TBT – The Legendary Night of UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort

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UFC 126 Anderson Silva UFC 234 Israel Adesanya UFC 237
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Every fan dreams of the super event where all of the greatest fighters in the world competed on the same card.  What if I told you there was a night where they all actually did?

If you have ever attended a UFC event live, then you will see several parts of the show that the fans at home don’t experience on the TV broadcast. The most obvious is the reel of UFC highlights that plays on the big screen to the tune of Teenage Wasteland (Baba O’Riley) by The Who. It is updated every so often, featuring the biggest moments or newest stars making their mark in the promotion. Its purpose is simple: to hype up the fans at the possibility that another classic moment that will live forever could happen in within the next few hours. But, what if there was one super event that had everything from the clip. One night several of the biggest stars not only fought but also had legendary moments. In 2011, that long dreamt night was a reality.

UFC 126 had everything a fan could dream of, even if they just didn’t know it at the time. The main attraction was Anderson Silva, several months removed from his epic comeback against Chael Sonnen and facing countryman Vitor Belfort in a bout guaranteed to produce fireworks.

Such a match-up was already worth the price of admission. But the undercard today would have fans salivating.  Jon Jones, the light heavyweight kingpin who would shatter the record books, was meeting undefeated Ryan Bader on the card. And that fight wasn’t even the co-main event. Earlier, in preliminary action of all places, the most dominant champion in UFC history fought as Demetrious Johnson faced off with Japanese legend Norifumi Yamamoto. There was obviously a simple catch, both of those future legends had yet to claim the championship gold that would become synonymous with their names.

The fight between Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort lasted roughly three and a half minutes. You could cut the tension that night with a knife as they circled each other, but the only moment that mattered was the one that came in the final frame. Silva, in the center of the Octagon with his hands down, delivered a literally picture-perfect front kick to the face of Vitor Belfort. The ball of his foot connected right on the chin of “The Phenom,” putting him out cold. The clip is now approaching a decade old, and yet it remains a staple of MMA highlight reels in a moment that encapsulated the subtle and yet destructive capabilities of “The Spider.”

Roughly an hour earlier, Jon “Bones” Jones faced the explosive Ryan Bader in a key bout in the career of both men. The winner would assume the mantle as the next contender in the division, but none could imagine the heights that Jones would reach in the years following. Jones needed two rounds to dismantle the Ultimate Fighter winner and get the submission finish. That outcome was expected, but the MMA world was stunned when Joe Rogan told Jones that the UFC was offering him a chance to step into a fight against then-champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua six weeks later to replace his teammate Rashad Evans.

The bout would set in motion the events of the next several years for Jones. He would go on to become the youngest champion in UFC history and the most dominant champion in the history of the division. It also caused a rift between himself and Evans, leading to the greatest grudge match of his career until the arrival of Daniel Cormier.

Earlier in the evening, Demetrious Johnson made his UFC debut. At the time, he only showed flashes of the promise that he would fulfill years later. He entered the Octagon after having gone only 2-1 in the WEC. Across from him, Norifumi Yamamoto was making on the mainland United States for the first time in his career. Yamamoto was the one expected to make waves in the promotion as he was coming over after a dominant run in Japan that included highlights like a four-second knockout and victory over future ONE champion Bibiano Fernandes. Instead, “Kid” fizzled in the UFC, beginning with a throttling performance from Johnson.

“Mighty Mouse” would win the UFC flyweight title a little more than a year later. Since then, he has rattled off eleven straight title defenses, breaking the previous record of ten held by “The Spider.” The only criticism of Johnson, unfairly, is that he is so dominant that it is difficult to generate interest in his bouts as his victory always feels like a foregone conclusion. In 2018, a rematch with the consensus #2 flyweight in the world in Henry Cejudo would appear to be in the cards.

If you can believe it, taking co-main event status that night was Forrest Griffin who earned a workman-like victory over Rich Franklin in a bout many felt would produce more fireworks than it actually did. Today, a card featuring Silva, Jones, and Johnson would be the event of the decade. In 2011, however, fans were able to enjoy the treat of three pound-for-pound greats on the same night. The card serves as a subtle reminder to all fans who desire to attend events live: come early. You truly never know who you might be seeing throughout the night.

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