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UFC 28: High Stakes review
by Scott Newman (MMA)
Posted on February 28, 2007, 7:45 AM

UFC 28: High Stakes

Atlantic City, New Jersey

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Jeff Blatnick, who immediately go into the hype spiel for the Randleman vs. Couture main event.

-On an added note, this was probably UFC’s biggest event to date, from what I know, as it was their first event to use the “unified rules” (the ones currently used, parts such as banning gis and wrestling shoes were added) that were created by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, and marked the first event to take place in a really big casino venue (the Trump Taj Mahal).

Bantamweight Fight: Jens Pulver vs John Lewis

This was a pretty big fight, as both men were coming off impressive UFC wins and looked to establish themselves as two of the top players in the new Bantamweight division. Announcers put over that Pulver’s got the advantage standing, while Lewis has the better ground credentials.

Lewis presses forward early, and throws out a lazy jab that Pulver counters with a narrowly missed left hook. Lewis tries the jab again and this time Pulver counters and connects, landing a HUGE LEFT HAND to drop Lewis and put him DOWN AND OUT in fifteen seconds!

Jesus, seriously vicious knockout. Post-fight Pulver celebrates like crazy while Lewis tries unsuccessfully to stand up under his own power, he got hit HARD. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the punch actually broke Lewis’s jaw, it caught him that bad. Pulver showed serious knockout power here and this really put him over the top as a future champion in UFC. Incredible opener.

-We get a short ‘UFC Flashback’ video, showing Randy Couture upsetting Vitor Belfort back at UFC 15. We then go backstage where Couture is with James Werme, getting ready for WAR!~!

Heavyweight Fight: Andrei Arlovski vs Aaron Brink

This was the debut for both men in the UFC, with future Heavyweight Champion Arlovski looking completely different to how he does now, clean shaven and not nearly as intimidating as the ‘wolfman’ we’ve got today. He’s announced as a Sambo guy too, rather than a “kickboxer and Sambo fighter” like he is today. Brink, for those who don’t know, also masquerades as a porn star. MMA fighter and porn star? Two pretty fun careers if you ask me.

Brink chases in to begin, looking for a takedown, but Arlovski blocks with a front facelock and shoves him into the fence. They break off and Brink comes forward again, and we get a brief exchange before Arlovski trips him down to the mat. Andrei drops down into a mount, and as Brink rolls, Arlovski grabs the fence for leverage and slaps on an armbar for the quick tapout in just over 45 seconds.

Nice to see Andrei was using the fence to his advantage this far back. Heh. Impressive debut for him though as he got the job done quickly and even though the fence grab really helped him, he got the armbar very, very fast as Brink was vulnerable. Surprisingly though, outside of the ankle lock on Tim Sylvia this is all the ground game I’ve ever seen for Arlovski. Good showing, at any rate.

-They give us an advert for UFC 29 and the Kondo-Ortiz main event, which comes off really well. Backstage they announce that Pat Miletich will defend his Lightweight Title on the show too, and Miletich is with James Werme and he talks about his weight gain (due to his honeymoon!) and the rise of Jens Pulver into a real contender.

-Another UFC Flashback video, this time it’s Kevin Randleman beating Pete Williams for the vacant UFC HW title at UFC 23.

Super-Heavyweight Fight: Josh Barnett vs Gan McGee

To date, this is the only Super-Heavyweight Fight in UFC history, as Barnett came in at over 250lbs and McGee was tipping the scales at around 290lbs. Both men were making their UFC debuts and this was obviously a major fight too as both were unbeaten, Barnett at 9-0 (although UFC bill him as 23-0), and the reigning IFC Heavyweight Champion McGee at 7-0. Interesting note too, originally the Unified Rules as created by the NJSAC allowed knees to the head on the ground, but outlawed them following McGee using them brutally on an IFC show that was one of the first sanctioned ones in the state. Big size advantage for McGee here, although Barnett looks much larger than he does now, mainly due to him being in better shape today.

They begin and go right into a clinch, where McGee muscles him to the fence. He works for a takedown, and then manages to trip Josh down to the mat in guard. Barnett strikes from the bottom as McGee postures up, passing into half-guard in the process. McGee gets into full mount, and then he lands some elbows, some of which hit the back of Barnett’s head and the referee warns him about that. Barnett manages to get back to half-guard, and then full guard, but McGee immediately works to pass again, landing some hammer fists on his way to the full mount again. McGee mounts him, and works with some elbows from the top as Barnett tries to deflect them until the round ends.

Between rounds Matt Hume gives Barnett a REALLY stern pep talk, great cornering. McGee comes out for the 2nd and throws a left hook, countered by Barnett with a low kick. McGee clinches and shoves him to the fence again, and they exchange knees before McGee gets a single leg to half-guard. Barnett lands some strikes from his back though and gets full guard, and McGee looks tired at this point. Josh keeps an active guard, looking for a triangle, and then manages to open McGee up with some elbows from the bottom. McGee tries to pass guard, but Barnett rolls all the way through and reverses, getting his own takedown. McGee tries to reverse and then come back up into a clinch, where Barnett takes over, using a front facelock to avoid a takedown and then gets on top in side mount. McGee looks gassed and in trouble now, and Barnett goes to town, taking full mount and then OPENING UP with some big strikes from the top, and McCarthy steps in there.

Good fight I thought, both guys looked impressive in parts, as McGee’s first round showed me more ground skill than I’d have ever given him credit for. Barnett defended well, however, and once McGee gassed, the fight was all Barnett as he took over and dismantled the Giant as soon as he got a dominant position. Strong debut for Barnett to immediately throw his name into the hat as a contender.

Middleweight Fight: Mark Hughes vs Alex Stiebling

They decide to show us a preliminary bout from earlier in the night now, probably because of the speed the first two fights were over in. This is two five-minute rounds. Interesting fight too, as we get Alex Stiebling, who’d go onto more fame later in his career with Pride, against Mark Hughes, the twin brother of future superstar Matt! And yeah, it’s *really* weird for me to see Mark Hughes fighting, as I constantly have to remind myself that it’s not Matt in there. Stiebling looks completely different to how he does now, a total contrast to some of the guys who look exactly the same. Here Alex is really lean and looks very young.

Hughes comes out aggressively to begin the fight and immediately bulls Stiebling into the fence. He works for a takedown, and then rips Stiebling’s legs from under him and puts him on his back in guard. Hughes works to pass into half-guard, but as he does, Stiebling catches his ankle and looks for a heel hook. Hughes suddenly looks lost and confused momentarily, but luckily Matt’s right outside the cage and he yells at his brother to use punches, so Hughes drops some heavy backfists down onto Stiebling ala Josh Thomson vs. Gerald Strebendt, and manages to escape to side mount once Stiebling releases to block the shots. Hughes tries to step over to full mount, but Stiebling avoids and gets to half-guard, and then works back to full guard, but Hughes uses some strikes from the top to work back to half-guard. Stiebling defends well though and manages to get his guard back again, and the round ends with Hughes working from the top.

2nd round begins, and Stiebling looks to strike, but Hughes shoots and works a double leg to guard. He stacks up and lands some punches, but Stiebling answers with some elbows from his back. Hughes works a can opener and moves Stiebling towards the fence, where he lands some punches to the head and body. Stiebling kicks him away, but Hughes goes back down and ends up in the north/south position now. It looks for a moment like he’s trying to go for the D’Arce choke, but Stiebling manages to avoid that and gets back to guard, but slips on a triangle attempt, and the fight ends with Hughes landing short elbows in Stiebling’s guard.

To the judges, and Hughes picks up the decision. Mark basically fought like a clone of his brother in his early UFC days, and basically controlled Stiebling from the top while using some good ground-and-pound to score points for the decision, despite not really coming close to a finish. Would’ve been interesting to see him fight more often, for sure.

-James Werme is backstage with Kevin Randleman, who looks PUMPED for the fight with Couture. Like really on edge.

-Tito Ortiz joins us and promises bloodshed in his fight with Yuki Kondo. He actually mentions too that Wanderlei Silva was the first guy to really hit him and hurt him, which is interesting.

-Another UFC Flashback follows, this time the lacklustre fight between Randy Couture and Maurice Smith that saw Couture capture the Heavyweight crown.

Heavyweight Fight: Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral vs Maurice Smith

This was Babalu’s debut, interestingly enough they don’t even mention his surname here, just referring to him as Babalu. He was coming in with a pretty good reputation, 13-2 with his only losses coming in the RINGS promotion, and carrying an undefeated record in legit no-holds-barred Vale Tudo. Smith was on his second fight into his UFC comeback, having beaten Bobby Hoffman at the previous show.

They press to open, before Smith fires a low kick, which Babalu catches, and delivers a right hand into a tackle to the mat. Babalu gets side mount but Smith quickly spins and gets a half-guard tightly on the leg. Babalu controls him well from the top, looking for a kimura and a keylock while working him over with some short punches and elbows. Not much damage is done, thanks to Smith’s excellent defending, but Babalu keeps busy and takes a dominant round.

Into the 2nd, and Sobral lands a good leg kick, answered by a bodyshot from Smith. Babalu comes forward though and gets a leg trip down to Smith’s guard, where Smith ties him up immediately. Babalu still works from the top with strikes though, and then after a while decides to stand back up. Smith obliges and comes forward, but Babalu catches a kick attempt and tackles him down again, and Smith’s not getting up as Babalu works with short strikes from the top to end the round.

Into the third and final round, and Sobral looks more confident on his feet now, bobbing a bit and landing a nice one-two to which Smith grins at him. Both men press, but little lands, and Babalu shoots in for a single leg. Smith sprawls, but his legs get caught under him and Babalu grabs the double leg and gets him on his back once more. Smith ties him up and tries to post himself up the fence to stand, but Babalu’s too good from the top and he keeps Mo firmly on his back. Again, Babalu keeps busy without doing too much damage, and the fight ends with Babalu in Smith’s guard.

Only one winner here I’m afraid, and sure enough Babalu picks up the decision. It’s a majority one though, which is a bit confusing – how could anyone have scored that fight a draw? Anyhow, bit of a slow fight here, but still a dominating one for Babalu as Smith fell victim to his old problem again – he had no answer for the takedown, and despite showing a good defensive game again, stopping Babalu from doing damage, he never came close from getting out from under Sobral or scoring on the feet and it cost him big time.

-John Peretti joins us and thankfully doesn’t slag off either of his main eventers this time, instead choosing to praise Jens Pulver and Andrei Arlovski heavily.

UFC Heavyweight Title: Randy Couture vs Kevin Randleman

Time for the main event, big one here and everyone’s stoked, as not only is it the current Heavyweight Champ against the guy who never properly lost the belt in Couture, but it was also a battle of two of the best wrestlers in MMA, Randleman being a great college freestyle wrestler while Couture was recognized as one of the best Greco-Roman wrestlers in the world. Entrances are totally polarized here too, with Couture looking totally relaxed, grinning and high-fiving Dan Henderson, while Randleman looks ON EDGE, leaping around like a maniac as always. Big pop for both introductions, and we’re ready to go.

Couture presses forward early, looking to close the distance for a clinch, but as he lunges Randleman’s too quick for him and he grabs Randy and gets a swift takedown to guard. Randleman pins him into the fence, working a neck crank as Couture ties him up from the bottom. Randleman works for position, but Couture suddenly locks on an armbar from the bottom (!). Randleman tries to muscle out and drops Couture on his head in the process, and then manages to slip free slightly, so Randy gives it up and goes back to guard. Randleman works the body, and lands a few hammer fists to the face as well, but doesn’t really hurt Couture and it’s more of a controlling first round, as the time ends with Randleman inside Randy’s guard.

Into the 2nd, and this time the champ comes out looking to strike, landing a big one-two that appears to stun Randy into a clinch. Couture knees to the body, and they muscle around before breaking, and Couture slips, so Randleman capitalizes with a combination! Couture desperately tries to grab the clinch now, and manages to get an upper head-and-arm clinch. Randleman leans in, taking a knee to the midsection in the process, but he manages to get a takedown and seats Couture against the fence. Randleman pulls him into guard, and then continues where the first round left off, working from the guard with maximum control, but no real damage. He does open up a bit more towards the end of the round, but Couture seems fine and they’re going into the third.

Couture presses to open the round and this time gets what he wants, an upper body clinch where he lands some knees. They muscle one another into the fence, where Couture blocks a takedown and begins to go to town with the knees, landing a few heavy ones to Randleman’s thighs. Couture then gets a beautiful leg trip to guard, completely catching Randleman unawares. Randleman tries to tie him up, but Couture postures up and lands some heavy, straight punches that bloody Randleman up quickly over the eye and on the nose. Randleman suddenly looks in trouble from his back, and Couture passes into full mount, and from there he opens up, pounding away as Randleman flails with his arms, looking utterly helpless. Some big shots from Randy begin to land and Couture ABSOLUTELY BATTERS HIM, and finally John McCarthy steps in at just over four minutes. We’ve got a new Heavyweight Champion!

Post-fight Randleman shows some real class, strapping the belt onto Couture and congratulating him on the mic, saying he knew a wrestler would be the one to end his reign, and he can’t think of a better champion than Couture. Extremely classy stuff. This was vintage Randy Couture really in every facet, as despite being basically overwhelmed by Randleman in the first two rounds (though he didn’t get truly hurt), his will proved to be unbreakable and once he’d weathered that early storm and managed to get on top himself, Randleman just seemed lost on his back and was easy pickings for the Natural. One of Randy’s very best performances, I’d call it. Fight wasn’t what you’d call an outright classic or anything, but it was definitely enjoyable and probably the best HW title fight in UFC since Smith/Coleman back in 1997.

-We end the show with another plug for UFC 29, and a recap of the card.

Final Thoughts....

UFC 28 was hyped up to be a very major show and for the most part it really delivered, I thought. Main event, though not quite a legit epic, was very good, and the undercard was filled with some good fights and some real highlight-style finishes, especially in the form of Pulver’s vicious knockout. Smith/Sobral was a bit of a slow one but as a big fan of Babalu I’ll let that slide. One of the best looking SEG-era UFC cards on paper, and it translates well to a very good show. Possibly my favourite one from the ‘Dark Ages’ and it’s worth a high recommendation.

Coming Soon....

Pride: 18.
UFC: 29, 63, 64 and 65.
Cage Rage: 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18.
WEC: 10 and 11.
WFA: 1, 2 and 3.
King of the Cage: 15, 18, 21, 23, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 42 and 48.
Best of Shooto 2003 vols. 1 & 2.

Until next time,

Scott Newman:

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