UFC 126 -- What you need to know for Saturday

UFC 126 -- What you need to know for Saturday
February 4, 2011, 6:57 pm
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Carmichael Dave

Feb. 4, 2011MMA PAGE Carmichael Dave
CSNCalifornia.com

What's on tap for UFC 126 ...

ANDERSON SILVA vs. VITOR BELFORT
Two records.

12 and 7.

Anderson Silva has fought 12 times in the UFC, coming out on top each time.

Anderson Silva has defended his 185-pound title belt seven times, and walked out of the octagon seven times wearing gold around his waist.

Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay events center in Las Vegas, those streaks could come to an end.

Vitor Belfort has long been a sought after opponent for Silva, possessing unequaled hands in a sport filled with fantastic strikers. Known as "The Phenom", a nickname born when he was a teenager cutting down opponents much older and wiser, he has gained a sense of wisdom and control over his actions in the cage over the years.

Silva, by all counts, should not be bringing his title belt with him Saturday night. Were it not for perhaps the greatest comeback in MMA history (over Chael Sonnen at an August bout in Oakland), this would simply be a matchup between two top contenders. Woulda coulda shoulda means nothing, however; Silva proved last summer you can never count him out.

Yet his recent performances have shown an uncharacteristic chink in his formerly invincible armor, be it the thrashing he took at the hands of Sonnen (taking more punches in that fight than his previous 11 combined), or the debacle vs. Damian Maia back in Abu Dhabi. Silva will go down as one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport, but all good things must come to an end.

One can never count out the heart of a champion, or a fantastic game plan. Anderson Silva is still one of the most gifted fighters out there, but whether it's his mental makeup or physical prowess, there has been a detectable slip recently, and this is a sport that does not allow for even a slight decline.

Belfort has the hands, and an underrated jiu-jitsu game overshadowed by his highlight-reel knockouts. He is not even close to unbeatable, as he has proved in the past. Mental lapses have been commonplace, and he can be bullied around (as Randy Couture once proved). But Silva seems to be tailor-made for Belfort, and the cliche "styles make fights" has never been more appropriate.

Look for a new champion to be crowned late in the first round, and another unbeatable goliath to come back to the land of mere mortals.

PREDICTION: BELFORT TKO RD1FORREST GRIFFIN vs. RICH FRANKLIN
Saturday night will feature a nice selection of current and former champions, and two face off in a probable elimination bout for a shot at Shogun Rua's title. Griffin is the improbable former 205-pound champ, while Franklin was the long-time belt-holder at 185 (until the aforementioned Silva came on the scene).

Both fighters have very little in common at first glance, save for each being on the bad end of highlight knockouts by "The Spider". Yet, when you look deeper, their styles aren't that far off when it's all said and done. Both guys prefer to stand up, yet have underrated ground games. Each guy also is known for having solid game plans, and out-thinking their opponents.

However, since his shocking wins over both Shogun and Rampage Jackson, Griffin has been in somewhat of a rut. There was the embarassment at the hands of Silva, although most of Silva's challengers were embarassed by him at one time. Throw in the TKO loss to Rashad Evans, and Griffin has only a split decision over the shell that is Tito Ortiz as a positive on his record over the last 2 12 years.

Franklin was simply outclassed by Silva in each of their bouts, and was similarly throttled by Vitor Belfort. There was the controversial split-decision loss to Dan Henderson, but beyond that, Franklin has adjusted and overcome, versus the likes of Wanderlei Silva and an also aging Chuck Liddell.

On paper, this is a pretty even matchup, but the planning and psyche of Franklin, a former math teacher, will prove to be the edge. Griffin has spoken of leaving Xtreme Couture for a more organized camp with a full-time head coach, and this is just the type of fight to make that decision seem sound. The fight should be extremely entertaining, but Franklin will find ways to frustrate the Ultimate Fighter Season 1 champ, and expose those weaknesses.

PREDICTION: FRANKLIN via UNANIMOUS DECISIONJON JONES vs. RYAN BADER
To me, the fight of the night. In addition, the toughest one to pick.

One of the reasons why MMA, and the UFC in particular, are dominating boxing in the hearts and minds of the fans is the willingness to make fights like these. If either of these guys were promoted by Don King or Bob Arum, you wouldn't see them fight until they were in their early 30s - with at least 20 fights under their belts. There's no WAY a boxing promoter would risk his prime prospect slamming up against a fellow diaper dandy for anything less than a title belt, much less a stepping-stone fight.

In Bader and Jones, you have two of the top 5 (and possibly top 2) prospects in the entire sport facing off. Bader is a recent Ultimate Fighter champion who has steamrolled his way to a 12-0 record, and in fairly easy fashion. Jones has perhaps been more impressive, amassing an 11-1 mark, with the only loss due to a technicality while absolutely annihilating perennial prospect Matt Hamill. Jones has provided both flashy KOs and moves rarely seen this side of Urijah Faber.

This will be by far each man's biggest career test. It's an extremely tough fight to call for a myriad of reasons. Should Bader be able to take Jones down and use his fantastic wrestling effectively, we may see the air let out of the balloon pretty quickly, most likely to a cascade of boos. That option is really everyone's nightmare, from fans to promoter alike. No one wants to see an elite prospect showdown turn into the lay and pray show, especially given Jones' penchant for shock and awe. To be honest however, if I'm in Bader's camp, it might be exactly what I tell him to do. You don't french-kiss a dragon.

However, there's a reason "Bones" Jones has rapidly become MMA's next big thing. I haven't seen this much raw talent since a French-Canadian names Georges St. Pierre came on the scene a few years back. Every 4-5 years since this sport's inception, someone comes along and turns things on their head. When GSP arrived, we all marveled at his superhuman athleticism, and waited patiently as he got the "yips" (to borrow a golfing term) out of his system to become the complete and dominant all around fighter he is today. Jones has the same type of next-level capabilities, and Saturday's matchup will prove to be a coming-out party, or a lesson well-learned.

Make no mistake about it, Jon Jones will hold the 205-pound belt someday. Whether Ryan Bader can temporarily derail the Bones Train remains to be seen. I don't think so, but again, this is a hell of a tough fight to call. Should it get into the 3rd round, it should be to Bader's advantage, but I don't think we get that far.

PREDICTION: JON JONES TKO RD. 2

Please join us next week for another exciting round of "Boy Dave was wrong, how did he ever get an MMA gig?"

Until then please enjoy Saturday's card. After a minor hiatus, MMA is about to ramp up a nice run of exciting fight cards, and you won't want to spend too much time at the fridge during this one.