglock and Randy spins out into side control. The ref admonishes the ref for holding onto the fence. Couture continues to dig into Sylvia's side with some NASTY knee shots. We've got two minutes remaining, folks. Couture is still working from side control. "He is mauling Tim," Rogan says. Sylvia tries to shift his way out and Randy hops right into the full mount. The "Randy!" chants are deafening. Sylvia finally spins out, gets to his feet and COUTURE TAKES HIM DOWN AGAIN. One minute to go and Sylvia's right eye is practically swollen shut. Couture with some serious ground and pound with about 30 seconds left. Sylvia desperately tries to shirk Couture off, but it's no use. The bell sounds and the ovation from the crowd is so loud and pretty much blows out the audio on the production mics. I can only FATHOM how loud this building had to have been in person. 

"Complete domination, complete ownage," Eddie Bravo remarks, showing off his 50-45 scorecard. Couture and his fine ass blonde wife hug in the cage and Dana White is all smiles. It's 50-45 across the board, as Randy Couture is once again crowned UFC HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION!

In the post-fight interview with Rogan, Joe said Randy's victory was "the most incredible thing" he's ever seen in his life. "Not bad for an old man," Couture says. He dedicates his win to Jesus Christ and the American G.I., and the crowd cheers both because back in 2007, the U.S. wasn't a hotbed of godless communists. And then Joe asks Sylvia went went wrong and he says he went into this fight knowing he was injured and literally everybody in the state of Ohio boos the fuck out of him simlultaneously — really folks, if there’s a more perfect ending to anything, I can’t ever imagine it.

If this doesn't make you cry manly tears, clearly, you must be a communist.

You know, the thing that stands out to me about this fight was how, in a weird way, it served as book ends of my college experience. I was three months into my freshman semester when the bout took place, and holy shit, was that Irish pub next to the Cold Stone Creamery ROCKIN’ that evening. Literally everybody who paid the $5 cover charge was rooting like crazy for Randy, and as soon as he landed that bowling ball right on Tim’s chin, the place went nuts. With the clock ticking down in the fifth, there were motherfuckers LITERALLY jumping up and done on the tables, and all these years later, I *still* haven’t seen an in-pub crowd that fuckin’ jacked over a fight since.

So fast forward a couple of years later. I’m a senior in college, in my final semester. Because I was staying at a place with really, really shitty Internet, I went to school every weekday at 7 a.m. and usually stayed until 7 p.m., sometimes 10 p.m., pending on how long my classes went. In these grueling, nerve-racking times, I stumbled across one of the most amazing fan-made music videos I’ve ever seen — this PHENOMENAL two-part series uploaded by a guy named “ltownbob47” (which I assume isn’t his birth name) that recapped Randy’s fall from grace after the Lidell lose and his subsequent return to greatness for this fight, with music on loan from the Rocky soundtrack library. 

Folks, I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I watched that shit daily to hype myself up. Even now, I consider the fan video to be better than any legit UFC hype video ever produced, and I goddamn *rue* the day YouTube took down part two. Still, you can at least check out the first part of the dyad here, although as good as it is, I assure you it ain’t goddamn shit compared to the goosebumps factory that was the long “lost” part 2 video.

OH MY GOD HOLY SHIT I JUST FOUND IT ON THE INTERNET ARCHIVE. Fucking download this thing right now and save it to your hard drive for safekeeeping, because this thing is an absolute gem of the silver age of user-generated YT content and it NEEDS to be preserved for future generations. And if I were you, I’d get to shakin’, since Flash is gonna’ go the way of the Dodo after Dec. 31, 2020 — don’t say you weren’t adequately warned.

Of course, Randy relished the underdog rule in his first title defense, an eerily similar matchup against Gabriel Gonzaga, who was fresh off head-kicking Cro-Cop into irrelevance, at UFC 74. Then there was a spat between Randy and Zuffa, so he left the company for well over a year, only to return to action at UFC 91, where he was battered into oblivion by Brock Lesnar. After that, I think it’s safe to say that the old Captain America was never the same. After an all-time barn-burner against Big Nog at UFC 102, he went on a three fight tear, culminating with his hilarious sodomization of James Toney at UFC 118 that I consider a more potent antidepressant than Zoloft mixed with Haldol. Alas, following a Karate Kid crane kick loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 129, Randy retired and has remained retired since 2011.

Still, it’s no doubt a better run than Timmy Boy had post-UFC 8. Over the course 14 months, he got his ass kicked by Big Nog, Fedor AND Ray Mercer (providing an intriguing parallel to the Couture/Toney larf, if you’re into such cosmological jokery) and from there, he disked around in random scumbag promotions until 2013, along the way finding impressive new ways for a fighter to look like utter dog shit against the likes of Abe Wagner, Satoshi Ishii and Ruslan Magomedov. Sylvia officially called it a career about seven years ago; and adding an almost hilariously tragic exclamation point to the sad Sylvia saga, his 2015 comeback attempt was keeled by the medical officials at Mohegan Sun Arena because he was — and this is a direct quote, I swear — “super fat.” 

I’m sure the laity and the filthy casuals will have a hard time understanding what makes this fight so memorable. I mean, to be fair, it is literally just one dude overpowering and outlanding a bigger dude for 25 minutes straight, so as far as competitive drama goes, there ain’t none to speak of here. But what the fight lacks in back-and-forth fury, it MORE than makes up for it with its emotional intensity. Naturally (pun, sorta intended), rewatching the fight now doesn’t carry that same real-time excitement as it did on March 3, 2007, but it’s still an utterly captivating performance that gives me chills every single time I screen it.

There have been a lot of great underdog victories in MMA history over the years, but for my money, NOTHING in the Octagon or elsewhere has ever felt *this* much like a real-life Rocky movie. All in all, this is probably the most satisfying MMA fight ever, the kind of fight that played out EXACTLY the way you would’ve wanted it to considering the two men in the ring. While it may not be on par with stuff like Sakuraba vs. Royce Gracie or the first Sonnen/Silva fight in terms of competitive quality, it nonetheless has that immortal mystique to it, kinda’ like watching the Raiders win the 2002 AFC Championship or watching Buster Douglas give Mike Tyson has first-ever career loss. It’s one of those almost too-good-to-be-real, dream-like events where the lines between sports fantasy and sports reality seem to blur together, with the end result being one of those oh-so-rare transcendent moments you’ll always remember and cherish for as long as you’re still breathing. And if that sounds hyperbolic to you, clearly, you don’t know shit about the mixed martial arts … or being a man, for that matter.

Couture/Sylvia may not be the technical definition of a “great fight,” but I dare you to find one true MMA fan who doesn’t regard it as one of the single greatest fights in MMA history — and if that doesn’t make any sense to you, it sure as hell would’ve if you were watching it live as it happened, with or without all the guys in Affliction T-shirts spilling Heinekens and nacho sauce all over the place in sheer jubilation


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