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UFC 126 Preview: SB Nation Breaks Down The Main Fight Card

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UFC 126 Fight Card Preview: Anderson Silva Vs Vitor Belfort

Anderson Silva vs Vitor Belfort

Although Vitor Belfort has historically folded whenever being in a position to take hold of a division, a victory over one of the sport's best in Silva could finally make that realization possible. That being said, there are concerns.

Belfort hasn't competed in almost 17 months and ring rust will undoubtedly be an issue. I also worry about him being able to maintain a competitive pace in the championship rounds after moving down 20 pounds to the middleweight division. Belfort reportedly had a difficult time even making the 195 pound catchweight fight with Rich Franklin at UFC 103. Hopefully his recent work with weight cutting guru and nutritionist Mike Dolce can help quell those concerns. He looked great yesterday at weigh-ins.

After an embarrassing display at UFC 112 against Demian Maia, fans turned on Anderson Silva in droves. Spectators even booed the UFC's longest tenured champion as they cheered for Belfort yesterday at the weigh ins. Not much love for Anderson, but a great deal for someone who has only stepped into the octagon once in the last five years. Silva is easily the most despised current UFC champion and many MMA fans will order this fight just hoping to witness Silva being dethroned firsthand.

This fight should be interesting as Silva is fighting someone who is extremely dangerous in every facet. Belfort's moniker as 'the Phenom' has endeared him to diehards who remember his record-breaking knockouts, but people need to remember how strong a top game jiu jitsu player he still is. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes a page out of Chael Sonnen's book and tries to keep Silva working off his back for five rounds. If Sonnen can make Silva look as bad as he did with that strategy, Belfort can, too.

Silva takes this fight if he can keep it standing. If he can stifle takedowns for the first three rounds, he can open up a bit more in rounds four and five. He needs to keep Vitor moving and exchanging, tiring him out. Belfort tweeted fans yesterday that he cut 30 pounds for this fight, so Silva is really going to work on keeping him from resting in his guard. I know Belfort has the power to end this fight with one punch, but I just don't see him being able to land clean on Silva. Anderson better be on his game, though.

My pick: Silva

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UFC 126 Fight Card Preview: Forrest Griffin Vs Rich Franklin

Forrest Griffin vs Rich Franklin

Everyone seems to be talking about this as some kind of 'fun fight' as if these guys aren't really going to be going after it tonight. Ask Chuck Liddell how fun fighting Rich Franklin is. Those thoughts should have been stamped out after yesterday's staredown at the weigh-ins, but rest assured, neither of these guys are looking to cut their opponent any slack. A win here isn't going to propel either fighter into title contention, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.

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. 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 extent of Griffin's. Chuck Liddell managed to break Franklin's arm before being knocked out at UFC 115 back in June.

Both of these guys are tough as all hell. Each have finished and won fights with broken hands, arms and feet so you can bank on them going for broke tonight. Something tells me Rich is just a bit more into it right now. I like his knockout power and Griffin's chin has been on a steady decline ever since his loss Rashad Evans, maybe even Keith Jardine. I foresee a slug fest here and the odds on favorite for fight of the night. Win titles or be exciting. I think these two choose the latter.

My pick: Franklin

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UFC 126 Fight Card Preview: Jake Ellenberger Vs Carlos Eduardo Rocha

Jake Ellenberger vs. Carlos Eduardo Rocha

Jake Ellenberger thought he'd be fighting Jon Fitch tonight at UFC 126. Instead, Fitch was pulled in favor of a matchup with BJ Penn at UFC 127 in Sydney. It's not the fight he wanted, but Ellenberger is still going to approach this fight like he's fighting a top ranked welterweight.

Ellenberger has a tendency to make good fighters look really bad. Carlos Condit managed a controversial split decision win over him, but dominating performances over guys like John Howard and Mike Pyle really show you his toughness. I like Ellenberger in this fight wherever it ends up.

There isn't much to say about Rocha just yet. He's only had one fight in the UFC and it was a relatively painless affair as he knee barred TUF runner up Kris McCray back in November. He's spent just over two minutes in the octagon. What I can tell you is that he wins his fights by submission. In fact, eight of his nine victories came via submission. Ellenberger has only been submitted once in 28 fights, so it's going to be tough to catch him. I hope for Rocha's sake he's more well rounded than his record would indicate.

My pick: Ellenberger

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UFC 126 Fight Card Preview: Jon Jones Vs Ryan Bader

Jon Jones vs Ryan Bader

Aside from the main event, this is by far the most impactful fight of the night. This is a battle between two undefeated superstars in the making. Yes, Jones isn't technically undefeated after his disqualification loss to Matt Hamil in 2009, but he's unbeaten. No one has looked great against him and he will present a myriad of problems for Ryan Bader.

Jon Jones brings a style of striking that is going to be very difficult to try to replicate during training camp. Unpredictable doesn't begin to explain his quasi-muay thai standup. Whether it's spinning back elbows or flying knees, Jones is going to land on you if you don't put pressure on him.

Bader could be that guy. He didn't look like he had gas in the third round with Antônio Rogério Nogueira, but he places the blame on a less than ideal training schedule for the fight. Bader was in the middle of opening his own gym — Power MMA — in Arizona with teammates CB Dollaway and Aaron Simpson, meaning he was forced to get work in where he could. He spent time in three different gyms, all of whom knew he wouldn't be staying and would instead be competing with them shortly. Sort of awkward.

I think he should look better prepared for this fight. Not to sound too negative regarding Jones' past opponents, but none of them have been world beaters. I don't believe Jones will be able to buzzsaw someone like Ryan Bader. This fight is going to be closer than many people are forecasting. Bader has the power to end this fight with one punch, something Jones had better be cognizant of the entire time he's in the octagon.

My pick: Bader

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UFC 126 Fight Card Preview: Miguel Torres Vs Antonio Banuelos

Miguel Torres vs Antonio Banuelos

The depth of UFC 126's card can be attributed to a lot of different things, but it's clear now that the UFC/WEC merger has had the greatest impact. Although we're still in the infancy of a post-merger UFC, all signs seem to indicate a greater overall product for the fans. Miguel Torres and Antonio Banuelos are a perfect example of this. With Torres we have a young fighter who was once touted as being one of the pound-for-pound best and in Banuelos a man who has never stopped giving it everything he's got to reach the top. Both men are making their UFC debuts and neither want to disappoint.

Torres is probably the more talented of the two, but Banuelos is more blue collar. Antonio doesn't win pretty fights and his brawling and grinding style make him work for everything. The 5'9 Torres will enjoy a sizable reach advantage over Banuelos, who, at only 5'3, is going to have to close the gap to get his shots in. Torres will want to keep this fight standing, but he's going to need to be on point with his leg kicks. If Torres can use them effectively to keep his distance — along with a stiff jab — and avoid being taken down he should win this fight. Banuelos wants to get inside and take Torres to the ground. If Torres gets lazy with his kicks and allows his opponent to catch one, that's exactly where he will end up.

My Pick: Torres 

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UFC 126 Preview: SB Nation Breaks Down The Main Fight Card

It's still early in 2011 but this night of fights could shake out to be card of the year. Depending on which fighters really bring it tonight, there should be no shortage of high-charged action. The fact that KID Yamamoto didn't even make the main televised card should really tell you something. I'm as excited about his arrival in the UFC as anyone, but Dana White and Joe Silva haven't exactly given him a lay up. Demetrious Johnson is no cupcake and I'm actually taking him in that fight.

The UFC has upped the ante to cash in on Superbowl eve and it's paid off, big time. Average ticket prices have skyrocketed as fans flocked to Vegas for a weekend of partying. With names like Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, Rich Franklin, Forrest Griffin, Ryan Bader and Jon Jones, the UFC has done a great job at positioning themselves for a huge pay day.

Stay tunes to SB Nation MMA throughout today and tonight as we bring you previews, live results and commentary.

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