While the year 2011 is only a month and a few days old, UFC 126 has made its claim for “Main Card of the Year”.  Three of the five bouts have ties to the most significant statuses any athlete would want: Championship, Legendary and Future Stardom.

Jon “Bones” Jones vs. Ryan “Darth” Bader
Once Lightweight pillars such as Mauricio Rua (Champion), Rashad Evans (#1 Contender) and Quinton Jackson reach the twilight of their careers, these are the two young men, trailing closely behind, reaching out to take the baton of UFC’s most exciting division. These two are so similar, in that their strongest to weakest suits in fighting are takedowns, striking, then submissions (in that order). Jones is 11-1 while Bader is 12-0.  Bader is an All American wrestler with heavy hands. Jones, however, is an artist in the form of wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai.  Bader has proven to be granite-tough in his young MMA career.  With the perfect shot, a punch from him can turn anyone’s legs into linguini.  The problem is he has not faced anyone like Jones.  His ability to push the pace, along with his speed and unorthodox style, where a takedown or strike can come from any angle, has been the formula for his emergence into stardom. I have these two future Hall of Famers going the distance, but ultimately, Bones will be Darth’s father on February 5th.

Forrest Griffin vs. Rich “Ace” Franklin
As far as legendary status is concerned, these two are what Jones and Bader hope to be. Both fighters have been in the game for a minimum of 10 years (Griffin since 2001, Franklin since 1999).  In those stretches of longevity, both have combined for only 11 career losses. Franklin is a former UFC Middleweight Champion. In his journey to that title, he beat UFC legend and former WWE wrestler Ken Shamrock. He would eventually dethrone Evan Tanner to hold his only UFC championship. Griffin’s lone title came in the form of a controversial decision over Quinton Jackson at UFC 86.  Griffin’s true claim to fame dates back to April 2005. He, along with Stephan Bonnar were finalists in the inaugural season of the Spike TV reality series, “The Ultimate Fighter”. The two put on such a performance that it raised UFC into mainstream. It is because of this that UFC President Dana White credits it “The Most Important Fight in UFC History”. Whether this fight matches UFC’s trailblazing duel of six years ago or not remains to be seen. Still, it is an important fight, especially for Griffin. Franklin has won two of his last three fights. Griffin, on the other hand, hasn’t been so fortunate, losing his last two of three. Given those scenarios, I think desperation will ignite Griffin’s fire and lead him to victory.

Anderson “The Spider” Silva vs. Vitor Belfort (UFC Middleweight Title)
One of two losses that Griffin suffered in his recent slump came from UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. In fact, Griffin is a part of Silva’s 7-title defense streak, which is the most in UFC History.  The number 7 resonates greatly with me, but it has nothing to do with the number of title defenses.  It was August 2010’s UFC 117, when a blueprint was almost perfectly executed on how to beat Silva. Former number one contender vowed to put Silva’s back on the mat and beat a hole in his face. With the exception of the last two minutes (five, five-minute rounds for title bouts), Sonnen did just that. If not for a last-minute triangle choke submission that Silva executed, and Sonnen’s legal issues, I’d be predicting a Sonnen-Belfort title fight. Sonnen has inadvertently given Belfort guidance on how to beat one of UFC’s best pound -for-pound fighters. Silva, in his last fight, did not respond well when he wasn’t pushing the pace. He looked human when it came to countering Sonnen’s takedowns and strikes. Whenever Silva did land strikes, Sonnen had a few answers for him. Now the champion has the misfortune of facing the fastest hands in the middleweight division. Belfort also has a takedown game. I can’t say for certain what Silva has worked on since his shocking win over Sonnen, but I am curious about how much time he has applied towards countering takedowns and changing paces in his favor.  Anderson Silva is one of my favorite fighters, but all I have to go on is what I’ve seen recently. With that said, Silva’s title defenses will end at 7. Vitor Belfort will end his night as the new UFC Middleweight Champion.

Three fights with major implications, on a night where it will be a toss-up as to which one will be “Fight of the Night”. Between this and the Super Bowl, the first weekend in February is big in the world of sports. Enjoy all it has to offer and I’ll be back soon with my UFC 126 recap.

By Antoine Hoffman

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