UFC 126 Preview

SB Nation has the full fight card and tons of analysis, but I want to look at the top three fights, which probably have me more excited for a UFC card than any in the last year.

The middleweight title fight between Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort promises to be great. Belfort is likely the toughest challenger Silva, arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world, has faced since he demolished former Pride middleweight champion Dan Henderson in the UFC/Pride unification bout. Like Silva, Belfort is fast, has knockout power, and can be very elusive in the cage. If Silva’s last title defense against the hard charging Chael Sonnen showed anything, it’s that Silva has a strong chin and can take a lot of punishment from someone who doesn’t really have one-punch knockout power. The best thing Belfort has going for him is he can turn off an opponent’s lights with either hand. The last time an elusive, dominant champion took on a fit, powerful, fast challenger was Lyoto Machida v Shogun Rua II, wherein Rua simply overpowered Machida on his way to a fast win. I expect Belfort to try something similar in the hopes of catching Silva with a barrage that he cannot survive.

With a fighter like Silva, who has gone undefeated in his entire UFC career, it’s always easy to think he is slipping and more vulnerable than ever. And to be sure, he was moments away from losing to Sonnen last time out. But mixed martial arts isn’t about what you do for most of the fight to bloody your opponent – it’s about doing what needs to be done to win. Grappling and submissions ensure that no opponent is ever out. Silva proved that in spades against Sonnen. Silva is the favorite to win (-240 to Belfort’s +190) and rightly so. I can see Belfort overwhelming Silva and catching his chin, but more likely I see Silva finding a way to win, either in a five round war, a timely head kick, or a slick submission.

It’s hard to think of two fighters that more consistently put on great shows than Forrest Griffin and Rich Franklin. Franklin’s last performance against Chuck Liddell was literally what makes this sport exciting. Franklin looked to be on the way out in the first round following a high kick from Liddell that broke his left arm when he caught Liddell’s chin with a vicious right and turn out the lights. And, well, Forrest Griffin is Forrest Griffin. These guys are going to come out and bang. Expect a really high strike count and lots of changes of momentum. Neither of these guys will quit if they get in a bad spot and both have one-punch knockout power. There will either be a stunning knockout or this will go the full fifteen minutes – it’s hard to see this end in a submission. Franklin is the favorite, despite being a bit under sized in the 205 lb weight class, especially compared to Griffin. Griffin is one of my favorite fighters, but all I’m hoping for is an exciting fight that shows both fighters are still among the top in the weight class.

Also fighting in the light heavyweight class are the winner of Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, Ryan Bader, and Jon Jones. These are probably the two fastest rising young stars in any weight class, let alone at 205 pounds. Before I say anything about this particular matchup, I’m going to guess that when Bader/Jones II takes place, one of them will be the UFC’s light heavyweight belt holder. Bader’s standup isn’t as impressive as Jones’ but Bader finds ways to win, regardless of whether or not it’s pretty. Jones, on the other hand, has delivered some truly exciting knockouts and submissions of late. His only loss was to a disqualification in his fight against Matt Hamill for doing a 12-to-6 elbow strike to Hamill’s head. Jones was completely dominating Hamill; he broke Hamill’s shoulder with a trip takedown. When the referee stopped after the downward elbow strike to Hamill to see if Hamill could continue the fight Hamill said no. Unfortunately, Hamill is deaf and did not understand that he was being asked about how he felt from the elbow, not any other injury suffered in the round. That’s not to excuse the stoppage – Jones clearly used illegal elbow strikes and Hamill really was in no shape to continue. The point being, while Jones is 11-1 on paper, his only loss was not due to being out-performed.

While I expect Bader/Jones to be a great fight, Jones is heavily favored (-350) over Bader (+250). I’d really love to see Bader give Jones a hard time, though. It’s been two years since we’ve seen Jones go to a decision and, at some point, he’s going to face an opponent who can take him there. While I would not put money on Bader to win, I can see him challenging Jones as much as anyone since Stephan Bonner.

It’s often the case that the most anticipated fight cards don’t live up to expectations. Hopefully these three fights do, because if they do, they will likely be worth far more than the price of admission.

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  1. Posted February 4, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, looking forward to an interesting and potentially brutal title fight. I have a lot of respect for great, intelligent champions like Silva and St-Pierre. Silva’s game plan is probably rope-a-dope and/or jab city… he’s preparing for a likely onslaught and won’t panic as Belfort expends an immense amount of energy trying to finish him early. If Belfort indeed brawls, Silva may embarrass him with a lopsided decision. Belfort has power and a killer instinct, but it’s not going to do him much good unless he’s precise and deliberate. If Belfort fights a smart fight, he can slowly punish Silva steadily over 2-3 rounds and then submit him in the late 3rd or 4th, which is my expectation.

  2. Posted February 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Silva stunned everyone with that tremendous front kick (good call anticipating that, MBH). Not sure why Belfort was so tentative… but he dropped a hint post-fight when he said Silva was “kicking his butt in the gym” (they’ve trained together for a long time). At any rate… another impressive victory for Silva. The guy is amazing.

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