Rich Franklin looks for redemption as he challenges Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight championship Saturday night.
Also, Brandon Vera returns to the octagon to face the former UFC heavyweight champion, Tim Sylvia.
Event card and predictions
Once again I'm joined by Calgary Sun Editor-In-Chief and MMA expert, Jose Rodriguez.
Jason MacDonald (20-8-0) vs. Yushin Okami (21-4-0)
Neil: This should be a good fight. Okami is a very nasty striker, while MacDonald is known for his submissions. Whoever can control the pace of the fight will take this one, but I just can't see MacDonald getting past Okami.
Prediction: Okami by second round KO/TKO
Jose: Head, heart, head, heart ... we'll go with heart on this one. Alberta boy Jason McDonald's only lost one scrap in his last eight and that was to Rich Franklin. Okami is one of the strongest middleweights on the planet. This will be a good scrap.
Prediction: The smart money's on Okami, but my heart says MacDonald by third round submission. Look for the winner here to get a shot at the middleweight belt.
Alvin Robinson (9-2-0) vs. Jorge Gurgel (14-2-0)
Neil: Robinson is a very talented submission fighter who was simply overwhelmed against a fired up Kenny Florian in his last outing. I don't think that will be the case here, but it's hard to say what his endurance and chin are like.
Gurgel won an absolute war against Diego Saraiva in his last fight, even suffering facial fractures in the process. Both guys are good on the ground, but Gurgel's stand up will give him the edge.
Prediction: Gurgel be decision.
Jose: A couple of submission guys with good records. These two will be fishing around for a limb to pull for 15 minutes.
Prediction: It'll go to the judges and Gurgel, the hometown boy, will get the nod.
Alan Belcher (10-3-0) vs. Kalib Starnes (10-2-1)
Neil: This is a tough one to call. Both guys are well-rounded and can finish a fight whether it's on the ground or standing up.
Prediction: I see this going the distance, with Starnes getting the nod.
Jose: Canada's Kalib Starnes was impressive in his controversial decision over Chris Leben. Both fighters have losses against Japanese middleweight Yushin Okami and both took Okami to the third round. This one will go the distance but the karma Gods that gave Starnes the nod the last time will be in Belcher's corner.
Prediction: Belcher by decision.
Eric Schafer (9-2-2) vs. Stephan Bonnar (13-4-0)
Neil: Bonnar looked really good in his last fight. Perhaps his suspension was a blessing in disguise. Shafer on the other hand, was TKO'd by Michael Bisping way back at UFC 66. It’s hard to say whether or not his time off will be a good thing.
The way I see it is this – if Bonnar's training camp, Xtreme Couture, can prepare Forrest Griffin to overwhelm Mauricio (Shogun) Rua, they can get him ready for Schafer.
Prediction: Bonnar by first round KO/TKO
Jose: Shafer didn't make it out of the first round with Michael Bisping in his last outing and, though many people will disagree, Bonnar and Bisping are similar fighters. Also, The Ultimate Fighter alumni have been on a tear of late and it won't stop with Bonnar.
Prediction: Bonnar second round KO/TKO.
Tim Sylvia (25-3-0) vs. Brandon Vera (8-0-0)
Neil: Hmmm, do I go with the former champ or the guy who I picked would be a heavyweight champion following his knock out victory over Frank Mir back in 2006? I think I'll have to take the future of MMA here.
Vera, who was featured atop SLAM! Sports' UFC up-and-comers feature (read here), is the total package -- great submission skills and devastating kickboxing. Sylvia, on the other hand, was completely dominated in his match with Randy Couture. That had to hurt his self-esteem. However, Sylvia is a tough competitor and this won't be an easy fight for Vera.
Prediction: Vera by, oh what the hell, first round KO/TKO. Yes, you read that right; I’m going all in on this one.
Jose: Tim's days as a top heavyweight contender are through and Brandon Vera will put an exclamation point on that Saturday night. Vera, who's been out of the game for a year due to management issues, is primed. The guy lives, breathes and eats fighting. So much so that he's even married to a pro fighter.
Sylvia, who comes in with questionable conditioning most of the time, will be overwhelmed. But the big guy has yet to be knocked out.
Prediction: Vera in a third round submission. Hopefully Sylvia will be smart enough to tap out.
Rich Franklin (24-2-0) vs. Anderson Silva (19-4-0)
Neil: Silva absolutely dismantled Ace in their last fight. Franklin was left battered, beaten, humiliated and with his nose pointing in the wrong direction. It was U-G-L-Y.
Since then, he’s taken that defeat and used it to motivate himself. In Franklin's mind, this is the biggest fight of his career. Is that enough to derail Silva on his path of destruction?
In a word, no.
Silva is simply too dominant in this weight class and given the current state of the middleweight division, I expect him to stay that way. Well, that is until Dan Henderson drops down to 185 lbs....
Prediction: This should be a war. Silva by third round KO/TKO.
Jose: Following the embarrassing display last time he fought Silva, you can bet Franklin will have an answer to that Thai clinch. Franklin won't let himself be made a fool of again in front of the hometown crowd.
Unfortunately, there's a lot more to Anderson Silva's game than Muay Thai. The Brazilian will find another way to overwhelm Franklin. This should be a good fight. Franklin's never been submitted and Silva's never been knocked out.
Prediction: Silva by unanimous decision.
There you have it. Check back here for live round-by-round coverage of "UFC 77: Hostile Territory" starting at 10 p.m. EST.
Blow by Blow
Hello everyone and welcome to the UFC 77 Blow by Blow.
“Hostile Territory” – either the title of a new Steven Seagal movie, or a reference to the rampant xenophobia that will no doubt be running through tonight’s crowd during the main event – you be the judge.
Alan (The Talent) Belcher vs. Kalib Starnes
Belcher tries the clinch and lands some knees. They lock up on the fence and Starnes takes him down. Starnes is bleeding already. They keep fighting for the clinch, but nothing is really happening.
Belcher hits a nice flying knee and follows up with an elbow. Starnes is throwing some bombs and landing, but can't hurt him enough. Belcher is hitting some nasty knees and Starnes' face isn't looking so good.
Starnes is getting battered with knees, punches and leg kicks, but he's still in this. The round expires and Belcher starts celebrating! What a jerk.
Ewww, that gash is nasty. Starnes is coming back here, but Belcher is laughing! Starnes just keeps covering up on every exchange; he's barely throwing punches. They stop the fight to check the cut and it's over! Belcher wins by doctor stoppage.
Starnes is swearing at his own corner because they thought he asked for the fight to be stopped.
(Ravishing Red) Eric Schafer vs. (American Psycho) Stephan Bonnar
Bonnar is looking pumped. Schafer tries a takedown, but they lock up and start trading knees. Bonnar takes him down and gets side control. Schafer reclaims the guard, but is getting pressed against the fence.
They stand up and Schafer slams him. He takes Bonnar's back and starts landing some punches. Both hooks are in and he almost has the rear-naked choke, but Bonnar spins out. Schafer tries a kimura and the round expires.
Schafer tries a takedown, but Bonnar counters and they're in the guard. Bonnar starts working the ground and pound; he's landing some nasty shots. Schafer is turtling up and the referee stops it! I'm scoreless. but Jose is one for two on predictions.
Bonnar is trying to speak and he forgets where he's holding his after party. Ha!
Alvin (Kid) Robinson vs. Jorge Gurgel
They're throwing bombs and Gurgel takes him down to the guard. Both fighters are exchanging blows and Gurgel gets side control. Robinson tries to bridge out, but Gurgel keeps him pressed to the mat.
Robinson gets full guard, but Gurgel is back to side control. I'm surprised the crowd isn't booing yet, but I guess that's what happens when one fighter trains in Cincinnati.
Gurgel takes full mount and switches back to side. The round expires. That was all Gurgel.
A great mat sequence to stat the round -- Gurgel almost gets an omoplata and armbar, but Robinson counters and tries a kimura. Gurgel spins out and they're in the guard.
Gurgel tries to spin out, but Robinson counters and almost gets an omoplata. Robinson is now delivering some nasty shots from Gurgel's guard.
Gurgel is bleeding a little and the tide has turned. Robinson is absolutely blasting him, but the round expires.
Robinson takes him down and keeps pounding him from the guard. This is really nasty, but Robinson should try to pass here. He seems content to keep landing from the guard. Robinson takes the back and has a crucifix position. He keeps landing the shots and the round expires.
Robinson takes it by unanimous decision.
Tim (The Maine-iac) Sylvia vs. Brandon (The Truth) Vera
Wow, the audience hates Sylvia before he even enters. They literally boo him the moment the lights go down. He is looking slimmer than usual, though.
Vera tries a takedown, but they get locked on the fence. They exchange some knees and punches, but not much is happening. They separate and Vera tries the clinch again. Still nothing going on.
Vera lands a nice jab and Sylvia is looking slow. Now, Sylvia presses him against the fence and just stands there. Come on! The round expires and Sylvia looks tired!
Vera starts with a flurry, but Sylvia just rests him on the fence again. Now, Vera reverses and press him on the steel. The ref separates them, but they can't resist the urge to lock up on the chain-link.
Vera gets a takedown and the crowd comes alive! He has side control against the cage and delivers some knees to the body. Sylvia is just hugging him hard and trying nothing at all. Vera lands a nice knee, but the ref calls it as illegal! What? He was standing up!
Vera delivers a ton of kicks and the round expires. Vera has taken both rounds by my count.
So they're back on the fence again and Sylvia has no desire to turn this hug-fest into a fight. This is so boring.
They exchange more shots, but then Sylvia takes it back to the fence! This is insane; does he have any desire to fight tonight?
Sylvia comes alive and... presses him on the fence. The round expires; that was horrible. They show Brock Lesnar who just signed with the UFC. I count it at 29-28 for Vera and it seems he's broken his hand.
Sylvia takes it be decision! Are you kidding me? He did absolutely nothing in the first two rounds! That is complete crap.
Rich (Ace) Franklin vs. Anderson (The Spider) Silva
Franklin comes out to a rock-star reaction and Silva enters to silence. I was actually expecting lots of booing.
They feel each other out and Franklin starts working his punches. Silva tries the clinch, but can't get it. He's working some knees, but Franklin takes him down! Silva stands up and they're on the fence.
Silva lands a nasty spinning side-kick, but Franklin lands a nice punch. Silva's starting to overwhelm him, but Franklin presses him against the fence. Silva grabs the clinch, but Franklin escapes. He starts blasting and Franklin drops, but the round expires!
Franklin comes out swinging, but nothing is landing. Silva moves in for the kill and starts blasting him with knees and punches! It's only a matter of time and the ref stops it! Silva wins!
Dark match results
Here are the results of the fights that were not down on the pay-per-view broadcast.
Matt Grice defeated Jason Black by decision
Josh Burkman beat Forrest Petz by decision
Demien Maia choked out Ryan Jensen in the first round
Yushin Okami over Jason MacDonald by decision
Man, I end the night scoreless and Jose is one for six. If anybody needs me, I'll be in the tub.
Thanks for joining for the UFC 77 Blow by Blow and check back for my coverage of UFC 78 on Nov. 17.