Sunday, February 6, 2011

UFC 126

Last night was another fantastic night for MMA and the UFC. There were three main fights on the card, and each one delivered on the considerable hype of Super Bowl eve. In chronological order...

Jon Jones vs. Ryan Bader

Jon Jones has quickly developed into the biggest thing in MMA. He went into last night's light heavyweight with a record of 11-1, the lone defeat being a disqualification when he was battering Matt Hamill with a few 12 to 6 elbows. There is no one at 205 that can match his combination of athleticism and creativity.

Ryan Bader went into last night's fight unbeaten in his first 13 fights, looking like a future champion in several fights after winning The Ultimate Fighter. The UFC was billing this as a match to see who would control the future of the light heavyweight division. What the fight quickly became was a coronation.

From the time that Bader and Jones first engaged, it became readily apparent that Jones was much stronger than Bader. Bader would not be able to control Jones' posture, despite being a two-time NCAA wrestling champion. Jon Jones seems to surprise almost everyone he fights with his strength. Bader became so frustrated that he pulled guard in the second round and wound up setting himself up for a guillotine choke at 4:20 of the second round.

After the fight, Joe Rogan informed Jones that he was being tagged as a replacement for Rashad Evans and his damaged knee in a March 19 title shot against light heavyweight champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128. Jon Jones now has 6 weeks to get ready for the biggest moment of his young career. For Bader, it's back to the drawing board.

Forrest Griffin vs. Rich Franklin

Like most fans of the UFC, I love Forrest Griffin. Griffin is a true blood and guts fighter that combines his desire to make all of his fights exciting with a wit and personality that stands out. Griffin has written two best selling books (the first one, Got Fight?, is hysterical...haven't read the second one), and is the poster boy for the UFC. Rich Franklin is also one of the good guys, having coached several times on the Ultimate Fighter and having represented himself well in the cage whenever he fights.

Griffin took Franklin down in the first round and proceeded to control Franklin with ground and pound, taking control of the fight. Most of the last 2 rounds was a stand-up battle, with both fighters landing consistently, but neither one taking control of the fight. Griffin had a number of unorthodox strikes, combining right kicks to the head with right crosses. Franklin was quicker on his feet, but never landed the punch or kick that would seize momentum. Griffin wound up winning a unanimous decision (29-28 on all 3 cards), and is now another quality win or two from another title shot. For Franklin, it's hard to imagine where this loss leaves him. He seemed much too small for Griffin. You have to wonder if he can compete at 205 against the best competition. If Jon Jones is the wave of the future, he may want to move back to 185.

Vitor Belfort vs. Anderson Silva

Anderson Silva is the most dynamic MMA fighter in the world, although his conduct in the ring hasn't always endeared himself to UFC fans. Anytime you watch a Silva fight in public, there's sure to be several people on site that don't mind telling you that Silva is a punk that doesn't represent the sport well. The fact that Silva's spectacular striking has helped to grow mixed martial arts around the world seems lost on these people, and it's always nice watching them hang their heads after another spectacular performance.

Vitor Belfort is a former UFC champion known for his quick hands and finishing skills. After Silva's fight with Chael Sonnen, it appeared that perhaps Silva was in decline, and that Belfort was tailor-made to take advantage of Silva. Both fighters seemed content to stare at each other for 90 seconds before engaging. Belfort got a takedown of Silva, but Silva quickly stood back up, then leveled Belfort with a left front kick that seemed like a video game shot. Mario Yamasaki could have stopped it right there, but Belfort ate two more punches before the fight was stopped at 3:29 of the first round.

After the fight, Dana White confirmed that Silva's next opponent will be Georges St. Pierre in a matchup between the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, provided that GSP can beat Jake Shields when they fight in April. It would seem that GSP has the perfect style to beat Anderson Silva, but Silva is the bigger fighter, and, as long as he doesn't spend the whole night on his back, Silva should be able to land strikes on GSP.

For now, Silva can bask in the glow of one of the most spectacular knockouts in the history of MMA, as he continues to build a legend that will last long after he has finished his career.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

UFC 126 recap tomorrow

I am pay-per-viewing the UFC 126 card tonight, which features 3 different bouts that could headline on any other evening. Dana White likes to put on a big show the night before the Super Bowl and tonight is no different. Light heavyweight contenders Ryan Bader and Jon Jones will battle for the mantle of supremacy over all other young contenders at 205. Perhaps the two most popular fighters in the promotion will clash when Forrest Griffin and Rich Franklin battle for relevance at 205, with the loser moving to the back of the pack. And, Anderson Silva, the middleweight champion, will enter the octagon for the first time since his late victory over the disgraced Chael Sonnen when he battles former champion Vitor Belfort for the title.

Sometime early tomorrow, I will have a recap of all of the televised festivities from Vegas. It should be a fun night.

Super Bowl Pick

I'm still in a period of mourning regarding the 2010 Jets, but I thought I should put in my 2 cents on tomorrow's big game...

*If I have to hear one more talking hair-do talk about the weather at the Super Bowl, I may get sick. Listen, no one cares that you might get snow on your shoes going from event to event, okay? A lot of people have to deal with the elements on their way to work. Nowhere is it written that the championship game has to be climate-controlled. Most fans I know would like to see a cold weather title game. The chance of weather being a factor is part of what separates pro football from other games. We want more of this, if possible.

*The Maurkice Pouncey injury is going to be a problem for the Steelers. Pittsburgh wasn't able to run the ball as well after they lost Pouncey against the Jets, and they'll need to be able to run tomorrow to have a chance to win. Green Bay can really get after the passer if they don't have to respect Pittsburgh's running game.

*I keep going back to the same issue when I think about tomorrow's game...I'm not sure how Pittsburgh is going to be able to cover Green Bay. In their last game, Pittsburgh knew that the Jets had to throw in the second half, yet they still were unable to keep Sanchez and company out of the end zone. The Jets are nowhere near as efficient as the Packers are in the passing game, so Aaron Rodgers should be able to pick them apart, as long as they can protect him.

*Green Bay has been decimated by injuries and they're working on their 3rd or 4th running back, but they're still able to produce points in a hurry. Green Bay will try to keep in Pittsburgh in nickel defenses no matter the down and distance, because, in the nickel, NT Casey Hampton comes off the field. With Hampton out of the game, the Packers will try to run it, and it wouldn't surprise me if they had some success on the ground. All they need is some semblance of balance, and the Steelers will be in trouble.

I expect this game to be close, but the Packers have a definite advantage. Of course, the Packers haven't been in this position before with this group, and the majority of the Steelers core group already have 2 rings. This may wind up meaning nothing, and it may wind up meaning a lot. I'm guessing it's going to mean very little. I think Aaron Rodgers is going to be able to make plays on the perimeter, and the Packers are going to win their 4th Super Bowl. Green Bay, 35-24.