10 YRS AGO – KELLER’S UFC 66 REPORT: Liddell vs. Ortiz for UFC Light-Heavyweight Title, plus Jardine, Griffin, Leben, Arlovski, Bisping, more

By Wade Keller, MMATorch editor

The following is my report on UFC 66 posted ten years ago this week…

DECEMBER 30, 2006

-The pregame show was disappointing, with a repeating loop of familiar video clips of Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell, but nothing new or compelling that gave it a special feel on the magnitude of one of the company’s biggest fights ever.

-Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan introduced the show. Rogan went on a three minute speil hyping Ortiz vs. Liddell that made it imposssible not to share his enthusiasm for the fight. He held onto his credibility in that the praise for Ortiz was measured and specific about him perhaps being better than ever, but he didn’t go so far as to say Ortiz is considered to be at Liddell’s level. Rogan and Goldberg talked about the buzz and electicity in the air. Rogan said a light bulb could be lit up with the electricity in the air. He compared Liddell today to Mike Tyson in his prime.

1 — ERIC “RAVISHING RED” SCHAFER (29, 6-3) vs. MICHAEL “THE COUNT” BISPING (27, 6-2) — Light Heavyweight Division (205 lbs)

ROUND 1: Good opening three minutes, with Schafer getting the better of Bisbing, but nothing to close the fight as Bisbing avoided one submission attempt after another. At 3:10 Bisbing scored with a strong roundkick to Schafer’s head, but Schafer survived and ended up on top again. At 4;00 Bisbing rolled on top of Schafer and then began throwing punches. Schafer slipped on an armbar, but Bisbing escaped and then began puncching away at Schafer. Schafter gave up his back, rolled again, and then covered and cowered against the fene, prompting the ref to step in. Clearly Schafer wasn’t defending himself any longer.

FINISH: Bisbing via TKO at 4:24.

STAR RATING (**+): Well-paced round with a solid kick and decisive dominating finish. Entertaining, above-average one-round fight.

POST-FIGHT: Bisbing gave a confident, if not cocky, interview afterward. He said he was frustrated by the delays leading up to his UFC debut.

RAMFICIATIONS: Bisbing moves up a notch, and Schafer down a notch. Pretty simple. This is just one match, but Bisbing was strong enough in the fight and good enough on the mic that he can quickly become a mid-card draw as he works his way into potential title contention.

-Goldberg updated the UFC poll where about two-thirds were predicting a win for Liddell.

-They showed Andre Arlovski and Marcio Cruz warming up in their locker rooms.

-A commercial aired for UFC 67: All of Nothing (Feb. 3) advertising the two main title matches (Anderson Silva vs. Travis Lutter, Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Serra), plus Quinton Jackson and Mirko Cro Cop. Goldberg announced Jackson would face Marvin Eastman and Cro Cop would face Eddie Sanchez.

2 – ANDREI “THE PITBULL” ARLOVSKI vs. MARCIO “PE DE PANO” CRUZ — Heavyweight Contenders (220 lb.)

ROUND 1: The pre-fight hype built this as the first step in Arlovski’s comeback after a major setback this year in his MMA career. Rogan put it well when he said this is a pivital time in Arlovski’s career. Some wins over Cruz-types could turn a match with Cro Cop into a co-headline-worthy UFC PPV match. As the match began, Rogan said Arlovski “looks angry.” Rogan said this is a good match-up for Arlovski, andhe knows he can put on a show. At 30 seconds, Cruz went into guard on the mat. They stood up at 1:00, but were still clinched. Arlovski began scoring with punches and elbows, but Cruz held onto his leg in trying to get him down again. They bothh went down and appeared to be going for anklelocks on each other at the same time. Arlovski kicked Cruz in the face on the ground. Herb Dean called him o it and then wanted a stand-up. Cruz refused to break because he felt he had the edge on the ground and didn’t want to get punished for Arlovski’s infraction. Dean agreed and let them remain in position on the mat. Arlovski then immediately scored with a right to the face while on his back on the mat. Cruz looked hurt bad by it. Arlovski pounded on the back of his head over and over until Dean stepped in. Goldberg said Arlovski must have had a sense off relief because a third straight loss would have been hard to come back from.

FINISH: Arlovski via KO at 3:15 o round one.

STAR RATING (*+): Tainted win slightly due to Arlovski’s illegal kick and then Dean’s bizarre request to stand them up. Arlovski, though, deserves credit for landing that punch as soon as Dean said to restart. Cruz let his guard down and deserved to lose because of it. The announcers seemed to bite their tongues as far as explaining or criticizing Dean’s handling of the rules.

POST-FIGHT: Rogan interviewed Arlovski, who said he did return to the Octagon tonight “very angry” and looking to reprove himself. Arlovski apologized for kicking Cruz on the ground.

RAMIFICATIONS: Arlovski has a history as champ that any kind of win was going to move him to another contender fight. That said, this wasn’t the dominant, impressive, memorable, flashy showcase match Arlovski and probably UFC wanted for their future homegrown Cro Cop opponent.

-Goldberg announced UFC would be available in high definition starting February 2007. That’s awesome. UFC beat WWE to the punch on that, and it will make a difference in buys (not necessarily a big difference, but something). Those with new HD TVs often look for any excuse to watch the pristine picture on their newer sets, and UFC will especially shine in HD as it’s a product beautifully suited for the best picture possible.

-Another commercial aired for UFC 67. With a lot of their PPV fans not watching their Spike TV shows, it’s ever-important to hard sell future PPV match-ups on PPV events. They need to be sure to keep that up, but do so in a compelling way, with fighter promos and profiles rather than just repeating the same basic line-up with the same (tired, bland) graphic package multiple times during a pay show. Customers don’t want to feel they’ve paid for two hours of fights and one hour of commercials, so the hype for future PPVs should be entertaining, not just heavy-handed and repetitive.

-The Tito Ortiz fans began outvoting Liddell as the margin moved to 57-43 in favor of Liddell after it was 66-34 earlier.

3 – JASON “THE ATHLETE” MACDONALD (31, 6-3) vs. CHRIS “THE CRIPPLER” LEBEN (26, 5-11) — Middleweight (185 LB.) Contenders

ROUND 1: MacDonald has a big reach advantage. They showed Silva in the crowd as the mathc began. Liben caught MacDonald’s foot on a kick attempt in the opening seconds. Leben took him down, then stepped back, then moved in quickly with his signature swing. MacDonald went into a guard. At 1:00 thhey stood up and Leben swung several times, but didn’t land. After 30 seconds against the fence, the ref moved them to mid-ring. There’s too much stress put on exciting matches over the integrity of letting the fights play out. It was hardly a stalemate that was going nowhere; both men were struggling for leverage. Rogan noted the same when they went back against the fence again. At 3:45 the ref moved them to mid-ring again, but this time it did seem more like a stalemate. Leben landed some punches, but MacDonald took them well. MacDonald went for a takedown, but Lebel defended against it well. They ended up against the fence again to end the round. Both seemed fatigued a bit, but Leben smiled and patted MacDonald on the chest at the end of the round, expressing he put up a spirited, good round. It’s easier to smile when you win the round on points, and Leben clearly did that, but was short of dominant.

ROUND 2: Early Leben countered a kick with a takedown. He got into side control. At 2:15, MacDonald scored with a punch and Leben fired back with a knee. MacDonald finally got Leben down. Leben stayed active, but ineffective with punches from his back. MacDonald choked out Leben. Leben fought and struggled and refused to tap, but eventually went out. Leben eventually came to and hugged MacDonald in mid-ring, congratulating him on the win briefly.

FINISH: MacDaonald via submission at 4:03 of Round 2.

STAR RATING (**+): Entertaining fight. Not great, as there was a lot of time spent against the fence.

POST-FIGHT: MacDonald said they’re going to start calling him “The Tough Killer.” It just doesn’t have a ring to it at all. He said he’s proving he’s for real. He said he wants to be ranked in the top five by UFC. Rogan told him that will happen in no time with more of those types of wins. Rogan then interviewed Leben, who said he “felt like shit.” He said he made a technical mistake “and it happens to the best of us.” When some fans booed (probably those who bet on him to win), he said he loves the fans of UFC except for the drunk ones who just booed him. Good post-fight promo that helps him be a draw for UFC.

-They showed Quinton Jackson in the crowd mugging for the camera.

-The web voting closed tight to a 53-47 in Liddell’s favor.

-A vignette aired promoting UFC 67. The same one as earlier. UFC can’t get lazy with this stuff and not expect negative ramifications. Cro Cop is being billed as “the most feared mixed martial artist in the world.”

-Goldberg and Rogan finally talked about the Jackson and Cro Cop signings. Rogan said Jackson is well-known by MMA fans but unfortunately not UFC fans. He said he is a very exciting fighter who “is going to really stir things up.” He said he is one of few fighters with wins over Liddell. On Cro Cop, Rogan said, “For me, this is Christmas.” He said his knockout highlight reel is head kick after head kick. “He’s a brutal, brutal knockout artist.” He noted that he’s taken out Wanderlei Silva. “Having Mirko in the heavyweight division is just a gigantic new explosion to the UFC,” Rogan concluded. Goldberg brought Randy Couture into the discussion. Couture said the heavyweights in UFC have to be worried. If Cro Cop doesn’t prove to be a level better than all other UFC heavyweights, people will be shocked.

4 — KEITH “THE DEAN OF MEAN” JARDINE (31, 6-2) vs. FORREST GRIFFIN (27, 6-3) — Light Heavyweight (205) Contenders

Goldberg and Rogan talked this up as a potential Griffin-Bonnar type of fight. During his ring intro, Rogan called him a “rock star UFC fighter.” Couture put over Griffin’s work ethic as “ridiculous.” Couture remained on color for this fight. They stood up and exchanged punches with no attempts to move it to the ground. Griffin looked looser, but it didn’t appear Jardine was getting hurt when Griffin landed punches. Then late in the round, Jardine landed a punch that clearly rocked Griffin. Jardine sensed it and went in for the kill, taking Griffin down and then landed nine straight right hands that devastated Griffin, prompting a rep stoppage. Griffin came to and was devastated, collapsing into a sitting position and crying in emotional agony.

FINISH: Jardine at 4:41 of Round 1.

STAR RATING (***): Actually a three-star-minus fight at best, but wipe away the minus because it was such an upset (and that nine punch finishing sequence was memorable stuff).

POST-FIGHT: Rogan interviewed Jardine after the announcement. Jardine said he was very nervous going into the fight, but he knows he belongs there and was the better man tonight. He sounded overly humble and unsure of himself, saying he hoped he would be considered in the league of the winner of Tito vs. Liddell. It wasn’t a money-making promo, but it was honest insight into his awe at his position in UFC right now. Griffin looked distraught and stunned, as he said Jardine “knocked me the f— out.” Then he walked away. Rogan looked upset that he didn’t get a better post-fight promo from Griffin. Rogan, you could tell, wanted Griffin to be a classy loser. Griffin walked past him a few seconds later and quickly said, “I’ll be back.” Goldberg said we just saw Griffin’s heart broken. The overhead camera followed Griffin as he ran through the arena to the back quickly.

RAMIFICATIONS: That loss probably cost Griffin seven figures in 2007, so no wonder he took it so bad. If Tito loses, there’s a marketable rematch between those two for redemption in the division. Either way, Griffin will have to wait to get top billing and that covetted top payoff on a UFC PPV. Jardine, meanwhile, is now a clear top contender in the division with that impressive finish. This fight pretty muuch gave away the likely result of Griffin vs. Liddell had that happened before this fight.

-They showed Tito and Liddell warming up backstage.

-Goldberg plugged the Jan. 25 UFC Fight Night on Spike TV.

-They showed Kid Rock in the crowd for the seccond time, then Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf elsewhere.

A — THIAGO ALVES (23, 5-9) vs. TONY DESOUZA (32, 6-1) — Welterweight (170 lb.) Division

ROUND 1: Desouza went for takedowns early. He ate a punch at 2:00, but survived a quick Alves attack and ended up on the ground where he wanted. Seconds later Alves stood up. At 4:30 Alves threw a flurry of punches against Desouza on the mat, but none struck hard enough to call for a ref stoppage. Ref John McCarthy could have stopped it, but didn’t. He survived long enough to be saved by the bell. Goldberg and Rogan praised McCarthy for knowing Desouza well enough to know he could take those punches and wasn’t helpless.

ROUND 2: They circled each other for 30 seconds, then Desouza went for a takedown. Alves avoided it. Desouza went onto his back. Alves didn’t bite. He just shoved him to the mat when he got up. Desouza went for a hail mary running flying knee. Alves side-stepped it and scored with an uppercuut. Alves finished him seconds later with a strong knee and hammerfists to the face. Quick ref stoppage – but not too quick – as it was clear Desouza mentally checked out between rounds and ate that knee.

FINISH: Alves via TKO at 1:11 of round 2.

STAR RATING (**-): Good KO. Otherwise, an average mid-length match.

POST-MATCH: Rogan interviewed Alves, asking him about his t-shirt slogan, “I’m not a striker, I’m not a grappler, I’m both.” He came across as a relatively generic nice young fighter with confidence.

RAMIFICATIONS: Alves obviously moves up a notch, while Desouza will have to put in a good showing next opportunity to remain a serious potential contender.

-They showed Matt Serra in the front row.

5 — CHUCK LIDDELL (37, 6-2) vs. TITO ORTIZ (31, 6-2) — Light-Heavyweight Title Match (205 lbs.)

ROUND 1: During Tito’s entrance, Couture said as coach on TUF, Tito revealed himself to the nation, and it was the real Tito. Rogan said that was true since it’s tough to get past the soundbites fighters have before and after fights, but TUF showed what kind of person Tito really is. No doubt TUF showed a better side of Tito than had been exposed before. During Liddell’s entrance, Goldberg said Liddell looked relaxed. Rogan said Liddell thinks he’s better than Tito in every category. Couture said Liddell couldn’t stand the thought off Tito gloating about beating him for a year. The fan voting ended 51-49 for Liddell. At 4:00 Liddell got Ortiz down with a left hook to the temple and then threw a barrage of punches. Tito covered with his hands for 30 seconds. Liddell essentially backed off and let him get up. It seemed close to being stopped, but Tito covered well.

ROUND 2: They circled each other and tentatively fought, more defensively than offensively. At 4:00 Tito slipped behind Chuck and took him down, giving him what he needed to win the round on the scorecard. Chuck, though, scrambled and returned to his feet. After the round, they posted on the big screen that Eddie Bravo gave the round to Tito. Although unofficial, it got a rise from the crowd and the camera caught Liddell’s reaction, too. If I’m Tito, that’s the last thing I want Liddell to see as motivation.

ROUND 3: Tito went for a takedown, but Liddell avoided it. Tito went onto his back. Chuck let him get up rather than risk an upkick KO. Tito decided to unload with a punch exchange with Liddell, perhaps sensing Liddell was tiring or vulnerable. Liddell wasn’t. He outpunched Tito, Tito went down and covered, and the ref eventually stopped it even thought Liddell’s punches were mainly hitting Tito’s arms and hands protecting his head. Tito seemed accepting of his defeat, even looking into the camera and saying, “I tried.”

FINISH: Liddell via TKO at 3:59 of round three.

STAR RATING (***+): Good fight, but not great, with incredible tension in the air throughout. It’s short of four stars because there was a lot of circling and tentativeness throughout. Yet, it never seemed they were stallling or retreating.

POST-FIGHT: Liddell said he liked that the ref let the fight go in round one. Rogan asked about Jackson. Liddell said he hopes that’s next. “I can’t wait to get that rematch,” said Liddell. Liddell told fans to party with him at Studio 54. Rogan then interviewed Ortiz. He was crying and said he let his fans down. He said he was angry and frustrated with himself. He said he made some mistakes at the end, but otherwise he fought his A-game and he couldn’t get a takedown. He said he thought he could strike with him. “I’m only 31, man. I’m gonna be in this sport another five, six years,” he said. He said Liddell deserves credit for being the best and working hard to get there. He said he fought his ass off and he will be back.

RAMIFICATIONS: Liddell keeps his streak alive and it sets up a money match with Jackson. Ortiz looks good, though, and doesn’t lose anything with this loss because he put up a good fight against the best. Ortiz is right where eh was before, as a marketable contender who is two big wins away from another title match as Liddell continues to age. Ortiz made it clear if nothing else he wants to wait out Liddell til retirement and then see if he can establish himself as the best other than Liddell. It’s a surprise and a lost opportunity that UFC didn’t do a better job introducing Jackson’s personality to their audience since Liddell fans won’t necessarily see another PPV before UFC headlines with Liddell vs. Jackson. At the same time, they continue to try to avoid looking like they’re “marketers” and instead are “sports promoters,” so not going with an entertaining Jackson promo which could the thunder a little from the Tito-Liddell match may be a justifable strategy. They also may assume their fans know Jackson already, and if they don’t, just telling them that Jackson once beat Liddell is all it takes to sell the match.

B – GABRIEL “NAPAO” GONZAGA vs. CARMELO “THE FURY” MARERRO — Prelim Pretaped Heavyweight Division Match

Round 1: Marerro suvived a choke on the mat, but eventually tapped out to an armbar.

FINISH: Gonzaga via tapout at 3:22 of round one.

STAR RATING (*+): Not a lot to it, other than Gonzaga showing off some great Brazilian jiu jitsu.

RAMIFICATIONS: One scenario for the heavyweight division in 2007 is Gonzaga vs. Arlovski with the winner facing Cro Cop to earn a match against Silva. It sets up either Gonzaga to be a huge story of the year, or lets Cro Cop establish himself against someone credible to UFC fans before facing Silvia.

-Rogan and Goldberg talked about the results of the show, and looked head. They touted Jackson as a Liddell foe. Rogan said Cro Cop is a top-level K1 striker, and said UFC’s best striker is probably Anderson Silva and he’s probably not a top-level K1 striker. (It was a bit surprising for Rogan to draw so much attention to K1 and not explain to novice viewers a little more about what separates K1 from UFC in terms of rules and style. The way Rogan talked about it, he made it seem as if K1 fighters could beat UFC fighters in the Octagon. There was another way to tout Cro Cop without diminishing the strikers in UFC.) Rogan’s eyes popped with excitement as he noted that Cro Cop can drop down to the 205 weight division, dropping the first hint of an MMA dream match between Liddell and Cro Cop.

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