What: UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort
Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas
When: Saturday, the undercard starts around 7 PM ET, the Spike TV fights start at 9 and the pay-per-view starts at 10.
Predictions on the five pay-per-view fights below.
Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort
Silva is still regarded by many as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but it's been a long time since he's had the kind of thrilling title defense that we once just assumed we'd always get from the Spider: Silva's last four defenses of his middleweight title were the lackluster bout with Patrick Cote that ended abruptly when Cote hurt his knee, the two bizarre decisions against Thales Leites and Demian Maia, and most recently his Hail Mary submission of Chael Sonnen after Sonnen had whipped him for four rounds.
Does that mean Silva is getting old? Does it mean he's getting bored with a lack of challenges at middleweight? Does it mean the cut to 185 pounds takes a lot out of him? I think it might mean all of those things, and yet I also think Belfort, a power puncher who has knocked out his last three opponents, could be just the guy to bring out the best in Silva. Silva won't clown around with Belfort the way he did with Cote, Leites and Maia.
But while Belfort's knockout power makes him a threat to anyone, there are questions about whether we'll see the best Vitor Belfort on Saturday night: Belfort hasn't fought in 16 months, so ring rust could be a factor. Belfort also parted ways with trainer Shawn Tompkins while preparing for this fight, which paves the way for more questions about his preparation.
Is it possible that Belfort could knock Silva out? Sure, it's possible that Belfort could knock anyone out. But Silva's head movement is second to none, and he's a more complete striker than Belfort. I like Silva to soften Belfort up with leg kicks early in the fight and eventually finish him on the ground.
Forrest Griffin vs. Rich Franklin
Like Belfort, Griffin didn't fight at all in 2010. So ring rust could be an issue here as well. But if Griffin is ready to go mentally and physically, I think he should handle Franklin. Griffin has a significant size advantage (he's a big light heavyweight, while Franklin only moved up from middleweight because he wanted to make another run at a title and knew he couldn't beat Silva), and I expect him to use his reach to stay outside, land leg kicks and wear Franklin down on the way to winning a decisive decision.
Jon Jones vs. Ryan Bader
This is as good as it gets if you want to see a battle of young prospects. The 23-year-old Jones is widely regarded as the next big thing in mixed martial arts, but Bader is 12-0 and the best prospect to come out of The Ultimate Fighter in years.
Jones is a huge favorite -- an even heavier favorite than Silva according to the Vegas odds -- and I wonder if some people are so overwhelmed by how impressive Jones has looked recently that they aren't giving Bader enough of a shot. Bader is big and strong and an outstanding wrestler, and he's not just going to get thrown onto his back the way Jones' last few opponents have. Bader also has knockout power in his hands, and he might be able to test Jones's chin in a way no one else really has.
But as good as Bader is, Jones is on a whole other level. The things Jones has done in the cage in his last three fights -- absolutely brutalizing Matt Hamill, Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko with vicious elbows -- are awe-inspiring, and at this point there are very, very few fighters in the world I'd pick to beat Jones.
Jake Ellenberger vs. Carlos Eduardo Rocha
Hardly any fans knew who Rocha was before he put on a show in his UFC debut in October, submitting Kris McCray with a beautiful kneebar. Rocha is 9-0 in his MMA career with eight wins by submission, so he's extremely dangerous for anyone on the ground. But what Rocha hasn't done so far is face a strong wrestler, and that's exactly what he's getting in Ellenberger. The 23-5 Ellenberger has the power to knock Rocha out standing up, the ground and pound to win a TKO, or the top control to win a decision. A Rocha submission wouldn't shock me, but I like Ellenberger to win.
Miguel Torres vs. Antonio Banuelos
It wasn't that long ago that Torres was the WEC bantamweight champion and widely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. A two-fight losing streak set Torres back, but he looked good beating Charlie Valencia in September, and he should be able to use his superior height and reach to win the striking exchanges with Banuelos and win a decision.