From predictions to observations to useless information and even more useless opinions, here's some food for thought in advance of UFC 126 from Las Vegas on Saturday night:
I. Vitor Belfort's mental game will be his biggest obstacle to overcome. Throughout his career, Belfort has been spectacular when things go well early on. It's when they start to turn against him that he crumbles. At times Belfort seems like he's waiting to find out whether he's going to win rather than going out and making it happen. His best chance is to catch Silva with something in the first round – maybe even the first two minutes. If he gives Silva a chance to figure out his timing and range, forget it. Of all the things Belfort does well, battling through adversity isn't one of them.
II. Miguel Torres will punch a hole in Antonio Banuelos' head. It will be swift, and it won't be close.
III. Forrest Griffin and Rich Franklin will steal the show. Griffin may be an ornery, grumpy malcontent, and Franklin might spend the occasional morning lying in bed and wishing Anderson Silva had never been born, but together they have the ingredients for a great fight. They never quit and they're not afraid to get messy. This one will go the distance, and by the end there will be a Fight of the Night check waiting for both of them.
IV. With the infusion of WEC lightweights, there's just not enough food for all the 155-pounders to eat. It's a simple, yet brutal math problem. There are only two lightweight bouts on this card: Donald Cerrone vs. Paul Kelly and Paul Taylor vs. Gabe Ruediger. The loser in each could easily find himself out of work next week.
V. For as long as the Jon Jones-Ryan Bader fight stays on the feet, Jones' reach will be a serious problem. Bader's reach is listed at 74 inches, which is about what it should be for a 6'2" man. Jones' reach? 84.5 inches. Considering that he's only two inches taller than Bader, that's serious freak territory. It will also probably force Bader to shoot from farther away than usual, and prevent him from getting close enough to launch the right hand he's used so effectively in the past. Could be a short night for Bader if he stays at the end of Jones' long arms.
VI. Michihiro Omigawa turned 35 in December. Of the featherweights listed on the current UFC roster, only Mike Brown (who turned 35 in September) and Jason Reinhardt (who is 41) are older. Did his age influence the oddsmakers who pegged him a nearly 3-1 underdog against Chad Mendes? Unclear, but at -340, Mendes is one of the heaviest favorites on the card.
VII. Kyle Kingsbury vs. Ricardo Romero will be the best fight you won't get to see. That is, unless there's a lot of extra time on the broadcast, and let's hope there is.
VIII. What happens to Donald Cerrone now that he doesn't have Jamie Varner to kick around anymore? "Cowboy" was among the most interesting and outspoken WEC lightweights, and nothing fired him up more than his intense rivalry with Varner. But Varner didn't make the leap to the UFC, so now Cerrone is a little like Tom without Jerry. (Wait, which one was the mouse? Forget it, doesn't matter.) The point is, Cerrone's not the type to just thank his sponsors and move on, so who will he curse up and down now? If he beats Paul Kelly and gets a mic in front of his face afterward, my guess is he'll already have someone in mind.
IX. The dynamic "Kid" Yamamoto we used to know and love? Sorry, but he doesn't live here anymore. His UFC signing is more about past glory than future promise. Four or five years ago he would have bludgeoned a guy like Demetrious Johnson into unconsciousness before you could even log on to Facebook to watch it. Those days are gone, and they aren't coming back. If he escapes with a decision win, I'll be mildly surprised.
X. His bout with Jake Ellenberger will mark the first time in his pro MMA career that Carlos Eduardo Rocha has fought outside of Germany. The undefeated Brazilian finished all but one of his nine fights via submission, and only one made it out of the first round. Still, Vegas is a long way from Magdeburg, and Ellenberger has only been submitted once in his career.
XI. No matter what Anderson Silva does – whether it's playing or dominating or losing in a shocking upset – it will be sufficiently newsworthy that you will be forced to have at least one kind of irritating conversation about it at a Super Bowl party the next day. And yes, that conversation will probably happen over a container of dip. And no, the person you're having the conversation with will probably not know what they are talking about.
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