Tomorrow night the UFC brings its live audience at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada and the millions watching worldwide on Pay-Per-View one of the most stacked cards in UFC history with UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort. The event showcases a wealth of electrifying match-ups including former WEC warriors “Cowboy” Donald Cerrone (12-4) and Miguel Torres (37-3) gracing the UFC Octagon for the very first time and taking on British slugger Paul Kelly (11-3) and Antonio Banuelos (18-6), rising stars “Bones” Jon Jones (11-1) and “Darth” Ryan Bader (12-0) in a light heavyweight clash, NCAA wrestling coach “The Juggernaut” Jake Ellenberger facing dangerous submission expert Carlos Eduardo Rocha (9-0), and two former champions battling it out for light heavyweight supremacy following an inactive 2010 with Forrest Griffin (17-6) and “Ace” Rich Franklin (27-5). The highly anticipated main event pits UFC Middleweight Champion and arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world “The Spider” Anderson Silva (27-4) against deadly striker “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort. Anderson has been not only invincible in the UFC, but damn near untouchable. The lone hiccup in his UFC career came when he was controlled for nearly five rounds by Chael Sonnen (24-11) at UFC 117 but turned the tables and finished his opponent in the closing minutes with a Triangle Choke. Anderson Silva is riding a thirteen fight win streak including a flawless 12-0 record inside the UFC, and tomorrow night will make his record breaking eighth title defense. Vitor Belfort on the other hand more or less earned his title shot with one recent win inside the UFC over Rich Franklin at a catch-weight. He has however won five in a row, but is very middling (7-5) in his past twelve fights, compared to a perfect dozen victories that Anderson Silva has put up. Come the conclusion of UFC 126 tomorrow night, either Anderson Silva walks out of the cage with the middleweight title belt rightfully cinched around his waist for the ninth consecutive time, leaving any questions about his skill and dedication answered, or the world’s most recognizable UFC champion will have fallen and given way to a new era in the 185lbs. division with the vicious striker Vitor Belfort as its reigning king.
At First Glance: Let’s be candid – only someone with Vitor’s stand-up credentials could make this fight attractive. He has not been overwhelming in his past dozen fights, and with the way that Anderson Silva has gone through most of the UFC’s top middleweight contenders like a buzz saw, very few of Silva’s potential competitors are even given a second thought by MMA fans and media alike. “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort though has that “X-factor” that makes this a very compelling match-up. “The Phenom” has been a bit enigmatic as a fighter; at times he looks on a level all his own, while at other times he appears to be phoning in a less than inspired effort. That being said, if a fighter can’t bring his best for a world championship fight on the biggest stage in the sport, he might as well hang up the gloves. Anderson Silva has also at times in his title run looked bored, impartial, and disinterested, much like a lion toying with his prey knowing the whole while the inevitable conclusion. It’s this simple laissez-faire situation that makes this fight close on paper. People might be quick to write Vitor off here, but would they be right to do so?
In Depth: Which versions of Anderson Silva or Vitor Belfort show up tomorrow night – the world class fighters with lightning fast speed, pinpoint striking, and dangerous submission skills, or seemingly preoccupied, lackadaisical Did I turn off the stove? fighters – will play a significant role in how the main event unfolds. A disinterested Anderson Silva could meet a similar fate as “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva (34-10) in his UFC battle with Vitor over 12 years ago, where Wanderlei was knocked out just 0:44 into the fight by “The Phenom”. A sluggish and slower than normal Vitor will certainly be met with an immediate and furious response by his adversary. When there are two fighters who both have been accused of taking the night off instead of fighting to their potential, predicting the candidate who is more likely to reign victorious almost becomes a glorified guessing game. Let’s look at what should happen if both fighters show up ready to go. Vitor Belfort has the blistering hand speed and devastating power to land his flurry of strikes and really hurt “The Spider” with just a single kick, knee, or punch. He also has the footwork to keep moving enough to stave off enough of Silva’s advances. What makes Anderson Silva less apt to count the lights in this fight is his astonishing head movement and ability to avoid shots and his offense. Former boxing great, Jack Dempsey has been credited with saying, “The best offense is a good defense.” In Silva’s case, that statement rings very true. It could be assumed that “The Phenom” is coming into this fight looking to land early and take “The Spider” by surprise and leave him a little unnerved. Is that the likeliest of scenarios? Probably not. Anderson Silva is the best fighter in world at 185 pounds, and while Vitor Belfort at times fights great, Anderson Silva is better. In a battle of stand-up, Anderson’s superior defense and his ability to land damaging shots from any conceivable angle could be the telling factor in this fight.
The Wild Card: The toss-up in this clash between two of the world’s top middleweights is, believe it or not, Jiu-Jitsu. Both fighters have the ability to take the fight down to the canvas and finish it with a submission. However, Anderson Silva has a more modern approach to the ground game and would be much more likely to score a submission win if the fight hits the mat. Vitor fits into the mold of the old classic aphorism “Brazilian Black Belt” that gets thrown around by announcers. Is Vitor a black belt? Yes, he is. Is his Jiu-Jitsu as advanced as others who continue to train and adapt their game? No, not likely. Silva trains at the esteemed Team Black House with the Nogueira brothers – “Minotauro” Antonio Rodrigo (32-6-1) and “Little Nog” Antonio Rogerio (18-4) – as well as former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion “The Dragon” Lyoto Machida (16-2). He has applied, cream of the crop ground training and despite the three submissions he’s secured in the UFC, by and large he hasn’t needed it. It is very possible that this fight could be one where he might be best served taking the fight down at some point and working some submissions. Silva is highly regarded as the best striker in the sport, but his ground game is tremendously underrated.
The Verdict: In regard to the stand-up aspect of the fight, especially from a technical standpoint, the advantage clearly goes to Anderson Silva. The ground game yields yet another advantage slanted in Silva’s favor, and at the end of the day, the intangibles belong to the champion as well. Vitor will likely come out looking to dismantle Silva early, but the aptly named “The Spider” will immediately go on the defense, using his lanky limbs and renowned footwork and head movement to stay out of Vitor’s reach and avoid absorbing any damage, only to turn around and inflict some pain of his own brand. After a couple of rounds inside the cage with the all-around world class mixed martial artist Anderson Silva, Vitor will probably be looking for a place to hide. Silva via TKO, Round 3.