The UFC’s Super Bowl Saturday card is an annual stacked event with great fights from top to bottom, and this year is no exception. Highlighting a fantastically deep card is the main event that has been in the making for more than a year, as “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort finally gets his shot at Anderson Silva and the Middleweight championship.
Silva is arguably the greatest fighter the UFC has ever seen, and I love watching him do his thing (when he isn’t clowning around in the cage), but as always with sports I find myself rooting for the underdog when “The Spider” gets in the Octagon. In my heart I knew Silva would beat guys like Cote, Griffin, Maia, and Irvin, but it would have been cool to see any one of those shock the MMA world and take out the unbeatable.
But this fight is very different. Even though I have been dying to see the ever-exciting Vitor Belfort and his lightning quick hands take on the champ since the day it was originally announced back in late 2009, Dana White has given me no choice but to root for Silva. That’s because he recently said if the both he and Georges St. Pierre win their upcoming bouts (St. Pierre fights Jake Shields in April), the ultimate super fight of all time would finally happen.
“What happened is they’re both close to cleaning out their division,” White said to ESPN.com. “If Anderson beats Vitor Belfort and St. Pierre beats Jake Shields, seriously, what’s left for them? It’s a fun fight to do.”
Calling this dream matchup a “fun fight to do” is on the same level of the understatement scale as saying “Brett Favre kind of milked his retirement farewell tour in the NFL a little bit,” or “Godfather III just wasn’t quite as epic as the first two installments.” If the two best mixed martial artists I have ever seen go head to head in the fight we have all been waiting for (but never really expecting) the past three years, it will be the biggest fight in MMA history, bar-none and hands down (also my head will explode).
Assuming a Vitor Belfort win would jeopardize this epic possible clash, I cannot in good conscience do anything but root heavily for Anderson Silva like the entire sport is in his hands- because a Silva/GSP fight card would be so big in terms of PPV buys, gate, and national exposure, that it kind of is.
Without any further adieu, here are my predictions for the Silva vs. Belfort tilt, as well as the other fights on this top notch UFC 126 main card. So far I am a disappointing 6-7 with my fight results, so while I am confident in my picks for this Saturday you might not want to use my opinions and put your life savings on them.
BANTAMWEIGHT- MIGUEL ANGEL TORRES vs. ANTONIO BANUELOS
The first big Bantamweight fight in the UFC should be a good one. If you have never seen Miguel Torres fight then you are in for a treat. This guy goes 100% from the opening bell until the fight is over, a quality many of the 135 guys have (which is what makes the division so exciting). The former WEC champ comes into the UFC with less fanfare than we would have expected a year and a half ago. After his epic victory over Takeya Mizugaki in April 2009, Torres pushed his win streak to 17 and his overall record to 37-1. Not only was Miguel considered the best MMA Bantamweight on Earth, but he was in the discussion for best pound for pound fighter as well.
But Torres lost his belt in devastating fashion to Brian Bowles, and then got choked out by Joseph Benavidez in the span of 9 months, sending the former champ from immortal status to pedestrian in fans eyes. He won his final fight in the WEC though, and looks to get another winning streak going as he enters the famed Octagon on Pay-Per-View.
His opponent is no gimme, as Banuelos is a well respected fighter with some quality wins like the one against Scott Jorgensen. He has a good wrestling background and solid boxing skills, but at 5 foot 3 I just don’t think he will have the reach to stand with Miguel Torres. If he can find a way to get Torres down maybe he can pound him out, but I would be surprised if the former WEC champ Torres didn’t pick Banuelos apart in this fight. I like Miguel to use his reach, jab Banuelos repeatedly, and hammer him against the cage until he goes down and the ref steps in.
Fight Hype: 3 out of 5 stitches * * *
Rizzi’s Prediction: Torres via 2nd round TKO
WELTERWEIGHT- JAKE ELLENBERGER vs. CARLOS EDUARDO ROCHA
I don’t know too much about Rocha, other than the one fight I saw him in, and that was an impressive one. He submitted Kris McCray with a beautiful kneebar at UFC 122 in Germany just a couple of months ago, and he is now 9-0 in his MMA career.
There is no way though that Rocha has ever faced an opponent like Jake Ellenberger. One of the top up and coming welterweights in MMA, Ellenberger is a top notch wrestler and a good boxer coming off back to back impressive wins over Mike Pyle and John Howard. This fight was originally supposed to pit Ellenberger against top contender Jon Fitch, which most likely would have meant a loss.
Now he gets a much easier opponent (at least on paper), so hopefully for his sake he did not let up at all in his training. Rocha may not have the resume of Fitch, but he is still undefeated and this is still a fight so anything can happen. I expect Ellenberger to come out and fight like a true pro, but if he takes this bout lightly or makes a mistake he could easily get submitted.
Fight Hype: 2 out of 5 stitches * *
Rizzi’s Prediction: Ellenberger via unanimous decision
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT- JON JONES vs. RYAN BADER
Oooooh baby, this is going to be a good one. Ryan Bader is undefeated in his career, is a former TUF champion, is a phenomenal wrestler with underrated hands and excellent cardio, and has impressive wins over Eric Schafer, Keith Jardine, and Antonio Rogerio Noguiera. And yet, I am not giving him much of a shot to win this fight.
It’s nothing against Bader, who I do believe is a top contender at light heavyweight, but I am just enamored with the skills Jonny “Bones” Jones brings into the cage. This is the toughest test Jon Jones has gotten in his MMA career, but I still expect him to pass it like a 12th grader taking a 2nd grade math exam. Jones has unbelievable striking ability, aided by a ridiculous 84.5 inch reach.
His only loss was to Matt Hammil, and anyone who saw that fight knows Jones was on pace to put Matt in a body bag before he was disqualified due to unintentional illegal elbow strikes. After the setback, Jon literally destroyed Brandon Vera’s face, and then blew through Vladimir Matyushenko in less than 2 minutes. He is as explosive as they come, and seems to be on a collision course towards the belt.
I am confident Bader will bring his A-game, and he has the heart and guts to stay in there with the UFC’s golden boy. Joe Silva has officially taken the kid gloves off Jon Jones, and if he wins this fight he may be just one step away from a title shot. Against most light heavyweights in the UFC I would take Ryan Bader, but I think he is going down in a big way Saturday night.
Fight Hype: 4 out of 5 stitches * * * *
Rizzi’s Prediction: Jones via 2nd round TKO
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT- RICH FRANKLIN vs. FORREST GRIFFIN
This is another great fight featuring two big names and two former UFC champions. Rich Franklin has been flying under the radar since his last loss to Anderson Silva, but he has still been fighting a ridiculous list of opponents, so his 4-2 record over his last 6 fights is much more impressive than your run of the mill 4-2. His last 6 bouts have been against Lutter (win), Hammil (win), Henderson (loss), Wanderlei Silva (win), Belfort (loss), and Liddell (win).
Franklin can catapult himself into title contention at 205 with an impressive win, but of course Forrest Griffin will be trying to get back in the picture himself. After winning the belt in 2008, Forrest suffered back to back devastating losses to Rashad Evans, and then unforgettably Anderson Silva.
Griffin got back on the winning track in his most recent fight, when he won a split decision win over Tito Ortiz at UFC 106. But that was more than a year ago, and Forrest is definitely going to have to battle with ring rust, something he recently admitted himself.
I like Forrest, and hope for his sake as well as my wallet’s that he brings that “caged animal” instinct that made him so entertaining when he broke into the UFC. But I just think this is another tough matchup for him, and one that will leave him bloodied and battered. I think this will be a highly entertaining fight, and both guys will take their lumps, but I think “Ace” is just a bit better in all aspects of the game. To be honest, I think Forrest is probably just happy he is fighting the same night as Anderson Silva and NOT fighting against him.
Fight Hype: 4 out of 5 stitches * * * *
Rizzi’s Prediction: Franklin via split decision
MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE FIGHT- ANDERSON SILVA vs. VITOR BELFORT
After all the waiting, and all the hype, this fight is finally here. When Anderson Silva is on his game and his heart and head are in it (See: Forrest Griffin, Chris Leben), he is the best fighter I have ever seen. Of course, he has also had many strange showings recently as well, mostly when he has been matched up with someone who is not in his league (see: Thales Leites, Demian Maia).
However, Silva finally received a real chink in his armor against Chael Sonnen in his last fight, when he was thoroughly dominated for 4 and a half rounds before sinking in a fantastic triangle to pull out a shocking win. Silva’s takedown defense looked suspect, and even his striking was not as crisp as usual.
If that same Anderson Silva shows up in the main event on Saturday we could have a new middleweight champion. Vitor Belfort may be the only man to fight Silva and have a striking advantage, although I am not sold on that. One thing is for sure though- Silva MUST bring his A game, or Vitor will hit him hard, and could knock him out.
Of course, as much as I sometimes criticize The Spider for not living up to his potential, that has been the story of Vitor Belfort’s career more than anyone. Once seen as the future of mixed martial arts, Belfort has been his own worst enemy and as a result has had a very up and down career. He is on a 5-fight win streak and appears to be back at his best, but like Griffin he has not fought in over a year and may come out rusty.
I expect Vitor Belfort to come out guns a blazing, and could rock Silva early. But Anderson Silva is a technical striker who likes to feel his opponent out, and if he isn’t hurt badly in the first minute he should be able to get to Belfort before too long. As long as Silva weathers the early storm, I have a feeling Vitor will gas out and the champ will capitalize.
In a very exciting fight (I hope), I like Anderson Silva to remain undefeated in the UFC, run his win streak to a UFC-record 13, and up his UFC-record title defense streak to 10. And if it happens, we will be one GSP win away from seeing the greatest matchup in MMA history!
Fight Hype: 5 out of 5 stitches * * * * *
Rizzi’s Prediction: Silva via 3rd round TKO