Time spent away from the cage has an undeniable effect on fighters. Be it from a lengthy injury recovery, contract dispute or something else entirely, ring rust is one of those terrible truths of competing in combat sports. Take Brandon Vera for example. During his bizarre falling out with former manager Mark Dion, Vera was sidelined for nearly a year while he tried to exclude Dion from handling his business. At 8-0, Vera was the Jon Jones of years past. The undefeated rising star heading to the top. He was never the same fighter after he finally made his return.
UFC 126 features some big names coming off major layoffs and we won't know until Saturday night what effect their time away had on their performances.
Forrest Griffin hasn't fought since November of 2009 where he outscored Tito Ortiz in a rematch at UFC 106. That's nearly 14 months spent away from the office. At least he was keeping busy. Griffin released his second book and had a lingering shoulder injury surgically repaired. Griffin told MMA Junkie:
"The big thing will just be that first minute, making that adjustment, getting back in there," Griffin said. "This is the longest break I've had from fighting since 2000, so it's weird."
I'm not sure if Griffin is quite ready for someone like a Rich Franklin. Seeing as he isn't exactly in title contention at the moment, why not give him a warm up fight? The UFC certainly didn't throw him into the fire early in his career. Why do it now? Franklin is coming off a layoff of his own but not to the extreme of Griffin's. Chuck Liddell managed to break Franklin's arm before being knocked out at UFC 115 back in June.
Vitor Belfort is the main perpetrator here. He hasn't competed since September of 2009, giving him a whopping 17-month layoff. While Vitor has routinely had nearly year-long layoffs (or more) throughout his career, he was never returning to fight someone at Silva's level. Mental issues have been the knock on the Brazilian for years and whether or not he's mentally prepared himself after such a long break is a major cause for concern. The prospect of spending five championship rounds at a weight he isn't especially accustomed to must be a bit daunting for Belfort.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed for both fighters, but history has not been kind in this regard. I'm just hoping UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez gets well soon.