UFC 126 -- What you need to know for Saturday

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UFC 126 -- What you need to know for Saturday

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.

Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

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Giants Notes: Blach shows resiliency; Another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

Agony still present, Kerr uncertain if he can coach Warriors in NBA Finals

SAN ANTONIO -- Those following the Warriors and their effort to rage through the playoffs should put away those thoughts and hopes that Steve Kerr will return to full-time coaching later this week or sometime before the NBA Finals.

Forget about it, unless you know something he doesn’t.

And if you do, he wants to hear what you have to say.

Don’t get it wrong: Kerr wants to coach, would love to coach. That’s why, even as he feels like hell, he’s hanging around the team like a languid groupie. He wants to be with the Warriors in the heat of battle because they’re his team, within the culture he instilled, and he would like nothing more to get another chance to win The Finals.

But because the procedure he underwent more than two weeks ago at Duke Spine Center did not deliver the relief he’d hoped for, Kerr knows he’s not up to the task and, therefore, continues to operate as sort of a associate head coach to acting head coach Mike Brown.

“Mike is doing great,” Kerr told NBCSportsBayArea.com late Monday night, after the Warriors clinched a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals with a 129-115 Game 4 win over the Spurs. “He’s such a wonderful human being. He’s so unselfish and team-oriented. I’m proud of him and the job he’s doing, along with the rest of the staff. I wish I could be out there with them. And maybe I will. I don’t know. We’ll see.

“He’s a great partner. And we’re in this together, obviously, but he’s got to make decisions with the staff without me. He’s done a great job of navigating the games. We’re undefeated, so he’s doing something right.”

Kerr can only help from the perimeter. The demands of the job require the coach be able to function at near-peak levels, particularly before and during a game, and he simply can’t. He knows there will be times, all too often, when the discomfort becomes unbearable to such a degree he hardly can think straight.

The agony is visible. The players see it. The staff sees it. Brown sees it, feels it and hears it. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is one of Kerr’s best friends -- as well as a good friend of Brown -- was able to see it during the Western Conference Finals.

“I've spoken with Steve and Mike; we're friends,” Popovich said two hours before Game 4. “We've known each other a long time. But as far as Steve's concerned, it's just a crap situation.

“You know, he's done a phenomenal job. And when you're going through that pain every day and that frustration of not being able to do what you want to do, it's hard to enjoy it at the fullest level. So I feel badly for him all the time but hopeful that stuff will get figured out.”

Nobody wants that more than Kerr, who has tried nearly everything any respectable specialist has recommended. So far, there has been no miracle.

So Kerr forges ahead, getting his Warriors fix by being around the group. By meeting with coaches and players. By meeting with general manager Bob Myers. Kerr was with the Warriors throughout their stay in San Antonio. He was at practices and shootarounds, sometimes on the floor and sometimes sitting in the stands observing from afar.

“I need to be around the guys,” he said. “I don’t want to miss this. Just being in the locker room, being able to talk to the guys means a lot to me. I’m thrilled for them. It’s fun to see how happy they are with three straight trips to The Finals. It’s pretty incredible.”

Kerr has been with the team for at least a few hours every day since May 10, less than a week after his procedure at Duke.

Kerr’s presence has been invaluable, both physically and psychologically, according to staff and players.

“Coach just empowers everybody,” Kevin Durant said. “His message is still the same. Even when he wasn't there in the Utah series, you could still feel his presence. That's what great leaders do.”

Participation, making himself feel useful, is one form of therapy that gives Kerr a semi-satisfying break from the misery.

“He watches film, and he watches the game,” Brown said. “So he gives his perspective from where he is. He gives insight on what we should be doing going forward, what he felt we could have done better, what we did that was good. So he just gives his input, mainly. He addresses the team every once in a while. He doesn't always do that, but he'll address the team from time to time.”

There was some belief that Kerr could return to full-time coaching within a week or so after the procedure, for which he declined to provide details. Warriors CEO Joe Lacob expressed hope Kerr might return “sooner rather than later.” Had it been as successful as Kerr and the doctors hoped, he would have.

That was May 5. Kerr announced he was stepping aside on April 23. As of Wednesday, he was been on leave for a full month.

Asked if he plans to travel during the NBA Finals, Kerr said he hopes so: “It’s like a month away,” he said, exaggerating the nine-day layoff.

He’d rather say with certainty that, yes, he will be accompanying the team because, after all, he’s the head coach.

And he will say that, the moment his body tells him it’s OK to do so.