Chad Mendes (above, file photo) dominated Michihiro Omigawa at UFC 126. | Sherdog.com
With big-time billing and placement on the eve of Super Bowl XLV, UFC 126 was the big game for MMA fans -- and it delivered.
That was no small feat considering the high expectations heading into the card. The Anderson Silva-Vitor Belfort main event was touted as the best middleweight title matchup ever. There was a seminal showdown between two ex-champs in Forrest Griffin and Rich Franklin, while Jon Jones and Ryan Bader bout promised to showcase two of the light heavyweight division’s brightest prospects.
Below, we’ll examine each competitor’s stock rating after tonight’s fights.
Anderson Silva: If Anthony Pettis’ flying-off-the-cage move against Benson Henderson inspired people to learn that maneuver, Silva made his own contribution to the MMA pantheon Saturday night.
After two and a half minutes of virtually no action, Silva seemed to wake up as he and Belfort came alive with fast exchanges. Launching a front kick which acted as a size-12 uppercut to Belfort’s jaw, “The Spider” added another highlight-reel move to his sizeable collection.
This was the equivalent of Julius Erving executing an unthinkable slam while flying through heavy traffic. It’s a tribute to the champion’s ability that he continues to score knockouts with strikes that are usually point-earning moves. Whether it’s a fallback jab against Forrest Griffin or this kick, Silva’s ability to command respect in the course of one performance is unlike any fighter’s in the world.
After this win, who on the UFC’s 185-pound roster will want to stand and trade with Silva for any length of time? There’s a guy at 205 who might be willing, though, and his name is...
Jon Jones: It’s hard to pick a single shining moment from the clinic “Bones” put on against the previously unbeaten Bader. Was it the freaky jump-behind maneuver he executed in a scramble? Or the funky guillotine choke he used to finish?
How about the fact that Jones took down Bader -- a top college wrestler who’d never been taken down in five previous UFC bouts -- with an attempt launched from a ridiculous distance? In addition to stuffing Bader’s takedown attempts, Jones showed the kind of freakish range that makes him a terribly difficult foe to deal with.
Informed afterward that he would replace injured teammate Rashad Evans in a title shot against Mauricio Rua at UFC 128, Bones fell to the ground during his postfight interview. At just 23 years old, he’s steamrolled some tough fighters and will be a handful for Rua. It would’ve been nice to see Jones tested in a tough fight, which this fight could’ve been, but that’s not his fault.
Consider Jones MMA’s version 3.0. With his creativity on display fight after fight, one can’t help but look past the Rua bout and wonder what Bones and The Spider could create in a super-fight down the road.
That said, Rua probably has the best style to give Jones problems. It’s apparent that no wrestler has much of a chance, but Shogun’s leg kicks are outstanding and he’s cut his teeth in some tough bouts. Experience is the only weakness Bones brings into his title shot, and after tonight, you can bet the world will be watching to see what he does against the champ.
Chad Mendes: The hard-nosed Team Alpha Male featherweight ground out a solid win over Michihiro Omigawa, bumping his ledger to 10-0. With 145-pound champ Jose Aldo squaring off against Mark Hominick next, Mendes or Diego Nunes will probably get a crack at the winner. Mendes’ striking has come along nicely, as he’s grown increasingly comfortable with letting his hands go He also displayed a nice mix of standup, utilizing potent low kicks against his Omigawa.
Donald Cerrone: Score one for the WEC newcomers, as “The Cowboy” recovered from a slow opening round to submit Paul Kelly via rear-naked choke in the second. Cerrone possesses one of the better chins in the sport, though he sometimes seems too willing to mix it up. He adjusted nicely, however, taking Kelly down and finishing on the ground, where his superiority was obvious.
Cerrone, with his muay Thai, submissions and hard-charging style, is an interesting addition to the UFC’s wrestler-heavy lightweight division. This was a much-needed win for him to start moving up the long ladder of the 155-pound ranks.
Mike Pierce: A big win for the Pacific Northwesterner, who punched out the previously unbeaten Kenny Robertson in the second round. Pierce has shown many facets of his game through his last five bouts.
Whether it was closing hard in the third round of a competitive scrap with top contender Jon Fitch, submitting Brazilian prospect Amilcar Alves or upsetting Brock Larsen in his UFC debut, Pierce has crept up the welterweight ranks. Robertson may not be a name opponent, but Pierce’s TKO victory is still a great feather for his cap.
Demetrious Johnson: WEC veteran “Mighty Mouse” pulled off the upset against incoming Japanese star Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto. Undaunted by the fact that he was facing an MMA legend, Johnson used a speedy work rate and aggressive takedowns to earn a clear-cut decision.
Kyle Kingsbury: While Silva’s front kick demonstrated the value of an underutilized technique, Kingsbury showed what a savage knee to the body can do. Kingsbury pounced after drilling one to Ricardo Romero’s midsection in the early going of their 205-pound bout, finishing the job in a mere 21 seconds. Since dropping a decision to Tom Lawlor at “The Ultimate Fighter 8” finale, Kingsbury has notched three consecutive wins and is making a nice move up the ranks of the light heavyweight division.
Forrest Griffin and Rich Franklin: As expected, this showdown of former champs came down to a game of inches and a close decision. After 15 minutes, Griffin took the nod on all three judges’ cards, 29-28.
With razor-thin rounds defining the bout, Griffin’s size served him well, as he pressed the action and got the better of it on the mat. However, in the context of the super-talented light heavyweight division, this wasn’t the kind of performance to bump Griffin up a notch.
He and Franklin performed serviceably, and their styles canceled one another out for the most part, though not for lack of trying. A compelling match for either of them would be someone like Bader, to see if they could upset a younger talent.
Vitor Belfort: With no action in the first two and half minutes, it seemed that Belfort had finally detonated when he landed a couple of glancing punches. He drove Silva to the mat, where “The Phenom” missed a bodacious right hand that might have changed his fate. Regrettably for Belfort, Silva got back to his feet and delivered the greatest front kick in the history of combat sports.
There’s no shame in how Belfort lost tonight. Even in such a short performance, at least he came to win. He’ll still be a force at 185, though he’d have to knock out a string of top contenders to even be considered for a rematch, and to build the kind of belief people had in him coming into this one. Silva is a 3-1 favorite against anyone in the foreseeable future, especially with Chael Sonnen off the radar for the time being.
Ryan Bader: A lot of guys would have stopped trying if they were in Bader’s shoes on Saturday night, but he did not. The problem was that he was in the cage with Jones. Bader probably fared better against “Bones” than most light heavyweights will over the next few years -- outside of Rua, perhaps.
A comeback bout against a Griffin- or Franklin-quality opponent is definitely in order, and the guess here is that Bader returns to the Top 10 conversation in one or two fights.
Jake Ellenberger: Originally slated to face Jon Fitch, Ellenberger instead survived a harrowing opening round against replacement Carlos Eduardo Rocha, who unleashed a dizzying jiu-jitsu clinic, wrenching submission attempts from everywhere at once.
The hard-nosed Ellenberger made it through and downshifted in the second and third stanzas, using more accurate standup and well-timed takedowns to secure a split decision win. With 27 fights under his belt to Rocha’s nine, Ellenberger’s experience gave him a huge edge. This wasn’t an overpowering performance, but more of a recovery from a tough first round. The experience will make both of them better fighters.
Carlos Eduardo Rocha: Rocha hadn’t gone the distance in any of his first nine fights, and it showed. The Brazilian became less aggressive just when it seemed he had Ellenberger second-guessing himself. Rocha’s standup is wild but effective, and with time, he may develop a more well-rounded game. His guard and submissions are top-notch, however, and he’ll be an interesting guy to watch once he gets a better sense of how to pace himself.
Michihiro Omigawa: Showing some good takedown defense, Omigawa remained game even as he was badly outpointed by Mendes on the feet. He earns a “hold” rating here for sheer durability and tenacity. In the UFC’s 145-pound division, he’ll be a decent opponent for most guys.
Paul Taylor: Taylor got the best matchup of the evening, scoring a nice knockout against Gabe Ruediger. Taylor’s standup and aggression make him a fan-friendly guy at lightweight. It remains to be seen how he’ll fare against much tougher competition in the future.
Miguel Torres and Antonio Banuelos: Yes, MMA is a tactical sport. It isn’t all about blood and creating drama for the guys in loud t-shirts who comprise the bulk of the audience. But Torres and Banuelos couldn’t have picked a worse time to have a tactical bout -- read: entirely uneventful fight with neither man willing to commit for the most part -- than on the opening match of the pay-per-view.
This was not a great UFC debut by either guy, especially considering Banuelos’ wrestling and strength suggested that he could muscle Torres around and make a physical fight of it. Torres still seems to be figuring out how to cross his old “kill ‘em all” style with his new, more tactical approach. Hopefully he’ll get that sorted for his next fight.
Kenny Robertson: Octagon debuts are always tough and knockout losses happen frequently. Previously unbeaten at 10-0, Robertson may need a win in his next bout in order to stay with the organization.
Gabe Ruediger: Now 0-3 in the Octagon, Ruediger’s loss should send him back to the smaller shows. Forever notorious for his boorish behavior and eating habits displayed on “TUF 5,” “Godzilla” lost a tough one here.
Norifumi Yamamoto: Despite the hype from hardcore fans and once being regarded as the best featherweight on the planet, Yamamoto looked far from his old terrorizing self against Johnson. Maybe that’s because “Mighty Mouse” is a better wrestler, or simply a better fighter.
Either way, Yamamoto fell prey to the same first-timer jinx that clearly affected “Shogun” Rua and Takanori Gomi when they came over from Japan. It’s hard to believe that this is the same fighter who, in 2005 alone, steamrolled Royler Gracie, Caol Uno and Genki Sudo. Having lost three of his last four, “Kid” will definitely get another chance to redeem himself, but he’ll have his work cut out for him.
Ricardo Romero: In MMA, it’s hard to glean too much from a quick knockout defeat. Romero still has his nice armbar submission of Seth Petruzelli in his UFC debut to point to, but a night like the one he had against Kingsbury is always rough.
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