Before headliners Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, Rich Franklin, Forrest Griffin, Jon Jones and Ryan Bader step into the cage at UFC 126 this Saturday night (Feb. 5), a star-studded preliminary card will jump-start the "Silva vs. Belfort" pay-per-view (PPV) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Remember that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of UFC 126, beginning with the PPV telecast at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011. In addition, we will deliver up-to-the-minute quick results of all the under card action much earlier on fight night.
The undercard will feature six bouts, including three-time WEC headliner Donald Cerrone's UFC debut against Paul Kelly, as well as the Octagon debut of Japanese legend "Kid" Yamamoto as he faces rising star Demetrious Johnson in a bantamweight contest.
This is the beginning of a week-long set of previews here at MMAmania.com. Please note that because of the importance and bearing the preliminary bout between Chad Mendes and Michihiro Omigawa has on the featherweight division, that fight will be getting full preview treatment while the welterweight fight between Jake Ellenberger and Carlos Eduardo Rocha will be examined in this post.
Remember that two of the preliminary bouts -- Cerrone vs. Kelly and Mendes vs. Omigawa -- will air live on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET prior to the UFC 126 pay-per-view broadcast, which begins at 10 p.m. ET.
Here we go:
The fighters: A four-fight UFC veteran, Pierce heads into Saturday's bout against the debuting Robertson in the opening fight of UFC 126: "Silva vs. Belfort." Pierce, known for his grinding style, is coming off a third-round submission win over the now-departed Amilcar Alves at UFC 118 back in August. A wrestler, Pierce's best career wins have come against Paul Bradley and Brock Larson. His two career defeats have come at the hands of UFC veteran Mark Munoz and Strikeforce veteran Nathan Coy.
Robertson, a veteran of Bellator, is undefeated in 10 career fights and has seven submission wins to his credit including a tapout of former UFC veteran John Kolosci in his lone Bellator contest. Two of his submission wins were via strikes and of the five regular submissions, he's used three different techniques. Against Igor Almeida in April 2010, Robertson spent much of the fight on top. In the second round, he hit Almeida with a big low blow while both were kicking. After the restart, Robertson cut Almeida open over the eye, but Almeida hung in there and tagged Robertson with some good shots. The finish was extremely odd. Robertson hit Almeida with what appeared to be a very non-descript shot but Almeida just turned and walked off and referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the fight.
What's at stake: Pierce needs an impressive performance here. He's spent his UFC time in the prelims because he doesn't have the most exciting style. If he ever wants to escape his Jon Fitch-tenure in prelim hell, he needs to put on a good performance here. Time will tell if Robertson will be able to avoid the dreaded "Octagon jitters," but having experience in a larger promotion like Bellator should help.
Pick: I like Pierce here. His style is so tough for welterweights at this level to go up against. Robertson isn't the type of striker that is going to make Pierce pay on the feet and that presents a problem. Robertson has fought some decent competition in his rise to the UFC but has not faced someone the level of Pierce, who has never been finished in his career. Pierce wins this by decision.
The fighters: A contestant on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 8, Kingsbury has yet to face a top-flight opponent in the UFC, losing to Tom Lawlor on the show's finale but following that up with decision wins over Razak Al-Hassan and Jared Hamman. Kingsbury, though, has been riddled with inactivity, fighting just once in 2008, 2009 and 2010. This will be his closest time between fights since 2007.
Romero, a veteran of the Northeast scene, had a rocky start in his UFC debut against Seth Petruzelli at UFC 116. He was rocked by Petruzelli on multiple occasions but Petruzelli gassed, allowing Romero to come back and submit him in the second round. Romero's only career loss came via disqualification and he has finished 10 of his 11 opponents, including the last three by submission.
What's at stake: Although he has not defeated anyone of note, Romero has the chance to compete in the deep light-heavyweight division given some time because of the skill-set he possesses. A win and he continues his ascent. For Kingsbury, a win here would be the biggest of his career and prove he belongs in the UFC.
Pick: For one, Romero needs to avoid gassing as badly as he did against Petruzelli to be successful in the UFC. A gas tank like that will not get him past a certain level. Kingsbury could be hanging by a thread with a loss here as most preliminary bout losers are these days. Kingsbury just doesn't do much for me. He certainly can take advantage of a winded Romero, but I see Romero submitting him in the first round.
The fighters: A long-time veteran of the Japanese scene, "Kid" Yamamoto will make his continental U.S. debut against rising star Johnson in a bantamweight bout. Yamamoto holds 13 of his 18 career wins by (T)KO and was one of the most dynamic and feared lighter-weight fighters in the world before arm and knee injuries took a toll on his body. Holding wins over the likes of Jeff Curran, Caol Uno, Genki Sudo, Bibiano Fernandes and Rani Yahya, Yamamoto returned from injury to face MMA neophyte Joe Warren in the 2009 DREAM featherweight tournament. Warren shocked the MMA world by eating Yamamoto's best shots and taking down the wrestler en route to winning a split decision. In his next fight, Yamamoto fell to then-SRC featherweight champion Masanori Kanehara. He rebounded with a quick knockout win against an overmatched Federico Lopez at DREAM.14 in May.
Johnson, nicknamed "Mighty Mouse," will be making his UFC debut following the WEC merger. After dropping a decision to veteran Brad Pickett at WEC 48, he rebounded with two straight wins, besting Nick Pace by decision at WEC 51 and then Damacio Page by guillotine choke at WEC 52. He is a solid fighter but untested against anybody with the type of power Yamamoto has. This is a big test for the 24-year old Johnson.
What's at stake: "Kid" has so much to prove in this fight. One of Japan's biggest homegrown stars, he comes into his UFC debut in a preliminary fight. For years, fans clamored for a fight between Yamamoto and Urijah Faber. For that to happen, he needs to win and keep winning. Will we see the "old Kid Yamamoto" here or just old "Kid" Yamamoto? A win here could skyrocket Johnson's standing in the division in a lot of people's minds.
Pick: If Yamamoto's lost his speed, he's going to have a real tough time keeping up with Johnson, who is known for how slippery-quick he is. This is such a tough fight to call because we don't know how much Yamamoto has left and we don't know where Johnson stands against a fighter like Yamamoto. I think Yamamoto is going to get off to a hot start and Johnson will have to battle some adversity, but he'll persevere through and, as Yamamoto slows down, take over the fight and win a very close decision.
The fighters: After flaming out in epic, unforgettable fashion on TUF 5, Ruediger was exiled from the UFC for three years. He got a last-minute call as an injury replacement to face hometown kid and fellow TUF 5 castmate Joe Lauzon at UFC 118 back in August. What transpired that night was one of the most vicious and thorough beatdowns in UFC history. Lauzon was all over Ruediger from the opening bell, thoroughly dismantling and owning him before submitting him with an armbar at the 2:01 mark of the first round, snapping Ruediger's six-fight win streak. After such an embarrassing performance where he never even got off the blocks, it's surprising Ruediger gets another chance, but the UFC has proven time and again if you take a late fight, you'll likely be brought back regardless.
This will mark Taylor's ninth time inside the Octagon but only second in the U.S. A long-time staple of the UFC's shows in the U.K., this will be Taylor's second straight fight in America. He comes in riding a two-fight losing streak, dropping decisions to John Hathaway (UFC 105) and Sam Stout (UFC 121). After a hot UFC start, Taylor has cooled, but has been involved in three bouts that have earned "Fight of the Night" honors.
What's at stake: This is definitely a "loser leaves town" fight. It's hard to fathom Taylor having nine UFC fights after this but alas, he will. Ruediger needs something here after being blown out of the water by Lauzon. For Taylor, a 3-6 record is not the type of record one can keep his job with. Both of these men should be fighting for their lives here.
Pick: This is your classic "striker vs. grappler" fight. Taylor has solid kickboxing while Ruediger is solid on the canvas. When the chips are down, Ruediger tends to disappoint. This would be a perfect time to turn that trend around, but, as the old timers (and apparently me) say, a leopard doesn't change its spots. Taylor by decision.
The fighters: After having two impressive wins in three outings in 2010, Kelly will look to get his 2011 off to a good start here against Cerrone. Kelly last fought at UFC 123, stopping T.J. O'Brien with elbows in the second round. He also put in another good performance at UFC 112 in April, submitting Matt Veach with a guillotine choke. In between, he dropped a decision to Jacob Volkmann. Those two stoppage wins in 2010 were the first of Kelly's UFC career. Is it a sign of things to come or of the competition?
Cerrone, who seemingly fought on every-other WEC show, makes his UFC debut as an injury replacement. A two-time WEC lightweight title contender, Cerrone failed on both occasions, losing a technical decision to Jamie Varner and then was submitted by Ben Henderson. After his loss to Henderson, Cerrone came back with two straight wins. The first came by decision in a heated grudge match against Jamie Varner at WEC 51 and the second by triangle choke against Chris Horodecki at WEC 53 in December. Cerrone brings a solid submission game to the table and his striking has improved. His wrestling, though, could use improvement, but was visibly improved against Varner.
What's at stake: Cerrone was loved by WEC brass and will pretty much take any fight. He's the first real test to see if the WEC lightweights can hang in the UFC and this is a perfect test. Kelly needs to make a move to prove he isn't just a middling lightweight. A win over Cerrone would undoubtedly be the biggest of his career.
Pick: As stated, this is a perfect test to see where Cerrone stands and it's a perfect fight for him to make his UFC debut with. After some furious striking by both men, Kelly will take Cerrone down, but while there, Cerrone will tap him out. Cerrone takes this one by submission in the second round.
The fighters: Ellenberger, a wrestler with powerful striking, comes into this main-card bout riding a two-fight win streak, stopping both Mike Pyle and John Howard by TKO. Against Howard, Ellenberger just pounded on Howard's face until the swelling was so bad that the bout was waved off. Ellenberger made a big impression in his UFC debut in a losing effort against Carlos Condit. He hurt the former WEC welterweight champion and had him reeling and almost stopped early before letting him off the hook and losing a split decision. Although he's only accumulated three fights in the UFC, Ellenberger was tested prior to his days in the Octagon, facing the likes of Jay Hieron, Delson Heleno, Pat Healy and Rick Story before his UFC debut.
Rocha is a slick Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist whose only seen one of his nine career fights enter the second round. Of those nine wins, eight have come by submission, including a first-round kneebar submission of Kris McCray at UFC 122 in November. It will be interesting to see how he performs on the big stage in Las Vegas against someone as experienced and powerful as Ellenberger.
What's at stake: Ellenberger has some steam behind him following back-to-back stoppage wins. Nothing gets you noticed more in the UFC than those and beating an undefeated fighter certainly would be another big notch on his belt. Rocha needs to prove he can pull out some of his submission magic against a fighter like Ellenberger.
Pick: Rocha is slick, no doubt, and this is a good chance for me to look like a fool, but I see Ellenberger using his wrestling to keep this fight on the feet, where he'll batter Rocha, tiring him out and either gaining a late stoppage or a decision win. Of course, Rocha could submit him quickly, too. I like style fights like this a lot. I'm looking forward to seeing these two compete.
That's a wrap.
Now it's your turn, Maniacs. Share your thoughts on these six bouts with us in the comments section!