UFC 126 MEGA-PREVIEW

If you only purchase one UFC PPV this year (and trust us, at $54.99 a shot, we feel your pain), UFC 126 certainly contends high in terms of bang for your buck.

Perhaps sensing the recent slump in sales and overall enthusiasm, Joe Silva and the Fertitta brothers have put together a fight card laced with pure gunpowder. It’s been some time since GASB has been THIS excited about a UFC card, so let’s dive right in, beginning with two free undercard matchups that will air on Spike TV at 9PM EST.

Scheduled-to-air preliminary bouts (Spike TV):

• Featherweight bout (145 lbs): Chad Mendes v. Michihiro Omigawa

GASB has long been an unapologetic fan of WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting). With its recent and complete absorption into Zuffa/UFC, we fully expect the overall quality and excitement of the average UFC bout to raise exponentially as lighter, more conditioned athletes are put before the casual UFC fan, who simply haven’t been treated to what these tiny warriors are capable of.

TRAVEL-SIZED TERROR

In terms of the free broadcast on Spike TV, there is no better intro to the casual fan toward the brand new featherweight division than Mendes v. Omigawa. Michihiro comes to us direct from Japan, where he’s riding a 5-fight win streak, a #4 featherweight ranking, and revered status given his fight history in Dream, Sengoku, and the Judo world. His recent victories have showcased a submission game and more complete mixed martial arts skill set than previous efforts have hinted at. Meanwhile, Chad Mendes comes to the cage with a 9-0 undefeated professional record and a sharp uptick in terms of career potential.

What we like most about Mendes is his camp: Team Alpha Male, notorious for churning out relentless, untiring, and well-rounded attacks. In this regard, Mendes is the prototypical Alpha Male specimen.

GASB favors: Chad Mendes, likely via unanimous decision. Omigawa flirted with the UFC in 2008 and didn’t fare well. The same can be said of many other Japanese stars who cross the Pacific toward the bright lights of WEC and UFC. Beyond this, Mendes recently toppled two of the featherweight division’s studs in both Cub Swanson and Javier Vasquez. Team Alpha Male prepares their fighters well for the spotlight and Mendes will come out in top mental and physical shape for this one.

• Lightweight bout (155 lbs): Donald Cerrone v. Paul Kelly

With Sam Stout being forced to drop from the card, another WEC alum and staple, Donald “The Cowboy” Cerrone, gets a chance to hit the reset button and rebrand himself to an entirely new set of fight fans in the UFC. GASB highly suspects that the casual UFC fan is going to eat up the “irreverent cowboy” schtick from “go,” but Donald will need to back it up immediately with a convincing win over Paul Kelly — a fighter that many UFC faithful know quite well.

Kelly has fought often and fought hard in the UFC for the past three years, with epic battles versus Jacob Volkmann, Matt Veach, and Dennis Siver being pleasant surprises on otherwise underwhelming and perhaps even bizarre cards (Silva/Maia anyone?).

Cerrone is an unapologetic brawler with a ridiculous muay thai skillset. He loves to stand and often baits opponents into thinking they’re in for a slugfest. Yet, far more often than not, the fight suddenly drops to the ground where Donald is extremely good at a host of submissions. Throughout the years, we’ve seen him sink absolutely vicious guillotines, triangles, and rear naked chokes out of nowhere. This deceiving well-roundedness has garnered Cerrone several “Fight of the Night” honors and even WEC “Fight of the Year” in 2009.

DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS

Kelly is also no stranger to “Fight of the Night” honors, having defeated countryman (and current teammate) Paul Taylor in an absolute war on the undercard of UFC 80. It will be interesting to see what could possibly be an entire change in gameplan and strategy, as Kelly recently migrated from the Wolfslair camp over to Team Kaobon. Whereas Wolfslair fighters are known for great wrestling and boxing, Kaobon’s pedigree is top level muay thai striking, Luta Livre (a more diverse wrestling system), and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. We could see an entirely new Paul Kelly.

GASB favors: Donald Cerrone, possibly via split decision. We anticipate and hope for a more vicious and dangerous Paul Kelly coming into this fight, but have to give the “on paper” war to Cerrone until we see it.

MAIN CARD (Pay-Per-View):

• Bantamweight bout (135 lbs): Miguel Angel Torres v. Antonio Banuelos

The PPV kicks off with yet another WEC carryover fight. GASB literally gets goosebumps thinking about this one.

Prior to August 9, 2009, Miguel Angel Torres was regarded by many as the most dangerous pound for pound fighter walking the planet. He walked through, dominated, destroyed, and… rearranged other men. If you’re unfamiliar with his fist canon and plan on consulting the record books, please note that “Doctor Stoppage” is code for “Plastic Surgery Candidate.” More often than not, Miguel Torres fights looked like a man systematically destroying a series of boys as sacrificial offerings to prevent him from slaying entire villages of people. In 2009, someone over at aforementioned Team Alpha Male figured out the winning formula and the MMA world sat in shock as both Brian Bowles and Joseph Benavidez stunned Torres with knockout and submission victories, respectively.

Torres got back into the habit of winning with a convincing rear naked choke against Charlie Valencia in the fall of 2010, but the jury is still out as to whether or not he can ever return to form.

Antonio Banuelos is a fun watch. At 5’3″, he always looks a little heavier than his competition. When he connects, he has the ability to knock out anyone. What’s more impressive is his ability at times to absorb an unusual amount of punches to the face. There have been many fights where GASB has leapt from the couch, entirely enthusiastic over Banuelos still standing after getting repeatedly blasted in the face by his opponents.  All of these factors should get the blood pumping and lend for a great opening act at UFC 126.

GASB favors: Miguel Angel Torres, likely by TKO. While his chin might allow him to hang in there for some murderous exchanges, Antonio Banuelos is no Alpha Male.

• Light Heavyweight bout (205 lbs): Jon “Bones” Jones v. Ryan “Darth” Bader

This is GASB’s MUST-SEE FIGHT for UFC 126.

With the possible exception of Anderson Silva, this matchup pairs the two purest athletes on the card against one another. Expect to watch this one in awe of both the physical acumen of these competitors and their mental game against one another. In Jones, you have a top-tier, violent striker with a disgusting amount of unrelenting precision. In Bader, you have a world class wrestler with inhuman stopping power. Jones trains with Greg Jackson. Bader routinely spars with current UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Valasquez. Bader is undefeated as a professional and boasts an NCAA Division I wrestling champ.

RESISTING THE URGE TO MAKE A STAR WARS PUN

Jones would be undefeated if it weren’t for that dumb 6 o’clock elbow rule (DQ). Jones has essentially put his signature on the spinning backfist maneuver. Bader took out a freaking NOGUEIRA BROTHER.

You’re not going to find a more impressive resume across any pairing of current rising UFC talent.

One could even argue that to match these two phenoms against each other so early in their bright careers might be a bad business decision for Zuffa. While that may be true financially, all that matters is that we get to see two otherworldly young athletes entering into their prime and completely standing in the way of each other.

This one is going to come down simply to who wants it more than the other; a very, very dangerous proposition when speaking of these two individuals. The referee for this fight better be quick on his/her feet to avoid permanent injury to one of the combatants.

GASB favors: Ryan Bader, likely by decision. In 2011, you’d be crazy to pick against Arizona State alums in the cage. We also feel Bader has more ways to win this fight (under the presumption that any Jones takedown will be stuffed instantly by Bader’s supreme wrestling pedigree).

• Welterweight bout (170 lbs): Jake Ellenberger v. Carlos Eduardo Rocha

Around the time that GASB will be shoving Gatorade I.V. needles into its flesh after screaming for the entirety of Jones v. Bader, two fantastic fighters will again be taking to the cage.

We love Jake Ellenberger’s fights. He’s a great, well-rounded fighter who uses a strong wrestling base to open up a host of other disciplines that he can then tailor toward each opponent. In short, he’s a true mixed martial arts fighter. If you haven’t seen his round 1 knockout over Mercelo Alfaya at Bellator 11, treat yourself as soon as possible.

Carlos Eduardo Rocha is the perfect matchup for Jake Ellenberger right now. This is the classic scenario of pitting a man at a crucial point in his journeyman-esque career versus a relatively unknown, yet extremely impressive newcomer.

Originally from Cabedelo down in Brazil, but currently fighting out of Hamburg, Germany, Rocha is a submission assassin, receiving his black belt from Dárcio Lira. He absolutely dismantled three men in one night at the 2009 Manto Cup and instantly put himself on the UFC radar. He made extremely quick work of Ultimate Fighter loudmouth Kris McCray at UFC 122 and has many diehards buzzing about where the ceiling is for this promising BJJ specimen.

GASB favors: Carlos Eduardo Rocha, likely by some insane choke. Maybe a Peruvian Necktie or Gogoplata (shin choke). This spot on the card is the perfect opportunity for Rocha to INSTANTLY make a name for himself and we see him rising to the occasion.

• Light Heavyweight bout (205 lbs): Forrest Griffin v. Rich Franklin

Great matchup, Joe Silva! This fight has no bearing whatsoever on the Light Heavyweight division — too many recent, high-profile losses for both — but these are two perennial fan favorites and should do wonders in terms of exposing all of these other younger, more promising fighters to the mainstream.

Both men are at a point in their careers where they’ve accepted that the fans want to see them brawl and put on a good show. They’ll do just that, complete with crowd interaction and slugfest pandering. It’s an entirely fun matchup and there’s nothing wrong with that here.

As this has no impact whatsoever on the modern light heavyweight landscape, GASB will simply throw our feet up and take in the show.

GASB favors: Rich Franklin, likely by KO. Forrest’s chin isn’t what it used to be and Franklin still has the discipline to hold composure in a punch-heavy exchange. He’ll find his mark as Forrest drops hands.

• MAIN EVENT: Middleweight Championship bout (185 lbs): Anderson “The Spider” Silva (Champion) v. Vitor Belfort (Challenger)

This is an interesting one.

Literally six years to the day after his last stint in UFC, Vitor gets a shot at the belt after only one current UFC fight (where he knocked out Rich Franklin at UFC 103). It’s truly hard to know what to expect. He’s a world class Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner (having trained with the Gracies), yet in recent years, he’s tried his hand at professional boxing, even attempting to make something happen with Golden Boy Promotions a few years ago.

He’s certainly stacked up a respectable amount of MMA knockouts since his last UFC foray, but one wonders if that’s the strategy that will be employed against Anderson Silva in this matchup (especially after seeing Chael Sonnen’s BJJ attack actually push Anderson for 4 9/10 rounds in his last fight).

THE CHAMP IS HERE

Then you have to factor in the enigma that is Anderson Silva himself.

Does anyone out there know what to expect from the champion? Will he take this fight seriously? Will he even exert himself until he needs to? Will he try to invent new techniques on the fly? In many ways, the quality and results of this fight are entirely dependent on what’s going on in Anderson Silva’s head. He’s by far the superior athlete on this card and in UFC on the whole. This enables him to be bored, confused, and well… confusing.

At the end of the day, there is no bigger Anderson Silva fan than GASB, yet we’d be irresponsible to note that Zuffa is certainly taking another risk on a Silva-headlining card.

Thankfully, they’ve padded the card with fights that could comprise their own PPV even if Silva v. Belfort wasn’t on. In this regard, we can all look at the main event as icing on an already substantial cake. To that end, they’ll either have gotten the icing perfect or catastrophic. We just don’t know yet. If the latter, you might as well start following Dana White’s Twitter now for what will surely be a classic middle-aged white man meltdown at the conclusion of the evening.

GASB favors: Anderson “The Spider” Silva, likely by standing knockout. GASB feels that Silva is far more intrigued by fighting Roy Jones, Jr. at this point than his UFC legacy. He will use fellow aspiring boxer Vitor Belfort to make his case to the world.

Of note: this is the final fight on Silva’s UFC contract.

Enjoy the fights!

– Brent Eyestone

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