EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 19, 2007

Age vs. rage: Couture in for a long night

Mixed Martial Arts , Ryan Lambert

Unlike the last few UFC events, where fights either went on far too long (Sean Sherk vs. Hermes Franca) or were shorter than they deserved to be (Anderson Silva vs. Nate Marquardt), most of the fights on the card for UFC74 should be compelling matchups.

In the show's main event, 44-year-old Randy Couture (15-8, 14-8 UFC) will take on Gabriel Gonzaga (8-1, 4-0 UFC), who is 16 years his junior.

Gonzaga has ripped through the heavyweight competition placed before him, most famously knocking the fearsome Mirko Cro Cop out cold with a vicious head kick at UFC 70 back in April.

Couture, meanwhile, came out of retirement to beat Tim Sylvia by unanimous decision for the UFC heavyweight title. His ability to outlast the gargantuan Sylvia was not a surprise, even at his age. Couture is a world-renowned wrestler (two-time NCAA runner-up at Oklahoma State) and it's nearly impossible to be in worse shape than the sleep-inducing Sylvia.

Gonzaga, however, is a different type of animal. He attacks with ferocity rather than Sylvia's trademark lie-there-and-don't-let-them-hit-me style. Couture, whose better days are behind him, may not be prepared for the dizzying array of strikes with which he will be met.

I like Gonzaga here because he'll be swinging for the fences from the opening bell, and while Couture isn't going to underestimate him like Cro Cop did, age might simply catch up to him. Gonzaga will win the title by knockout in the third round.

Patrick Cote (11-4, 1-4 UFC) vs. Kendall Grove (10-3, 3-0 UFC) will open the show. Both are Ultimate Fighter alums, and the notoriety that both gained from their long runs on the show.

Grove will come away with his fourth UFC win. While Cote can throw a heavy hand, Grove, at 6-foot-6, has a seven-inch height advantage that should neutralize Cote's technically superior standup game. Grove is a self-professed lover of the stand-and-trade approach, and while he's not as dangerous a striker as the Quebec native, he has the size to dictate the flow of the fight, which should go all three rounds. Kendall Grove wins by decision.

Joe Stevenson (32-7, 4-1 UFC) is taking on Kurt Pellegrino (16-2, 2-1 UFC). Stevenson's one loss came by unanimous decision more than a year ago, and the three fights since have been won by doctor's stoppage and a pair of wins via guillotine choke.

If Stevenson wins, he'd be a front-runner for a shot at Sherk's as-yet-unvacated title. Sherk would obviously have to be suspended by the California State Athletic Commission first, pending his appeal on charges that he used illegal steroids.

That announcement should provide all the motivation Stevenson needs to beat Pellegrino, a strong wrestler. Look for Stevenson to win by submission in the middle round.

The next fight is perhaps the most intriguing of the night. Georges St.-Pierre (13-2, 8-2 UFC) will take on Josh Koscheck (11-1, 7-1 UFC) in a match between two highly-regarded welterweights. Koscheck, who lost in the TUF1 semifinals to Diego Sanchez, is a former Division 1 NCAA wrestling champion at Edinboro University, while St.-Pierre is the No. 2 welterweight in the world according to MMAWeekly.

St.-Pierre is looking to avenge April's stunning title loss to Matt Serra. The former champion is a more dominant ground-and-pound fighter, and, like Koscheck, his wrestling is top notch. This could go either way, but I like St.-Pierre if only because he's looking to bounce back and work his way into the welterweight title scene once again. Call it St.-Pierre by TKO in the third.

Roger Huerta (20-1-1, 4-0 UFC) vs. Alberto Crane (8-0) is next, pitting a dominant all-around fighter with strong striking in Huerta against a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion making his UFC debut.

Apart from a split decision win over 11-2 Javier Vazquez, Crane has won every fight by submission. Clearly, he is dominant on the ground, but he has also never fought a fighter of Huerta's caliber. Huerta's experience in the Octagon will carry him to a difficult decision victory, but Crane should impress in his first UFC bout.

UFC74 Facts

When: Saturday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m.

Where: Mandalay Bay Hotel, Las Vegas

TV: Pay-per-view

live on Pay-Per-View Saturday Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. live from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Main event: Randy Couture vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (for the UFC heavyweight title)

Other bouts: Roger Huerta vs. Alberto Crane (lightweights), Josh Koscheck vs. Georges St.-Pierre (welterweights), Kurt Pellegrino vs. Joe Stevenson (lightweights), Patrick Cote vs. Kendall Grove (middleweights)