Read on for the UFC 126 Main Card Fantasy Preview...
ANDERSON SILVA VS. VITOR BELFORT
Originally slated for UFC 108 and then for UFC 112, the long-awaited bout between Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort finally takes place this Saturday in Las Vegas. The middleweight clash will mark 1,842 days since an Anderson Silva opponent has had his arm raised in victory. The Spider’s last loss came in January of 2006 when he fought Yushin Okami and was disqualified for using an illegal upkick that rendered Okami unable to continue.
Like all fighters, the taste of defeat is something Silva never wants to experience again. That has become quite evident in Silva’s actions inside the Octagon since his 49-second knockout victory over Chris Leben in his UFC debut back in the summer of 2006. Presently riding a UFC record 12-fight winning streak, Silva holds notable victories over Nate Marquardt, Rich Franklin (twice), Forrest Griffin, and Chael Sonnen. Over his nearly five year UFC winning streak, Silva has made fights look so easy that people started to question whether or not he’d have the heart to win a fight if he needed to come from behind. Silva answered that question with flying colors back at UFC 117 when he defeated Chael Sonnen. A week prior to the fight, Silva’s doctor suggested that he cancel his fight due to a rib injury. Wanting the show to go on, Silva sidestepped the medical advice and entered the Octagon. The rib hindrance may be why Silva didn’t look like the fighter UFC fans have become accustomed to seeing fight that night. For nearly 23 minutes Sonnen dominated Silva. Right when it looked as if “The Spider” was going to lose his belt, he secured a triangle submission victory that no one saw coming. If Silva is able to win his 13th straight it will add another chapter to his storied career.
Vitor Belfort, a former UFC light heavyweight champion, is looking to add the UFC middleweight crown to his list of accomplishments. There are few fighters, let alone people, that can even remotely understand what Belfort has dealt with in his life. After winning a UFC heavyweight tournament at just 19, Belfort looked like he was poised to have a long and successful career in the UFC. Then Randy Couture issued him his first defeat two fights later. While dealing with private family issues, Belfort jumped from multiple fight organizations –showing only glimpses of the fighter who had earned the nickname, “The Phenom.” After being away from the UFC for over four years, Belfort returned in exciting fashion – knocking former middleweight champion Rich Franklin out in a little over three minutes at UFC 103. It was that performance that eventually won Belfort a shot at dethroning his Brazilian countryman.
In a bout that has all the makings of a “Fight of the Night”, fans could be in for an all-out 25-minute war when Silva and Belfort meet in the center of the Octagon Saturday night. Although Belfort is known for his knockout power and hand speed, it’ll be interesting to see if Belfort tries to mix up the action by bringing the fight to the canvas. Both fighters own black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so potential submission attempts may not be out of the question. Look for Silva, on the other hand, to enter the Octagon with his usual game plan. Although Belfort is considered to be the best striker Silva has faced in his UFC career, the champion believes his reach advantage and unorthodox striking will be the difference in this fight.
RICH FRANKLIN VS. FORREST GRIFFIN
On paper, Saturday’s fight between Rich Franklin and Forrest Griffin is a seemingly equal fight that could end up being a 15-minute war. But don’t be surprised if a one-sided domination breaks out. With both fighters claiming they’re perfectly healthy leading up to the scrap, it’ll be interesting to see if Griffin’s shoulder and foot injury or Franklin’s broken arm that he received blocking a kick from Chuck Liddell last June play any role in Saturday night’s bout.
Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin, who defended his belt on two occasions, is coming off a highlight reel knockout over Chuck Liddell. After losing both fights to Anderson Silva in devastating fashion, Franklin and his camp decided that having to cut less weight might jumpstart his career. After wavering on the decision, Franklin finally decided that a move to the light heavyweight division would give him the best opportunity to put UFC gold back around his waist. In his career, Franklin has gone 18-3-1 in the light heavyweight division and he plans to add a 19th win to his light heavyweight division record come Saturday night.
Winner of season one of The Ultimate Fighter, Forrest Griffin gained instant stardom while fans were captivated by his personality each week on Spike TV. It was Griffin’s jaw-dropping, epic victory over Stephan Bonner that put the UFC on the map and led him on the quick path to becoming one of the most popular figures in UFC history. After climbing atop the division, Griffin was probably on a short list of people who believed he’d beat Brazilian standout Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. After that win, Griffin once again was the underdog when he fought Quinton “Rampage” Jackson for the title in 2008. Like so many other times in his career, Griffin won UFC gold – despite being the underdog. After his November of 2009 victory over Tito Ortiz, Griffin finally realized it was time to have surgery on his shoulder. Claiming that he’s fought with shoulder pain since 2006, Griffin will fight injury-free for the first time in nearly five years.
Although both Franklin and Griffin claim to be injury-free entering this fight, it will be interesting to see if ring rust plays any factor in either fighter’s game plan. Having not fought in over 14 months, Griffin let the media know last week that he was looking forward to getting into the Octagon but wasn’t looking forward to the ring rust. When the gate closes, look for Griffin to potentially push the pace of the fight more than we have become accustomed to seeing Griffin fight. Instead of trying to keep the fight standing, look for Griffin, who recently received his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu from multiple-time world champ Robert Drysdale, to potentially try and win his eighth fight by way of submission. Along with trying to push the pace, look for Griffin to use his size difference to drain the stamina of Franklin. For Franklin, who is coming off an injury himself, look for him to try and keep the fight standing – while using his presumed speed advantage to stay away from to clinch of his stronger opponent. With both fighters known for their cardio, the fighter who gases just a little at first will more than likely be the fighter who walks out of the Octagon with his head down in disappointment.
JON JONES VS. RYAN BADER
Both Jon Jones and Ryan Bader know the importance of leaving the Octagon on Saturday night with their arm raised in the air. With a victory, both fighters know that a shot at UFC gold will be on the horizon. With both fighters knowing what a win will do for their career, they know the consequences of losing. A loss will move one of them back into the middle of the pack – with a title shot only seen in their dreams. When both fighters know the significance of a fight, everyone watching will be in for a real treat.
Bruce Buffer recently described Jon Jones as “the future Muhammad Ali of MMA” and it’d be hard for anyone to argue with that comparison. At only 23 years old, Jones has quickly put himself into the thick of the light heavyweight division title hunt. With an overall professional record of 11-1, Jones has notable wins over Stephan Bonner, Brandon Vera, and Vladimir Matyushenko. Ironically, the fight where he looked at his best, Jones ultimately lost. Despite pummeling Matt Hamill in every aspect of the game in the first round of their fight, the badly broken down Hamill ended up winning the fight. Right before everyone presumed the fight was going to be stopped – adding another TKO victory to Jones’ record – the fight was stopped because of an illegal elbow. Hamill was unable to continue – thus costing Jones a victory. Although on paper Jones has a loss on his record, fight fans and Hamill himself considered it a victory for Jones.
A three-time Pac 10 wrestling champion and winner of season eight of The Ultimate Fighter, Ryan Bader has yet to suffer a defeat in 13 professional fights. Since winning a six-figure UFC contract in 2008, Bader has won all four of his appearances in the Octagon – most recently winning a unanimous decision over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Bader will likely try to make Saturday’s fight more of a wrestling match pretty quickly in the opening minutes of the first round. Although Bader has made great strides in his standup ability over the past two years, look for him to try and avoid the unorthodox standup of Jones that is nearly impossible to find someone to mimic during training. As much as Bader will be looking to keep the action on the canvas, Jones equally has the desire to keep the action standing. Although Jones has made a name for himself with his striking ability, he also is a Greco Roman standout and former junior college champion. Don’t be surprised if suddenly Jones uses his own wrestling to bring the action to the mat – trying to ground and pound his way into forcing the referee to stop the fight.
CARLOS EDUARDO ROCHA VS. JAKE ELLENBERGER
Originally scheduled to fight Jon Fitch on Saturday night, Jake Ellenberger was preparing to fight a top contender – hoping a victory would put him in line to fight for UFC gold. Instead, his original opponent was pulled out to fight BJ Penn instead. Although wanting to get a shot at fighting Fitch, Ellenberger didn’t dwell on it long. He quickly focused solely on Carlos Eduardo Rocha. After losing his UFC debut to Carlos Condit, Ellenberger has gone on to win his next two fights – defeating Mike Pyle and John Howard. With an impressive win on Saturday night, Ellenberger knows that a title shot will be one step closer than it is today.
A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Carlos Eduardo Rocha made a successful UFC debut when he submitted Kris McCray at UFC 122. Still undefeated at 9-0, Rocha believes he has the ability needed to win the welterweight crown. Although he’s had a successful start to his career, he knows that a victory over Ellenberger will move him up the division ladder and add prestige to his name. Although many don’t know who Rocha is, he knows there’s no better way to get recognition in the sport than putting on an exciting show on Pay-Per-View.
In another clash of styles, look for Ellenberger to try and keep the fight standing – waiting for the chance to use his heavy hands to stop the fight and win the “Knockout of the Night” bonus. Rocha, however, doesn’t see either of those things happening. In his mind, a submission will end the fight and he will walk away with “Submission of the Night” honors.
MIGUEL TORRES VS. ANTONIO BANUELOS
October 28, 2010 is a day that both Miguel Torres and Antonio Banuelos will never forget. On that day, both fighters were made aware that their service in the WEC was no longer needed. When fighters in the years past heard this, that would lead a fighter to figure out where their career would go next. But that wasn’t the case that day – both fighters would move to the biggest stage in the world and fight in the UFC.
Fighting out of Montreal, Quebec by way of East Chicago, IN., Miguel Torres will bring an outstanding 37-3 record into his UFC debut. While fighting in the WEC, Torres became one of the most successful and recognizable figures in the history of the organization. In 2008, Torres defeated Chase Beebe to become the bantamweight champion. Torres defended his belt three times before eventually losing it to Brian Bowles. Prior to being defeated by Bowles, Torres was considered by some to be the best fighter, pound for pound in the world – winning 17 straight fights. After losing two straight, people quickly started to question whether he had anything left. Torres answered those questions by submitting Charlie Valencia in his last fight. Now that the bantamweight division has moved over to the UFC, Torres plans on introducing himself to the UFC in dominating fashion.
Winner of four out of his last five fights, Antonio Banuelos knows the importance of winning his UFC debut – especially being that his debut is on the Pay-Per-View portion of the card. Banuelos knows that an impressive victory could potentially lead him to a new fan base, but more importantly, a victory will move him one step closer to a UFC title shot.
In a contrast of fighting styles, look for Torres to use his long reach advantage and standup skills to keep the fight standing. Where Banuelos, on the other hand, will look to bring the action of the fight to the canvas – where he can use his ground and pound to end the fight. Taking Torres to the ground can be easier said than done though. With Torres’ long reach, Banuelos will need to be careful to not get caught by a brutal punch or powerful knee to the face.