Matches to make after UFC 126
Foot met face in a violent intersection, and the mixed martial arts world quaked with excitement.
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Middleweight champion Anderson Silva defended his crown for the record eighth consecutive time, as he laid waste to Vitor Belfort with a perfectly timed and placed front kick in the UFC 126 main event on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The blow dropped Belfort where he stood, and a pair of follow-up punches from "The Spider" polished him off 3:25 into the first round.
Nearly 1,600 days into his reign as the UFC's middleweight king, Silva clearly has no equal at 185 pounds. Yushin Okami has long clamored for a rematch, though few give him better than a remote shot of capitalizing on such an opportunity. The last man to defeat Silva, he did so by disqualification five years ago in Honolulu. Silva has since rattled off 14 consecutive victories -- 12 of them finishes -- and has thrown his name into the middle of the greatest fighter of all time debate.
A closer look at five matches we want to see after UFC 126 follows:
Anderson Silva versus Georges St. Pierre
The time has come to make it happen. Some will support the Silva-Okami rematch, but with Silva and St. Pierre so clearly established at the top of their divisions, provided the French Canadian gets past Jake Shields in April, this fruit will never be riper for the picking. With his front kick knockout of Belfort at UFC 126, Silva went a long way toward hushing his critics, who point to doubts regarding his age and diminishing skills. He has won 14 consecutive fights, 13 of them inside the UFC. Nothing more needs to be said.
St. Pierre, with his impossible-to-stop takedown attack, seems a perfect foil. Silva turns 36 in April, and though he remains as potent as ever, time waits for no man. UFC president Dana White believes it would be hard not to have the Silva-St. Pierre mega fight play out in Canada. Why not let it carry the marquee at the promotion's August return to Brazil?
Forrest Griffin versus Phil Davis
Griffin rarely gets the credit he deserves as a world-class light heavyweight. Sometimes, it appears as if his detractors gloss over the fact that he holds two high-profile wins over Quinton Jackson and current UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua. The man has skills and the heart to match them. Griffin returned to the cage for the first time in more than a year at UFC 126 and showed no ill effects from the layoff. A monstrous light heavyweight, he controlled one-time middleweight titleholder Rich Franklin on the ground, wobbled him standing and more than held his own when the two exchanged.
Davis finds himself on the same career track as Jon Jones -- the fast one. Provided Davis passes his test against Matt Hamill (a man he dwarfs from an athletic standpoint) at UFC 129 in April, the time will have come to throw him in against one of the division's elite. There can be no better litmus test than Griffin. Prospects have to pay their way at some point.
Miguel Torres versus Demetrious Johnson
Doubters continue to label Johnson an overblown flyweight. However, after his rousing unanimous decision victory over Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto at UFC 126, it has become clear that the Matt Hume protégé can thrive in two weight classes. Johnson's blinding speed and tenacity make him a handful for anyone at 125 or 135 pounds. In sports, speed has long been known as the great equalizer, and few can match Johnson in that department. Until the UFC institutes a 125-pound division, he will be forced to ply his trade against bigger, stronger opponents.
Enter Torres. The former WEC bantamweight champion, back climbing the ladder at 135 pounds, was impressive if unspectacular in dispatching Antonio Banuelos in his Octagon debut. Wrestling remains his Achilles' heel. Put him in the cage with Johnson and see how he handles it.
Chad Mendes versus Diego Nunes
What could be more fitting than two young featherweights pushing themselves into title contention by going after one another? Mendes has shown sharp improvement and has already established himself as a top fighter at 145 pounds. The Urijah Faber protégé fought brilliantly against the resurgent Michihiro Omigawa at UFC 126, outstriking the judoka on the feet and scoring with some determined takedowns.
Nunes, another fighter in his prime, has put together an impressive three-fight winning streak since tasting defeat for the first time, displaying the kind of resilience one hopes to see in a martial artist of his caliber. The 28-year-old Brazilian bested former WEC champion Mike Thomas Brown on New Year's Day, cementing his place near the top of the featherweight division. Like Mendes, his stock has never been higher.
Jake Ellenberger versus Mike Pierce
This one seems like a no-brainer. Two of the welterweight division's most unheralded standouts, Ellenberger and Pierce deserve a prime spot at a forthcoming UFC event. More importantly, a new world-ranked contender at 170 pounds could emerge from a meeting between them. Ellenberger won ugly against Carlos Eduardo Rocha at UFC 126, but he won nonetheless and passed a significant test in his young career. Exceptional fighters are defined by their ability to win without their best "stuff." In outdueling Rocha, Ellenberger proved he could.
Pierce has adapted well inside the Octagon, winning four of his five fights. His lone setback came in a unanimous decision to one-time welterweight title contender Jon Fitch, and he had the American Kickboxing Academy star on his heels in the third round. A stout wrestler with heavy punches, he used those skills masterfully in dispatching the previously unbeaten Kenny Robertson at UFC 126.
Brian Knapp is a contributor to Sherdog.com.
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