Sunday, August 26, 2007 Updated: August 27, 5:44 PM ET
Turns out The Natural still has what it takes
By Ryan Hockensmith ESPN The Magazine
As expected, Randy Couture again pulled off the unexpected. At 44 and badly undersized to be fighting at heavyweight, Couture nonetheless defended his title at UFC 74: Respect by dismantling younger, bigger challenger Gabriel Gonzaga. Despite being outweighed by almost 25 pounds and giving up 16 years, Couture again choked out Father Time. In this case, he kept Gonzaga pinned against the cage, landed one compact right uppercut after another and essentially won the fight with a wicked first-round slam. That takedown broke Gonzaga's nose and set the tone for his third-round stoppage win. With Couture's win, we learned one more time not to doubt the old man, who first fought at UFC 13.
Seven other things we learned from UFC 74:
1. Dana White is excited to have signed Wanderlei Silva
Geez, you think? White had cameras in the conference room as Silva (finally) signed his contract to fight in the UFC a week ago. Silva had spent the past seven years in Japan, mostly dominating in PRIDE. After years of speculation, Silva's return is now official. In footage aired during the PPV, White could have overflowed a 55-gallon drum with his giddiness as Silva signed his name to the deal. "We got him now, baby!" White says on the tape. "He's ours!"
2. Roger Huerta is overrated
Yes, he's a physical specimen, a well-rounded fighter and only 24 years old. But Huerta has a long way to go. He again looked good in hammering UFC newcomer Alberto Crane. And at this very moment, on a given Saturday night, Huerta has the ability to beat any 155-pounder on the planet. But I'm just not overly impressed. He's not yet to the point where he can consistently hang with the best lightweights. Even in the rout over Crane, El Matador almost got caught several times in submissions, despite Crane gassing out about three minutes into the fight. Guys like BJ Penn or Sean Sherk would take him down and pound him right now.
3. Kendall Grove is going to be a star
Yes, he lost at UFC 74, to journeyman Patrick Cote. But Grove is going to be around for a long time. He's only 24 and looks to be getting better every day. At 6-foot-6 with arms that stretch an entire zip code, Grove is a matchup nightmare for other 185-pounders. Those noodle arms of his have surprising power, too, and Grove is always well-conditioned. He has the mandatory Tito Ortiz-type brashness, only he's more likeable than his mentor. Now Grove just needs to string together some wins -- Cote is a tough veteran who's 9-0 outside the UFC and was only 1-4 in the UFC before he caught Grove with a nasty right hand.
4. Georges St. Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck: The real 170-pound title bout
In December, middleweight champion Matt Serra will defend his belt against UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes. But UFC 74's undercard bout between former champ Georges St. Pierre and rising star Josh Koscheck was actually the matchup of the two best in the weight class. Against Koscheck, St. Pierre looked like the GSP who crushed Hughes last November, not the one who was KO'd by Serra earlier this year. St. Pierre stunned Koscheck, a four-time NCAA All-American widely regarded as the UFC's best wrestler, with an early takedown. He landed another in the second round, then won the fight in the third by stuffing a Koscheck shot and pouring on punches. GSP is the UFC's best 170-pounder; Koscheck is second.
Gabriel Gonzaga didn't fare so well against veteran Randy Couture.
5. Did we mention that Couture is pretty good?
The Natural looks to be filling out as a heavyweight. After years at 205, Couture beat Tim Sylvia earlier this year weighing 222.5. Against Sylvia, Couture weighed 228.5 but appeared considerably thicker. He ate a few big punches and kicks from Gonzaga, but looked like a real heavyweight. Even as he approaches an age where he should be fighting off Bingo Night participants, Couture continues to be a tough bout for any of the current UFC heavies.
6. The UFC is good at marketing
Duh. When the UFC rolled out the upcoming fall calendar during the PPV, it reinforced that the UFC is only going to grow. After a brief summer lull, the UFC kicks off a monstrous fall with a "free" card on Spike that will feature light heavyweight champ Quinton "Rampage" Jackson fighting PRIDE's 185- and 205-pound title-holder Dan Henderson. That card will draw 5 million viewers, maybe more. The "Ultimate Fighter, Season 6," debuts 11 days later after another live fight card on Spike. Then Chuck Liddell returns on a Sept. 22 PPV.
7. The UFC is good at marketing, Part II
There was yet another upgrade in celebrity sightings at UFC 74. Keanu Reeves was front row, as was Kobe Bryant. OK, so there's a noticeable dropoff when the camera scrolls over to Criss Angel and Lee Majors. But at least we don't have to see endless shots of Michael Clarke Duncan anymore.
Ryan Hockensmith is an associate editor at ESPN The Magazine.