Jake Ellenberger (file photo) played it safe at UFC 126. | Sherdog.com
Below, an in-depth look at the five main card matches from Saturday’s UFC 126 card, including which fights are likely being made for the 10 participants in the near future.
Miguel Torres def. Antonio Banuelos -- Decision (Unanimous)
What happened: Not much. In a largely uneventful affair, former WEC bantamweight champion Torres used his 13-inch reach advantage to stay on the outside and land his jab over and over again. Banuelos, visibly respecting Torres’ ground game, did nothing to change levels and, thus, nothing to change the rhythm of the fight. The third round brought a little more urgency, but ultimately, this was a bout which did neither man any favors.
Forecast for Torres: With the winner of March’s Urijah Faber-Eddie Wineland clash apparently next in line for a shot at recuperating champion Dominick Cruz, Torres will need at least one more big win to earn a chance at reclaiming gold. Possible opponents include hard-hitting Brit Brad Pickett, former title challenger Scott Jorgensen, or, in the most intriguing battle, the winner of March’s Brian Bowles-Damacio Page contest. Ideally, both Cruz and Torres would fight on the same card in late spring or early summer.
Forecast for Banuelos: The next opponent for the 10-year veteran should be picked from the trio of Demetrious Johnson, Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and Renan “Barao.”
Jake Ellenberger def. Carlos Eduardo Rocha -- Decision (Split)
What happened: In the opening round, Rocha ran a jiu-jitsu seminar on Ellenberger, who looked like a fish out of water as he was swept, passed and mounted at will by the Brazilian. Ellenberger was saved by the bell as “Edu” worked a keylock in the dying seconds of the opening stanza. From then on, the Nebraskan played it super-safe, making sure to avoid going to the ground with the Darcio Lira student at all costs. The American used his wrestling defensively and racked up points on the feet. Ellenberger used the scoring system to his advantage as he clinched rounds two and three with late takedowns.
Forecast for Ellenberger: The 25-year-old wrestler was originally slated to meet welterweight beast Jon Fitch on this same card. It is more likely that he will face another opponent, such as Dong Hyun Kim, Mike Pierce or Paulo Thiago.
Forecast for Rocha: Many pundits predicted that it was too soon for the Brazilian to face Ellenberger, who entered the bout with three times Rocha’s experience. Rocha proved himself capable of hanging with the very tough Ellenberger and showed that, with better game planning and a lot more work on his hands, he might have even won. The UFC has a diamond in the rough here, as Rocha has all the makings to be a very exciting fighter. Fights against Charlie Brenneman, Johny Hendricks or David Mitchell would be good tests for the ground specialist going forward.
Jon Jones def. Ryan Bader -- Submission (Guillotine Choke) 4:20 R2
What happened: At no point during the nine minutes it took this bout to play out was Ryan Bader in the fight. Jones took the wind right out of the big wrestler’s sails, as he took Bader down 30 seconds into the fight. Jones’ ability to take Bader down had been questioned beforehand and he gave a clear answer to that. Bader was clearly uncomfortable fighting off his back and was in deep water as Bones looked to end it with a north-south choke less than 90 seconds into the fight. Bader survived and got up, only to have his next takedown attempt easily stuffed and reversed by the towering New Yorker.
In the second round, Jones looked to mix it up on the feet and utilize his gigantic, 10.5-inch reach advantage. A couple of low kicks came crashing into Bader’s knee, calf and thigh. A slip/push takedown with 85 seconds to go in the round initiated the end for the former Arizona State University wrestling star. After softening Bader up with a couple of punches and elbows, Jones transitioned from a Brabo choke to a guillotine from side control for the fight-ending tap.
Forecast for Jones: Joe Rogan announced during the postfight interview that Jones will face 205-pound champion Mauricio Rua at UFC 128 in six weeks’ time, replacing injured teammate Rashad Evans. While the promotion’s stance in the past had been to bring the massively talented but inexperienced Jones up slowly, that seems to have gone out the window with Evans’ knee injury.
Forecast for Bader: The loss is disappointing for Bader, but it also shows him what aspects of his game he needs to work on the most -- namely, fighting from the guard, submission defense, and hand- and foot speed in the standup portions of the fight. His road back to fighting more big names could start with gatekeeper Vladimir Matyushenko, fan favorite Stephan Bonnar or the winner of April’s Matt Hamill vs. Phil Davis fight.
Forrest Griffin def. Rich Franklin -- Decision (Unanimous)
What happened: After a 14-month layoff, former UFC light heavyweight champion Griffin returned to action with a workmanlike performance against one-time middleweight titleholder Franklin. Griffin’s takedowns made the difference in this fight, as he dragged Franklin down, roughed him up and controlled him for the entire first round. The second stanza saw more of the Griffin we’re used to, as he beat up Franklin standing, landing some heavy blows to the head.
Knowing he was down two rounds to none, Franklin fought with more urgency in the final five minutes. He tried to take Griffin down and press him up against the fence, to no avail. Griffin tried to ride out an uneventful decision by scoring another takedown with 75 seconds to go, but Franklin fought hard and got on top himself with a minute left in the round. Both men scrambled hard for position, with neither of them being able to do any real damage.
It would have been interesting to see how this fight might have played out as a five-rounder, as Franklin appeared to be the slightly fitter of the two.
Forecast for Griffin: With Jones getting the nod for the next title shot, this leaves a big question mark about Forrest’s standing in the division. While there has been talk of him moving into comedy or full-time authorship down the line, he remains in his sporting prime and needs to have big fights now to cement his legacy in the sport. Scraps that could make sense for him would be a rematch with Rashad Evans, a fight against Lyoto Machida (should he make it past Randy Couture), or against Quinton Jackson (if “Rampage” can beat Thiago Silva decisively).
Forecast for Franklin: “Ace” keeps getting stuck between a rock and a hard place. His natural weight class of 185 pounds is still blocked by a 6-foot-2 “Spider,” so if he wants to continue fighting, Franklin will have to take on opponents who outweigh him by twenty pounds on fight day. The winner of Tito Ortiz vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Bonnar, or a rematch against Machida would all be fun fights.
Anderson Silva def. Vitor Belfort -- KO (Front Kick and Punches) 3:25 R1
What happened: Silva needed just seven strikes to put away challenger Belfort: a missed side kick, a knee from the clinch, a low kick, a right hand, and the front kick plus two punches on the ground which ended the fight. Belfort, driven by the Las Vegas crowd that was chanting his name, was tempted to deviate from the counterattacking game plan that earned him back-to-back wins over Matt Lindland and Rich Franklin.
Belfort instead chose to come forward aggressively. He opened up a little too much and paid for it by running straight into a counterattack from Silva.
Forecast for Silva: Talks of a cross-division super fight between Silva and welterweight ace Georges St. Pierre are again growing louder, but they come with a few questions. Does GSP want a part of Silva, who seems to be at the very peak of his game? And where does this leave Yushin Okami, who qualified for a shot at the title by beating Nate Marquardt last November? Whatever the UFC chooses to do, the decisive win over Belfort guaranteed fans will tune in again to see Silva fight.
Forecast for Belfort: Once again, Vitor came up short in a big fight. Nonetheless, the intense buildup to this match likely gained him some fans and raised his profile. Belfort against Marquardt or Michael Bisping would make for a strong co-headliner on any card. Looking down the road, a second meeting with Wanderlei Silva at “UFC Rio” in August seems inevitable as well.
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