Chad Mendes vs. Michihiro Omigawa - This is Omigawa's reintroduction to the UFC, who previously fought at lightweight, but I don't like his chances against Mendes. Omigawa has lost to wrestlers in the past, and Mendes, making his UFC debut after finding a lot of success in the featherweight division of WEC, is tremendously good. I expect Chad Mendes to win by decision in an excellent three round war.
Donald Cerrone vs. Paul Kelly - Donald Cerrone's SpikeTV prelim fight is representative of a lot of things for all of the former WEC lightweights that are hoping to make the transition from the old company to their new UFC home. Cerrone has to be able to rise above the fact that he's no longer the big fish in the small pond. The UFC's lightweight division is now packed with talent thanks to the WEC merger, to the point that name fighters who don't win are more likely to get cut. There's also the added pressure of proving that WEC's lightweight division wasn't second rate, that Cerrone, a guy on top in the WEC, belongs in the big leagues of the UFC 155 pound weight class. Paul Kelly is a brawler, much like Cerrone, but he doesn't have the ground skills Cerrone possesses. I suspect that Cerrone will tap Kelly out in the second round of an exciting fight, since the Cowboy has a tendency to start late.
Miguel Torres vs. Antonio Banuelos - Torres is a former WEC Bantamweight Champion who hit a roadblock in 2009, losing two in a row. He won his last fight in decisive fashion and appears to have turned the corner on his comeback; this fight will cement whether or not that's the case. Banuelos is always known as a guy that has great fights but often chokes when it comes to getting the win when it really matters. This will be the first time that the bantamweights get to really show off in the UFC, and I expect it to be a slobberknocker of epic proportions. Torres has the better ground game and a bit of an edge in the stand up. As long as his chin holds, I expect Torres to win by decision but expect a fight of the night calibre battle.
Jon Jones vs. Ryan Bader - Man, this fight! Almost two years ago, there was talk of a Shane Carwin/Cain Velasquez bout that seemed ludicrous at the time since a loss for one of those guys essentially eliminated a high-profile name from title contention for a long time. That fight never happened, to the benefit of the UFC, but Bader and Jones are facing off. One is an unmovable object: Bader has had an impressive eight finishes out of his undefeated 12 fight career. He's a wrestler that doesn't spend much time on his back and can knock another guy silly with just one punch. The other guy is about as close to an unstoppable force as anyone will ever see in MMA: Jones has grown by leaps and bounds, growing from an elite wrestler transitioning to MMA to a well-rounded fighter who can strike with the best of them. He's also literally still growing -- the guy is only 23 years old. Jones has pinpoint accuracy with his knees, elbows and fists and an ability with his long limbs to out-grapple anyone. Short of Shogun Rua (current light-heavyweight champ) or Rashad Evans (Jones' training partner that he refuses to consider fighting), I cannot imagine anyone in the light-heavyweight division giving Jon Jones a problem, let alone a challenge. At the same time, his performance here will really show how far he's progressed. Stranger things have happened, but Bader, in my mind, doesn't stand a chance. Jones will take the win by TKO in the first, and hopefully move on to face the winner of the semi-main event.
Jake Ellenberger vs. Carlos Eduardo Rocha - There are occasions where I don't know enough about the fighters to give a proper breakdown. This is one of those times. So I flipped a coin. Ellenberger will win by split decision.
Forrest Griffin vs. Rich Franklin - In the interest of full disclosure, Forrest Griffin is my wife's favorite fighter. Unfortunately, he's been on the shelf for a year due to a shoulder injury. Franklin is also coming off a long layoff since he broke his arm in his knockout victory over Chuck Liddell last June. To me, this is the toughest fight to call of the entire night. It could easily go either way, and largely depends on which version of Forrest Griffin shows up. Will we see the guy that is patient and picks his spots, capitalizing on the mistakes of his opponent en route to victory? Or will we see the reckless Forrest that makes clumsy mistakes out of stubbornness and stupidity? Forrest has largely been his own worst enemy in the cage. He's a guy that can beat himself long before the fight ever starts. Franklin, meanwhile, always approaches his fights with a solid game plan, and it's the skill of Franklin's opponent that determines if he is effective in implementing it. My gut says that Franklin will win by split decision, but my wife and I will be stoked if Forrest can pull it off.
Vitor Belfort vs. Anderson Silva (c) for the UFC Middleweight Championship - There are people that live and die by Anderson Silva fights. Either they're cheering for his demise because they see him as a cocky guy who feels he's above the sport, or they view him as a dude whose talents as the pound-for-pound king of MMA excuse his sometimes lackluster performances in the cage. I'm not either of those guys. Granted, I lost my mind during the build-up to his fight with Chael Sonnen, but, fortunately for everyone involved, Sonnen lost in the last half of the fifth round and we later found out he was a dirty cheater. That fight revealed that gigantic holes exist in Anderson Silva's game. He's susceptible to the takedown, and while Silva is adept at finding a submission off his back, a fighter who can avoid or defend said submissions has a strong chance of beating the premiere middleweight in the UFC.
But Vitor Belfort? Does he have that takedown ability? No. Is his ground and pound among the best in the world, let alone the division? Not even a little bit. Vitor Belfort is the best one-round stand-up fighter in the world, probably at any weight class. He might even have the wherewithal to beat Silva at the stand-up game...but only in the first round. I mentioned earlier that Forrest Griffin can be his own worst enemy; he's got nothing on Vitor Belfort in that department. Belfort, probably due to the hype he received when he was younger, has never had the mental strength to make a dent in the sport. He consistently breaks during fights, and that's where he is beaten.
Anderson Silva plays the mental game in both subtle and obvious ways, and should he not respect Belfort, which is a distinct possibility considering the latter has never even fought at middleweight in the UFC before, Silva will destroy his opponent. Belfort is one of the quickest and most accurate strikers in the game, but Silva is just as good, and he's shown the ability to last through adversity. Belfort folds faster than a chair when put to the test. I suspect that Silva will clinch the victory with a third or fourth round submission.