Main Card:

Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort

For my money this is as good a match-up as we’ll see this year featuring two of the best fighters the sport has produced going toe-to-toe in a match-up that’s as much about pride, honor and rivalry as it is about the UFC’s middleweight title.

The assumption going into this fight is that it’ll be primarily fought on the feet, and that suits both men fine. Silva is as fluid a fighter as there is in MMA, showing true mastery of all eight limbs, with pinpoint accuracy in his combinations, exceptional counter-striking, immaculate footwork and KO power.

Belfort doesn’t have the same versatility in his striking arsenal, but what he does have is excellent technical boxing, fast hands, and of the two, arguably more power, and that’s led to four of his last five fights ending by KO. He also has the killer instinct when things are going his way, and shows ruthless efficiency in finishing fighters if he gets them hurt.

These two men are more than just strikers though, each have well-rounded skills. Both are BJJ black belts, with Silva perhaps holding the edge there in competition thanks to his uncanny knack for pulling out submissions at opportune moments, such as in trying circumstances against Dan Henderson, Travis Lutter and most recently Chael Sonnen.

While not a master of the art, I’d give the wrestling edge to Belfort though, and if he can get Silva down he’s provide a real threat via ground and pound.

A major factor in this fight is Belfort’s long layoff due to a shoulder injury. Ring rust is unquestionably a factor in MMA, especially so in a five round fight, and the 15 months he’s been out will be a cause for concern. It’s also worth noting that Belfort has never gone five rounds before in his career. The majority of his wins have come in the first round, and he’s only won two of the seven fights he’s been in that have gone three full rounds.

The other issue for Belfort is his much talked about ‘weak’ mental game. This has been a problem before for him in major fights, and though he does hold wins over Randy Couture, Wanderlei Silva and Rich Franklin, he’s lost in many others against the likes of Tito Ortiz, Dan Henderson, Chuck Liddell, Alistair Overeem (twice) and Randy Couture (twice).

Prediction:

There’s no doubt this fight could go either way, but I do favor Silva. He’s proven his skills time and again in the octagon and handles himself well under pressure, whereas Belfort is more erratic. The long layoff is also a major issue for the challenger, and it’s possible he’ll struggle if the fight goes to the later rounds. Assuming Silva doesn’t get over-confident and stays composed I believe his versatile striking will get the better of Belfort’s and allow him to secure a TKO victory in the later rounds.

Anderson Silva to win by TKO in Rd3.

Forrest Griffin vs. Rich Franklin

Two of the most likable fighters in the UFC who also happen to have a similar fighting style do battle in the co-main event of UFC 126.

As both fighters have been keen to stress in the build-up to the fight, they are almost mirror images of one another. Each is well rounded, likes to strike but doesn’t have devastating power, and has excellent cardio, allowing them to push the pace for three full rounds.

There are some differences though. Griffin is significantly bigger than Franklin for instance, but on the flipside former 185lb champion Franklin is quicker, has better movement and is more technical in his striking.

There’s also the possibility of this fight hitting the mat, with Griffin seeming to hint at that strategy at times lately. That would certainly give him an opportunity to use his size to his advantage, and he has under-rated BJJ skills that could work to his advantage. Franklin is well versed on the ground as well however, has a knack of getting back to his feet, and has never been submitted.

Griffin’s not been afraid to admit 13 months sitting on the sidelines due to a shoulder injury is hardly ideal preparation for such a tough fight. It’s perhaps balanced slightly though by the fact that Franklin has also spent 8 months out due to a broken arm.

Prediction:

I feel that Franklin is still better of at 185lbs as he’s a little undersized at light-heavyweight, but at the same time I’ve always felt Griffin was a good match-up for him at 205lbs since he’s not a particularly powerful striker. Griffin’s recent hints that he may try to take Franklin down certainly gives me pause for thought, but I’m going to stick with my original feeling that Franklin can use his speed and movement to get the better of the stand-up exchanges and claim a close, hard-fought decision win.

Rich Franklin to win by decision.

Ryan Bader vs. Jon Jones

Two of the top up-and-coming stars at 205lbs clash in the third major showdown on the UFC 126 fight card.

Bader has consistently exceeded expectations since winning TUF season 8, putting together a five fight winning streak in the UFC, to remain undefeated in his twelve fight career. A strong wrestling base has been at the core of his success so far, but he’s also now demonstrating that he has heavy hands in the stand-up as well, making up for a lack of versatility in his striking.

Jones has far more hype heading into this fight thanks to his flashy style which includes eye-catching spinning elbows and backfists, and spectacular throws, and the fact that he’s been blasting through opponents with apparent ease. What’s really remarkable is that he’s still only been training MMA for a few years. That means he’s still a little rough around the edges, but that at the same time he’s clearly a natural, and is improving every time he steps into the Octagon.

Jones also has one massive advantage over all his opponents in that he has the biggest reach in the UFC at 84.5 inches, meaning he’ll have a jaw-dropping 10.5 inch reach advantage over Bader on Saturday night. That should do a lot to negate Bader’s power advantage, and should encourage the TUF winner to attempt to take this fight to the floor instead.

It’ll be interesting to see what unfolds if Bader does indeed try to take him down. Jones is very unorthadox from the clinch, able to pull off unexpected throws at the blink of an eye, and other wrestlers such as Matt Hamill and Vladimir Matyushenko haven’t had any luck getting him down, and yet ‘Bones’ has been able to take them down effortlessly.

If Bader can succeed where others have failed he might discover a previously hidden weak-spot in Jones game as it’s still unknown how well he can fight from his back, and his BJJ skills are very much a work in progress. To be fair Bader is no BJJ master himself, but he does have good control on top and will threaten with his ground and pound.

Prediction:

Of the three big fights on this card I’m most confident about my prediction for this one (clearly the kiss of death!). I’m definitely a Jon Jones believer, and think he’ll be too much for Bader who’s picked up some decent wins but has never really dominated or shone in the way that his Jones has. I think Jones reach will make it very hard for Bader to land anything meaningful, and will also make it awkward for him to close the distance and secure the takedown. I expect Jones to dominate the stand-up and eventually wear down Bader for a third round stoppage.

Jon Jones to win by TKO in Rd3.

Jake Ellenberger vs. Carlos Eduardo Rocha

Ellenberger is an emerging force at 170lbs and he’ll have a chance to take another step up the ladder if he can overcome the undefeated Rocha.

Yet another fighter finding success thanks to his wrestling base, Ellenberger can certainly dominate in that aspect of the game, but where he can set himself apart from many of his contemporaries is that he also finishes fights rather than just opting to ‘lay and pray.’

He’s got solid striking fundamentals, powerful ground and pound, and with his only loss in the UFC being in an extremely close fight with Carlos Condit, he’s proven himself to be a real handful for anybody in the division.

Rocha only has one fight in the UFC so far, and made short work of Kris McCray by first round submission which gives you a good indication of where his major strength lies. In total eight of the BJJ black belt’s nine victories have come by way of submission, and therefore he won’t be afraid of being taken down be Ellenberger.

Prediction:

I think Rocha’s perhaps a little unfairly been thrown straight in to the main card against one of the division’s tougher opponents here. It’s a big step up for him, and I think he’ll struggle to adjust against the best wrestler he’s faced to date. Ellenberger got into some fairly deep water with Condit as far as submissions go and survived, and I think he’ll be a little older and wiser about how to avoid similar situations in this fight. I believe he can have some success on his feet here too when neceassary, but I expect him to overpower Rocha on the mat for the most part to claim a late TKO victory.

Jake Ellenberger to win by TKO in Rd3.

Miguel Torres vs. Antonio Banuelos

Not so long ago Miguel Torres was an unstoppable force at bantamweight in the WEC, but now he’s looking to start afresh against Antonio Banuelos after losing two of his last three fights.

Torres stand-up style takes on elements of both boxing and muay thai, and along with good reach, something he’ll be enjoying plenty of against the 5ft 3″ Banuelos, and a hard nosed attitude makes him dangerous. He’s also very crafty on the ground with a dangerous BJJ guard that’s helped him to win 23 fights by submission during his career.

Banuelos is a good boxer, working well from the inside to help negate the size and reach disadvantage he often experiences. He’s also a strong wrestler and after watching Scott Jorgensen give Torres problems on the floor he might be tempted to risk taking him down and try to wear him down while avoiding the submission attempts.

Prediction:

Two recent losses have been a wake-up call for Torres who had cruised to 17 straight victories prior to that, and he’s completely reworked his training, now working with GSP’s trainer Firas Zahabi a the Tri-Star gym. Banuelos is a decent fighter, but I don’t think he’s as good as Jorgensen who gave Torres problems, and I expect Torres to fight cautiously but effectively in the early rounds before turning up the heat late on to get the finish.

Miguel Torres to win by submission in Rd3

Prelims: (Predicted winners in bold)

Donald Cerrone vs. Paul Kelly
Chad Mendes vs. Michihiro Omigawa
Gabe Ruediger vs. Paul Taylor
Demetrious Johnson vs. Norifumi “KID” Yamamoto
Mike Pierce vs. Kenny Robertson
Kyle Kingsbury vs. Ricardo Romero

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