MMA Ratings Podcast

February 5, 2011

Fight Picks and Predictions for UFC 126: Brazilian Whacks

By Nicholas Bailey

UFC 126 is simply the strongest Zuffa offering in a very long time. Top level fighters galore, an intriguing title fight, exciting new imports, and some exciting developing prospects. The sooner we get to the fights, the better.

Champ Anderson Silva (-220) vs. Vitor Belfort (+205) (for middleweight title)
Anderson Silva is on the longest winning streak in the UFC. He has humiliated most of his opponents, even those he did not summarily dispatch. He is the most fearsome striker in the sport. Vitor Belfort is a perennial underachiever known for crumpling in the face of adversity. Why then is the result of this bout so uncertain?

For starters, Belfort has shown time and again that he can beat anyone. His natural punching power and handspeed are enough to blitz virtually any opponent if given the opportunity. If he can put his hands on Anderson, he could end this fight. Furthermore, many are confused by Silva's performances. Chael Sonnen of all people rung his bell. Demian Maia landed clean shots and seemed to gas him out. Are these examples of Silva's clowning biting him back, or are they signs that the thirty-five year old champion's lifetime of fighting is finally catching up to him physically? This is, after all, a man originally coming out of the ultra-rough Vale Tudo scene in Brazil, with many more fights than the already-high thirty-one on his professional MMA record, be they amateur MMA, in-gym scuffles, boxing matches, or kickboxing bouts. No one is invincible, and Anderson's recent spate of injuries certainly seems to indicate that he is starting to wear down.

If Anderson is, indeed, an old man, this fight could be very ugly. A man that relies on his fluid grace and reaction time to run circles around opponents will certainly suffer if his physical tools have deteriorated, especially when fighting someone with the raw physicality of Vitor Belfort. Vitor has had his ups and downs and has been around the sport for a long time, but his physical tools have never been anything but on-point.

On the other hand, Silva's in-ring troubles cannot be shown to be directly linked to physical problems. There is every possibility that he went the distance in confusing fights because of his own arbitrary standards for what he needed to do in a fight and what an opponent should be expected to do in order to draw him out. He was hit by Sonnen, but how much respect was he giving Sonnen's hands? Injuries are part of the wear-and-tear every fighter experiences due to the rigors of training and competing. Cain Velasquez is badly injured, but that's not taken as a sign of a precipitous overall decline.

If Anderson comes into this fight prepared, he should have little trouble handling Belfort. Vitor has a good chin and is difficult to dispose of in a fight, but he also has shown time and again that he will retreat within himself and give up when things start going against him. This is most pronounced when fighters take him down and rough him up a little, but if Anderson can land some sharp counters on him or hurt his self-esteem through some quality dance moves, then you can expect Vitor to lack the self-confidence to really commit to strikes and attacking the champ. If Anderson decides that he doesn't mind going the distance, the later rounds could be completely action-free as Vitor stands around losing rounds and Anderson picks a few pot-shots.

On the other hand, each man does have the power and technique to finish the other. If Vitor cracks Anderson hard, he can flurry for a stoppage even on the iron jaw of the champ, and Anderson has preternatural punching power and an amazing ability to counter, which is what leads to the most damaging strikes. It wouldn't be too shocking to see him lamp Vitor in a display of violence that erases all doubt about the Champ's current abilities.

If Vitor has been watching Chael Sonnen's performance on infinite repeat, this fight could provide a really unusual perspective on both men. Vitor is a pretty natural wrestler with the submission awareness that Sonnen so painfully lacks. If he can reliably get on top of Anderson, the fight could become an intense battle of inches that would please hardcore fans but leave many in the arena howling for blood.

So then, virtually anything could happen when the cage door closes and the bell rings. It seems silly to think that the hints of vulnerability Silva has shown should be weighed more heavily than the career-long failings of Belfort. Fans should expect Belfort to look dangerous with his speed and power early, but to fade when Anderson figures out his timing and starts landing quality shots on him. Unless Vitor completely shuts down in the fight and just lets Anderson flail away for a TKO, the later rounds will probably see a defensive Vitor avoiding a visibly frustrated Anderson. Silva. Anderson Silva by decision.

If you want to see some very...unusual...footage of Vitor and his wife from their time on a Brazilian reality show, I suggest you click this.

Forrest Griffin (+135) vs. Rich Franklin (-155)
Forrest Griffin and Rich Franklin both occupy an unusual position in the UFC. They are “name” fighters, but aren't big enough draws to fill a major event on their own. Fighting elite opposition, they are up and down, but it isn't really their recent achievements that give them relevance. They operate outside of the traditional UFC perpetual title-fight grind, engaging in one-off superfights that seem to exist in a vacuum. What is the meaning of knocking out Chuck Liddell? Does beating Tito Ortiz mean you are ready for a title shot, or a title eliminator? With each man coming off a long injury layoff, this fight is a good way to get them back in action and the public eye.

Stylistically, this fight will be a matter of degrees. Each man is a generalist whose greatest weakness is average durability. Hard shots will put Franklin or Griffin down and out, although both fighters are extremely gritty and mentally strong. Griffin doesn't have the power in his hands that Franklin does, but he will have more range on his strikes and will be the bigger man in the cage. On the ground, both are much stronger defending against submissions than finishing with them, although Franklin is better at doing damage. Franklin's ground and pound could be a very good route to victory for him, given Griffin's historically open guardwork, letting uncontrolled opponents rain down punishment as he looked to sweep.

The trick for Franklin there will be getting Griffin to the floor. Franklin rarely seems to aggressively pursue takedowns, contenting himself with testing himself in kickboxing matches, and he's only an average wrestler. Griffin isn't a great defensive wrestler, but if he can put his weight on Franklin when they tie up, it will wear down the former middleweight Champion.

If Griffin can clip Franklin with something sharp, Franklin has never shown a great ability to recover and fight on, so that would end the tilt. If the fight features a lot of aggressive engagement with strikes, it's most likely that Franklin will end up getting polished off. However, these fighters each know their own mortality and will probably fight defensively, resulting in a nip-and-tuck fight that will be very difficult to score. An ugly split decision that pleases no one is quite likely. With his decent chance of finishing, superior size, and longer range, Forrest Griffin is a bit more likely to win than Franklin. Forrest Griffin by decision.

I like Griffin at +135, although careful watchers got him at +150, as mentioned on my twitter.

Jake Ellenberger (-260) vs. Carlos Eduardo Rocha (+225)
Rocha has one UFC win under his belt, against the undwhelming Kris McCray, who outwrestled him but demonstrated very poor skills once the fight hit the floor and got handled. Ellenberger is an entirely different sort of fighter. He will take Rocha down, smother his attempts to sweep, and crush down with brutal ground and pound. Rocha may be ready for the UFC, but he won't look it in this fight. The big challenge for Rocha is that he is used to absolutely running over opponents. When he cannot just reverse and submit Ellenberger, and he's forced to endure some severe punishment for the first time in a fight, how will the Brazilian react? Does he have the intestinal fortitude to overcome the adversity and look for ways to win, or is he a playground bully that will run home when someone bigger comes along? Ellenberger is too much of a wrestler and simply hits too hard for Rocha. Jake Ellenberger by TKO round 2.

Ryan Bader (+235) vs. Jon Jones (-280)
Bader is a big guy that hits really hard, if sloppily, and wrestles well. He's really not that different from Matt Hamill. Jones is going to reap his leg, put him on his back, and blow his face up with elbows. Anything else would be surprising. This is the chance for Jones to either live up to the hype or plunge to earth in shambles. Bader has the power to blow up the hype, but Jones has more staying power, more reach, and much more versatility. Jon Jones by TKO, round 1.

Antonio Banuelos (+300) vs. Miguel Torres (-350)
All Banuelos really has going for him in this fight is the ability to take Torres down, which is hardly an advantage given the former Champion's nasty guard work. This is just the kind of fight Torres needs to continue to regain his mojo after the formerly-unstoppable fighter gave up the ghost twice in a row. Torres is still a very nasty combination of skills and natural gifts, and fans will be reminded of that as he takes Banuelos apart. It's just too bad Torres no longer has twenty-five minutes to work with. Miguel Torres by TKO round 2.

Paul Kelly (+260) vs. Donald Cerrone (-285)
Paul Kelly is a massively limited fighter. He's short and doesn't have high-octane offense or a strong positional game. He has to just hustle his way to wins with lukewarm ground-and-pound, snatching at submissions in scrambles, and a little bit of standup when he can get it. Cerrone will have a massive reach advantage, is tough enough to walk through Kelly's punches, and will constantly threaten with powerful strikes and submission attempts. It would be great to see Cerrone come out with the same kind of utterly murderous intent he brought against Varner, but “Cowboy” fans should settle for continued improvements in his takedown defense and some of the carefully strategic violence he put on Chris Horodecki. Donald Cerrone by submission round 1.

Chad Mendes (-300) vs. Michihiro Omigawa (+275)
Michihiro Omigawa has had one of the more surprising career renaissances in recent MMA history. Fans who watched his first two fights probably wouldn't expect him to survive another couple of years in the sport, let alone find any success. However, he has found ways to win over quality opponents, sometimes through his surprising improved skills, and sometimes through the vagaries and corruption of Japanese MMA. Mr. Omigawa, this ain't Japan.

Chad Mendes is still a growing fighter, but he has shown a great ability to staple opponents to the floor and hold them there. Omigawa has stepped up his boxing game and is no slouch on the ground, but he doesn't bring the kind of dynamic guard work that some of Mendes' previous opponents have shown in losing efforts. Unless Mendes does something really dumb and gives Omigawa a chance to really work him over with his nifty boxing, this fight should be textbook positional control for the decision. Chad Mendes by decision.

Demetrious Johnson (EVEN) vs. Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto (-120)
Demetrious Johnson, like Joseph Benavidez, is a flyweight fighting at Bantamweight and looking to make up for his strength and size deficiency with wrestling technique and strategy. So far he has had a surprisingly successful run of it, but he will have trouble outwrestling Norifumi Yamamoto.

One of the biggest (and smallest) of Japan's MMA bad boys, Yamamoto's early career was defined by massive power and a shocking ability to use it at any time. His recent career has been a cautionary tale of what happens when talent refuses to work hard. If Yamamoto comes out for this fight like he did against Joe Warren, and aimlessly wanders around throwing single strikes and getting pot-shotted, then he'll probably drop a decision. If, on the other hand, he comes in with some fire and really gets after it, his power will be more than Johnson has had to deal with.

Damacio Page was running roughshod on Johnson just with his size, and Yamamoto is a much better wrestler than Page, and probably just as strong. Yamamoto has all the tools he needs to win this. All he needs to do is come in ready to do it. Norifumi Yamamoto by TKO round 2.

Gabe Ruediger (+170) vs. Paul Taylor (-210)
Ruediger is not a complete joke and has actually shown himself to be a pretty decent fighter deserving of respect, so I hope fans will not resort to childish mockery. That said, he's going to gas out and then Taylor will cut him up like a delicious cake. Joe Lauzon gave this man a complete deep-cleansing beatdown, and Taylor is much sharper on the feet than MMA's formost IT guy and has more staying power. Ruediger was contractually guaranteed another fight since he took that one on short notice, but the icing on that deal will have gone bad by the time the night is over. It will be Taylor's sheer pace and volume of strikes that tips the scale in his favor. Paul Taylor by TKO round 2.

Kyle Kingsbury (-115) vs. Ricardo Romero (-110)
Ricardo Romero is a part-time fighter trying to make it in the biggest league in the world. He might be able to get past Kingsbury, because he's spent much more time training jiu-jitsu than the TUF alum, but that is not a recipe for long-term success. Kingsbury didn't show a lot of promise on TUF, but he has developed his game pretty well and definitely has the skills to bust up a very slow Romero on the feet. If Romero can get the takedowns he needs, he can definitely submit Kingsbury, but Kyle's game is improving for each fight, so he is a real threat to Romero. Kyle Kingsbury by KO round 1.

Mike Pierce (-225) vs. Kenny Robertson (+210)
Kenny Robertson is a talented up-and-comer, but it's very hard to launch your UFC career against someone like Mike Pierce. Pierce is basically Jon Fitch lite, a gritty wrestler that is going to get in his opponent's face and hammer them with everything he can until they are ground into dust. Robertson has a lot of submission wins on his record, but he hasn't shown the kind of ground game that can overcome the positional dominance and base that someone like Pierce can bring. Robertson is just going to have to endure a long night of painful grinding. Mike Pierce by decision.

My Bets:
1u on Forrest Griffin at (+150) to win 1.5u


No comments:

Post a Comment

*** Anonymous comments will NOT be published. ***

Use the "Name/URL" option.