Tuesday, July 04, 2006


It’s knuckle-up time for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
You’ve almost certainly heard about UFC by now, even if you’re not a follower of the mixed martial arts (MMA) scene. Their reality program The Ultimate Fighter has been a huge hit on cable television since its first season in 2005. Some UFC fighters have gained even more TV exposure by spending time on the professional wrestling circuit – perhaps none more so than Ken Shamrock. He parlayed a successful fighting career into a nice payday with the then-World Wrestling Federation in 1997.
Now back in the world of MMA, Shamrock has only fought eight times since his yearlong stint in the WWF, racking up a record of 3-5. One of those losses was to Tito Ortiz, another one of UFC’s more familiar faces. Shamrock gets his chance at revenge this Saturday night when he and Ortiz lock horns on a pay-per-view event called “UFC 61: Bitter Rivals.” The Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas plays host.
Back in 2002, Ortiz convincingly beat Shamrock on the UFC 40 PPV. It was at the time the most-watched UFC event with the biggest gate in the short history of the organization. Most observers don’t expect anything different in the rematch. Ortiz is still fighting reasonably well at age 31, winning his last three bouts by decision. Shamrock, on the other hand, is 42 (albeit a well-conditioned 42) and has lost his last two fights in disappointing fashion. That’s why “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” is a +400 underdog Saturday. Ortiz is priced at –600 to win.
There may be an anticlimax in the works, but the marketing of this fight has been top-notch. Shamrock and Ortiz were featured as opposing “coaches” on the third season of The Ultimate Fighter. They had plenty of opportunity to hype their dislike for one another in front of a national audience. UFC continues the promotional push this week, using its considerable presence on Spike TV to sell the pay-per-view. Perhaps most importantly, this big-name fight is just one of nine matchups on Saturday’s card – and is scheduled to lead into the actual main event of the evening, a bout for the UFC World Heavyweight Title between champion Tim Sylvia and former champion Andrei Arlovski.
Sylvia (22-2 lifetime in MMA action) is not your typical UFC fighter. At a towering 6-foot-8, Sylvia’s form is ungainly, and he won’t be winning any bodybuilding contests. But don’t be deceived. Sylvia is trained in “Miletich Fighting Systems,” Pat Miletich’s hybrid of combat styles from around the world. Sylvia is also one tough hombre. In his 2004 match with Frank Mir for the UFC title, the fight was stopped when Mir used an armbar submission to break Sylvia’s arm. Sylvia was demonstrably upset with the decision; he wanted to continue.
Arlovski (11-4) is the –320 favorite in this bout. He’s trying to regain the title he lost to Sylvia in April; Arlovski knocked Sylvia down in that affair, only to have the big man get right back up and destroy Arlovski with a right hook for the TKO victory. But these men met once before that. Arlovski, a 6-foot-4 Belarusian monster, made Sylvia submit in Feb. 2005 with an Achilles lock after just 47 seconds. That result seems to be closer to what people are expecting Saturday. Still, –320 seems like a high price to pay when betting against Sylvia.
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