Predictions for UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort


By now the latest ‘best staredown in UFC history’ is all over the internet ( in case you missed it), as are most of the experts’ predictions for UFC 126. But now that this is posted and you’re reading this, ALL the (relevant) experts’ predictions are up. Have at it.

170 lbs. – Mike Pierce vs. Kenny Robertson – Hailing from Indiana, Robertson comes into the UFC not just with a perfect 10-0 record, but nine finishes, seven by submission and only one by decision. At 11-3, Pierce is a five-time veteran of Zuffa cages (four UFC fights and one WEC fight), with three going to decision. On one hand, first-time UFC jitters could affect Robertson, but if Pierce isn’t able to finish early (and since 2009, four of six matches have gone the distance), that could give Robertson enough time to catch an arm or leg. Prediction: Robertson via submission (round two or three).

205 lbs. – Ricardo Romero vs. Kyle Kingsbury – After reigning supreme in the New Jersey-base Ring of Combat promotion, Romero ‘got the call’ last year for UFC 116, where he subbed veteran journeyman Seth Petruzelli, adding to Romero’s then-five match finishing win streak. Kingsbury is a longtime resident of San Jose’s AKA (home of UFC champ Cain Velasquez and Josh Koscheck) and standout of Team Nogueira on season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter. The Arizona State football vet is punishing in the cage, but isn’t known for finishing opponents, which lends to Romero eventually finding an opening to submit him. Prediction: Romero via submission (round three).

155 lbs. – Gabe Ruediger vs. Paul Taylor – This likely is a loser-leaves-town match for both men, as Taylor’s last six matches have gone the distance, and of those, his record is 2-4. Ruediger did himself no favors on season five of The Ultimate Fighter (2007), getting expelled from the show after failing to make weight, but then sparked a six-match win streak from February 2009 to July 2010, stepped up to fight Joe Lauzon on a two-week notice at UFC 118 in August. Lauzon won by submission, and this match is company reciprocation for being a last-minute replacement in that match. Ruediger’s jiu-jitsu is dangerous, but he’s never been able to implement it to success in the UFC. Taylor has heavy hands, and the longer this match goes, the better Taylor’s chances of overwhelming him. Prediction: Taylor via TKO (round one).

135 lbs. – Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto vs. Demetrious Johnson – A former Japanese star against an undersized youngster on a hot streak. I’ve seen Johnson numerous times in the amateurs and booked his first pro match, but honestly one of the bigger factors for me are Yamamoto’s weaknesses in this situation than Johnson’s strengths. Yamamoto will have the size advantage, but age is against him. Since 2007, he had two decision losses in 2009 and, in 2010, one win against a fighter with less than 10 pro matches. Granted, Yamamoto’s fought in front of larger audiences, but this will be his first time in a UFC cage, whereas Johnson is no stranger to the octagon nor respected fighters with dominant records. One could argue that aside from Yushin Okami and (debatably) Yoshihiro Akiyama, Japanese don’t typically have the best of luck in their UFC debuts. Prediction: Johnson by unanimous decision.

145 lbs. – Chad Mendes vs. Michihiro Omigawa – The undefeated ‘Money’ Mendes (9-0) flies the flag for Team Alpha Male in Northern California, home of Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez. Omigawa is a judoka under Hidehiko Yoshida and returns to the UFC on a five-match win streak since mid-2009. He went 0-2 in his last stint against Matt Wiman and Thiago Tavares in 2008, both by unanimous decision. Youth is on Mendes’ side, who is almost 10 years younger than Omigawa. Conventionally, this match would go to decision, but in MMA, logic sometimes doesn’t show up. Prediction: Mendes via TKO (round one).

155 lbs. – Paul Kelly vs. Donald Cerrone – Many have said this match will reveal whether WEC lightweights, of which Cerrone was a star, can hang with UFC-level competition. Despite being a decorated Muay Thai champion, Cerrone owns 11 submission wins out of his 13 victories, and no TKOs or knockouts. And though the WEC title has evaded him on three tries, Cerrone won Fight of the Night honors five times, as well as 2009 Fight of the Year Honors by Sherdog (for his fight against Ben Henderson). Paul Kelly is 5-3 in his eight UFC matches, with three decision wins and one victory each by submission and TKO. Prediction: Cerrone via submission (round three).

135 lbs. – Antonio Banuelos vs. Miguel Angel Torres – Both fighters have a decade of fights under their respective belts and are transfers from the WEC merger into UFC. Banuelos hits hard and hasn’t been finished since 2007 (going 5-2 since then). Torres has 38 wins, 23 by submission (one less than Banuelos’ cumulative record), and went undefeated from 2004 to August 2009. Prediction: Torres via submission (round two).

205 lbs. – Ryan Bader vs. Jon Jones – On paper, Bader has the better wrestling credentials, but in finishing Brandon Vera, Vladimir Matyushenko, Jake O’Brian, and easily handling Matt Hamill (before losing via DQ for illegal use of Dusty Rhodes’ bionic elbows), Jones effectiveness in the cage is undeniable. Bader surprised many in his split decision win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, but aside from that match, Jones has dominated against tougher respective competition. The real question is whether Jones will finish or if Bader will take him to the distance. Prediction: Jones via unanimous decision.

170 lbs. – Carlos Eduardo Rocha vs. Jake Ellenberger – With a 9-0 record of eight submissions, seven of those in the first round, Rocha’s jiu-jitsu is legit. Ellenberger, while an assistant wrestling coach for University of Nebraska, has almost 30 matches, half of which are victories by TKO or knockout. He lost a split decision to Carlos Condit, also a jiu-jitsu whiz. On one hand, Ellenberger knows how to avoid submissions, but he hasn’t fought someone of Rocha’s jiu-jitsu pedigree. Then again, lots of fighters like to point out “jiu-jitsu is different when you’re getting punched in the face.” The later rounds favor Ellenberger, but he’ll always be in danger of getting caught. Prediction: Ellenberger by TKO (round one).

205 lbs. – Forrest Griffin vs. Rich Franklin – To use the wrestling parlance, I love babyface vs. babyface and heel vs. heel matches, and this is every bit the former that one could ask. Griffin is a tall 205’er and Franklin is a 185’er who, in the later years of his career, is returning to 205. Griffin’s matches are always brutal, thrilling dogfights, and his wins over Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua speak volumes, but those were both over two years ago. Since then, he’s succumbed to strikes from Anderson Silva (who wouldn’t?) and Rashad Evans (see Anderson Silva). The question becomes ‘can Rich Franklin strike as fast and as hard as they did?’ Unfortunately, this isn’t the Randy Couture vs. Matt Hume strategic chess match that I would have loved to see, which, without taking anything away from Jorge Gurgel, could play an understated factor in the outcome. Prediction: Franklin by TKO (round two or three) or Griffin via split decision.

185 lbs. (UFC Middleweight Title) – Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort: For me, the question here is simply ‘which Victor Belfort will show up?’ Skillwise, both men possess baffling hand speed and accuracy, and as former training partners, their mutual awareness of each others’ skills is there too. Many would say that Chael Sonnen exposed the key to beating Silva, and with Belfort working with Xtreme Couture, not only was that key surely noted, but likely also built upon at the Couture compound. That said, between the bad blood and the seeming inability for anyone to defeat Silva, it’s hard to envision that the Spider would show up unprepared and lacking. Prediction: Silva by TKO (round three).

The Finish

From the street to the suite, UFC 126 is the first show I’ve been excited about in a long time. I’m one of the few that were entertained by Silva’s in-cage antics against Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, and Damian Maia. But I’m also excited about seeing someone who could actually offer some striking competition to the elusive Spider. I think Griffin x Franklin is imaginative and competitive, while Jones x Bader is crucial for the future of the 205 division. Likewise, the groundswell of demand to see Johnson x Yamamoto, which will now be streamed live (and free) at at 8:00pm EST / 5:00pm PST, is a great sign of lower-weight fighters getting the mainstream recognition they deserve.

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