UFC 126 predictions, preview and analysis

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UFC 126: "Silva vs. Belfort" is set to go down tomorrow night (Feb. 5) live from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

MMAmania.com will provide LIVE updates with blow-by-blow, round-by-round commentary of the main card action on fight night, which is slated to air at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view (PPV).

It's been just over a year since Vitor Belfort was first booked to throw leather against reigning 185-pound champion Anderson Silva; however, a bum shoulder and subsequent surgery forced "The Phenom" to bow out of their UFC 112 title fight in Abu Dhabi.

And what a long, strange trip it's been for "The Spider" since then.

After he danced the night away against Demian Maia in Ferrari World, the middleweight menace went belly up against the hormonally challenged Chael Sonnen, saving his legacy with applied geometry in the fifth and final round of their August 2010 title fight.

Was it the beginning of the end for the Silva era? Or a much needed wake-up call?

We'll find out tomorrow night.

And if the all-Brazilian headliner isn't enough to blanch your almonds, keep in mind that a couple of main event-quality match-ups round out the televised card including Jon Jones vs. Ryan Bader and Rich Franklin vs. Forrest Griffin.

It's a good day to be a fight fan.

I've also included the current betting lines for each fight so you can get a feel for what the money has to say about the chances of each combatant.

Now, enough with the formalities ... let's get cracking:

185 lbs.: Anderson "The Spider" Silva (27-4) vs. Vitor "The Phenom" Belfort (19-8)

Nostradumbass predicts: Anderson Silva told the media at the UFC 126 pre-fight press conference that the "fight of the decade" would be him vs. his clone. Way to stay humble there, champ. Is anyone else sick of this guy? All we need is for him to eat Vitor Belfort's children and MMA will finally have its Mike Tyson.

I see a lot of arguments in favor of Belfort based on the "Silva vs. Sonnen" fight from UFC 117 and while I agree that his performance against the soon to be bitch-titted middleweight was his worst to date, you can't just erase five years of dominance based on one bad night. Maybe he really did hurt his rib -- or maybe he was too worried about the takedowns to effectively defend on his feet.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt.

That's why I want to take it back a little farther. I saw something in his fight against Demian Maia at UFC 112 that I hadn't seen before. No, not his childish outbursts, I've seen plenty of those, I mean his rapid decline as the fight progressed. Now I know the Portuguese mouthpiece that is Ed Soares will tell you a nice little fable about Silva's intentions but let's just call a spade a spade: Anderson Silva was gassed. That allowed Demian Maia to land in rounds four and five.

And he landed clean.

Just like Sonnen landed clean in their fight last August. Now let's not dishonor Vitor Belfort by trying to compare his hands with the hands of Maia and Sonnen. They don't call him the "Phenom" because he starred in a failed sitcom with Judith Light; that name comes from speed and talent, which on Saturday night will be enough to finally topple "The Spider."

It is his destiny.

I don't usually believe in any of that preordained crap, but if you look at what Belfort has been through in his career, it's hard to deny that the stars had to align for this fight to actually come to fruition. Between Affliction folding, Vitor pulling out of UFC 112, Anderson nearly losing to Chael, I mean the list goes on and on. And if you break down the list of available middleweights, who else has the tools to get it done? You can make an argument that Belfort's been crushing cans since 2006, but Silva's done some recycling himself. Part of his "legacy" includes three straight wins against James Irvin, Patrick Cote and Thales Leites -- none of whom are still employed with the UFC.

The clock is ticking on Anderson Silva. Nothing lasts forever, especially win streaks (see Emelianenko, Fedor). Sooner or later the division will catch up to you and if it doesn't, Father Time will. The bad news for the champ is that it's almost always a downward spiral rather than a slow decline.

In aeronautics they refer to that as "The Death Plunge." Silva's engine started smoking back in April 2010 before it lost all power in August. On Feb. 5, he finally crashes and burns.

Betting lines (as of Feb. 4):

Silva: -220 ((Bet Now))

Belfort: +175 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Belfort vis technical knockout

205 lbs.: Rich "Ace" Franklin (28-5) vs. Forrest Griffin (17-6)

Nostradumbass predicts:  Say what you want about Rich Franklin, but the guy hasn't had an easy career. His fight against Forrest Griffin will be his fifth straight against a former world champion. Most guys get to bully a few bums as a reward for a tough schedule (kind of like when the NY Giants beat up on the Chicago Bears last October), but I suppose they call him "Ace" for a reason: He's the ace in Dana's hole. Uh, so to speak. Company man? Perhaps. Great fighter? No question. Unfortunately he's a great middleweight fighter and merely above average at light heavyweight.

That's why he comes up short on Saturday night.

Griffin is coming off a long layoff but c'mon, let's be real here, what exactly will Forrest suffer from with his absence? Is he a precision-point striker? A staunch gameplanner? No. The rough-and-tumble Griffin that storms the cage this weekend will be the same one that left it back in November 2009. And that's not necessarily a bad thing (Anderson Silva notwithstanding). Remember, this is a fighter who beat "Shogun" Rua and "Rampage" Jackson and held the 205-pound belt. He's big, strong and comes to fight.

So how does this one play out?

Franklin is clearly the superior striker, but he's so damn easy to take down and his size disadvantage puts him at serious risk. It wouldn't surprise me to see him dominate round one on the feet only to get taken down and beaten up in rounds two and three. Griffin won't get the submission because Franklin is too experienced and too well conditioned, but I think he does enough both on top and pressed against the cage to win over the judges.

Neither fighter has the kind of chin you'd bring home to mama, but they make up for it in conditioning. Both have been dropped only to recover and continue on (again, Anderson Silva notwithstanding). Rich Franklin and Forrest Griffin are pretty evenly matched, which is why I'm sticking with the old bar-fight maxim that a good big man will always beat a good small one.

And just think, if Forrest wins, he could be in line to rematch Rampage, Shogun or even Rashad Evans depending on how their upcoming fights play out.

Ooh-rah.

Betting lines (as of Feb. 4):

Franklin: -165 ((Bet Now))

Griffin: +135 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Griffin via split decision

205 lbs.: Jon "Bones" Jones (11-1) vs. Ryan "Darth" Bader (12-0)

Nostradumbass predicts: There's nothing worse than having to pick a fighter you don't particularly care for, but it's hard not to like Jon Jones in this fight. Even if you convinced me his skill set was equal to Ryan Bader's (it isn't), I still have to give "Bones" a huge advantage simply for his ridiculous 84.5 reach.

That's a ten inch advantage on "Darth," who has the arms of a T-Rex compared to his lanky foe.

Bader is 12-0 for a reason. He's a husky wrestler with a big right hand and most MMA fans will tell you that anyone with his combination of wrestling and power will beat 95-percent of his competition with just those two skills alone. Heck, you don't even need crazy power, just high level wrestling.

Unfortunately Jones is in the remaining five percent.

What makes him so difficult to prepare for is his unpredictability. That, combined with his speed and athleticism, leaves Bader very few options when it comes to training partners. You can train against other high level wrestlers and you can spar against great boxers, but watching tape on Jones must be an exercise in madness -- there are very few tells.

Having said that, I'm not quite ready to anoint him as the second coming or label him the Muhammad Ali of MMA (really Bruce?) because he's never been pushed. Remember that Lyoto Machida was the sport's big X-factor until "Shogun" Rua turned him inside out.

And there's a marked difference between beating the brakes off guys like Matt Hamill and mixing it up with a fighter like Rua.

Bottom line: Ryan Bader is a formidable contender but too one dimensional in his offense to win this fight. I don't think he gets finished, he's way too tough for that, but Jones will find more openings, do more damage and just be all around funkier on fight night.

Betting lines (as of Feb. 4):

Jones: -300 ((Bet Now))

Bader: +220 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Jones via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Miguel Torres (38-3) vs. Antonio Banuelos (18-6)

Nostradumbass predicts:  I hear a lot of bologna about Miguel Torres from people when they talk about his place among the mixed martial arts elite. Do we throw another body on the pile because he coughed up his title to Brian Bowles and was subsequently submitted by Joseph Benavidez? Do me a favor and take a poll and find a fighter that wouldn't be happy with a 38-3 record.

It's easy to say he's fought "nobodies" just because a majority of his opponents haven't competed for the big three, but this is MMA and like we always say, anything can happen. Going 38-3 in a sport that allows such a small margin for error is impressive no matter who you fight because let's face it, when the cage door shuts, you have still have to face a man whose sole purpose is to destroy you.

In addition, he's finished 32 of his 38 opponents. You can act blase over his record but that my friends is an accomplishment in and of itself.

/nuthuggery.

Torres is a great fighter and his opponent is not. Antonio Banuelos is a good fighter and that's kept him afloat in the WEC, but I think he's outmatched here. What Torres doesn't want to do is play macho man and turn this thing into a rock 'em-sock 'em robots match because Banuelos is dangerous from close range.

I understand that a UFC debut carries certain expectations, but this isn't the time for showboating. If Torres can play it smart and use his jab and reach advantage to pepper his way to winning the first two rounds, Banuelos will likely resort to his wrestling, resulting in a Torres submission win in round three.

Betting lines (as of Feb. 4):

Torres: -350 ((Bet Now))

Banuelos: +250 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Torres via submission

170 lbs.: Jake Ellenberger (22-5) vs. Carlos Edwardo "Ta Danado" Rocha (9-0)

Nostradumbass predicts: Jake Ellenberger is doing what no fighter ever should: He's already talking about his next fight. And by "next" I mean after he battles his Brazilian foe on Saturday night. He's already got himself booked against Jon Fitch (his original UFC 126 opponent) and by the time he realizes he should have been paid more attention to Rocha, they'll be waking him up somewhere around the midway point of round one.

Much like my superb upset pick of Miguel Goncalves over Gerald Harris back at UFC 123, this too represents a Brazilian fighter that many people are overlooking simply because they haven't seen or heard much from him in his short but stellar career.

You know, kinda like Kris McCray, who flew back to Virginia with his leg stuffed in carry-on thanks to a "Savage" kneebar from "Ta Danado."

Ellenberger has power but his real strength is in his wrestling -- though I'm not sure how much time you want to spend on the ground with a guy who is 9-0 with eight submissions. While only one fighter has made it out of the first round against Rocha, the big question coming into this welterweight scrap is whether or not he has the hands to stay afloat until he can work his jits.

I don't think it will matter.

Ellenberger is dreaming of long walks on the beach with the Fitchster and will enter this fight overconfident and distracted. Rocha by painful submission. And at +220! There's a Sunday brunch somewhere in New Jersey that's gonna feel the wrath of Nostradumbass...

Betting lines (as of Feb. 4):

Ellenberger: -300 ((Bet Now))

Rocha: +220 ((Bet Now))

Prediction: Rocha via submission

That's a wrap, folks.

Remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of UFC 126: "Silva vs. Belfort."

What do you think? Now it's your turn ... let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for tomorrow night's event.

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