Bloody Elbow's Matt Bishop sat down Friday morning to answer four burning questions surrounding Saturday's "UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort," one for each big fight on the main card, which will be live from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Don't forget to stick with Bloody Elbow all day Saturday for complete coverage of UFC 126.
Now, without any further ado, here are the burning questions for UFC 126.
1) Does Miguel Torres have what it takes to rise back to the top of the bantamweight division?
Torres has admitted in interviews that the division passed him by in a way while he was champion. Now, Torres has changed his game, training with Firas Zahabi instead of at his own gym in Indiana. That right there gives me hope Torres can return to the top. There's no doubt he has a ton of talent, and his ground game is extremely slick and his striking looked vastly different (and improved) when he fought Charlie Valencia at WEC 51 in September.
Sometimes fighters don't like what they run into when leaving their comfort zone. They run away or go gym hopping. I don't see Torres being that guy (well, he's not That Guy in that aspect, anyway). I believe he knows he's found a good thing and especially now with the the bantamweight division moving to the UFC, he has to know how much money is on the line, especially for a fighter as popular as he is.
I don't know if Torres will be able to beat Dominick Cruz should that fight materialize, but I do know this new Torres is much different and much improved. It should be fun watching his evolution. Although this all goes out the window if Antonio Banuelos has anything to say about it Saturday.
This really is the light-heavyweight version of what the heavyweight division was in 2009. Many were clamoring for the up-and-coming heavyweights, Shane Carwin, Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez, to fight each other. That never happened. Now, the UFC has decided to make a match between their two top light-heavyweight prospects in Jones and Bader.
Jones is the heavy favorite for a reason: He's a superior athlete and has been much flashier than Bader in his wins. This fight, though, could be an instance where the fighter who wins on that night doesn't necessarily go on to have the better career. For the record, I like Bader a lot, but I have Jones winning big (not by stoppage, mind you, but by decision).
In this fight, one of these two is going to face their first true loss (since Jones wasn't really beat against Matt Hamill). If the losing fighter here goes back to the drawing board and comes back a better fighter, they could potentially reach higher levels than the other.
In regards to the long-term, I like Jones more than Bader. He's more dynamic and still is growing into his skills. Bader is a solid fighter but I don't know how much room he has for growth. This fight is going to tell us a lot about him. It's funny that Bader has faced (and beaten) the much stiffer competition but it's Jones who has all the hype.
The winner of this fight will get sent straight to the top level of the division. This is like a play-in game. The loser? Well, for them it's do not pass go, do not collect $200 (should I really be making Monopoly jokes in my second-ever piece on BE? Time will tell!). The winner's next fight depends on how some other fights shake out. Of course, the matchup that slaps you right in the face is a fight with the Forrest Griffin/Rich Franklin winner. The light-heavyweight division has a ton of moving parts right now. I wish I had a chart so I could properly diagram all the scenarios running around in my head. Regardless, a big fight is in store for the winner with a potential title fight in the near future should they keep winning. This definitely is a fight I could see being rematched down the road under much bigger circumstances.
3) Can Forrest Griffin or Rich Franklin ever climb back to the top of the mountain?
This is what matchmaking is all about. You have two fighters who are looking to rebound and make another run to the top. Let's take a look at them individually here for what should be a very good fight.
Franklin's in a tough spot to make it back because he's 36 and clearly isn't very long for fighting. In fact, if you Google "Rich Franklin retire" you'll see results speculating on his retirement from 2007 on the first page. So this isn't exactly new. Outside of that, the biggest problem for Franklin is his size. He's going to be in an interesting position against Griffin and if he were to ever meet Jones, that's just a huge size mismatch. I still think Franklin has the skills to compete at the upper level, but it's going to be tough for him to win the light-heavyweight title.
In Griffin's case, I think this certainly is a lot more achievable. Fact is, he's already beat champion Mauricio Rua and former champion Quinton Jackson. I don't know if Griffin could beat Rua again, but I'd place a wager on him beating Jackson for a second time. I don't think the result of that fight was a fluke (I had it scored a draw, for the record, but Griffin was much more competitive than most thought he would be). With his skills, I feel good about Griffin in there with Jackson or Rashad Evans. Rua, not so much. Griffin just needs to put it all together. If he's healthy, he's tough because of his size and his leg kicks. I'd like to see him back competing with those in the upper-echelon of the division.
Let me, right off the bat, give the quick answers to these: No and no. Please keep reading, though.
Many questioned whether Silva lost a step following his close call against Chael Sonnen at UFC 117. Two points: First, Sonnen is tough and we've seen him give everyone (sans Demian Maia) trouble in this stint in the UFC. Second, I do believe Silva's rib injury was a big detriment to him and that was reflected in how he fought against Sonnen. The ribs are such an awful area to hurt. It prohibits movement and what does Silva like to do? That's right, move. Much of Silva's game is predicated on movement. Now, it is possible Silva has lost a step and it was just exacerbated by the rib injury. One way or another, we'll fight out Saturday night.
Can Belfort expose Silva? My personal feelings when it comes to Vitor Belfort is this: "All bets are off." If you've watched this man for any stretch of time you know to take nothing for granted. He can look like the biggest thing the sport's ever seen one minute and then a fighter a fraction of that the next. Belfort certainly has the tools to "expose" Silva. Fast hands are a good thing here. Silva, though, has eaten strikers for lunch during his UFC run because he is on a completely different level. Sure, none of those guys had hands as good as Belfort, but as a general point, I think it's a good one. The problem here is this: Who's going to engage who? This could be a staring contest where it won't matter how fast Vitor's hands are. Even worse, if Belfort can't hit Silva, what does he have? A shattered psyche, that's what. As we've seen, a broken Belfort is a beaten Befort. Silva retains.
-- photos via UFC.com