It was billed as his greatest test to date. A striker with faster hands, more power, more strength. A fighter from his very own country set to take his belt away, a belt that he's held onto for more than four years.
But when the lights dimmed and the crowd began to shuffle out, Anderson Silva (28-4) had successfully defended his middleweight championship belt for a UFC record eighth consecutive time by beating 185 lb challenger Vitor Belfort (19-9) with a front kick 3:25 into the first round, adding yet another chapter to his ever-growing legacy.
It was a much-hyped bout between former friends and training partners. Belfort, a fellow Brazilian, trained with Silva at his Blackhouse camp for a time earlier in both of the fighters' careers before transferring to the Chute Box camp and eventually to Randy Couture's camp in Las Vegas. It is an unwritten rule, a sort of "fighter's code" that when you train with someone you become brothers. As they spend countless hours with one another in a gym helping each other get better, they have unparalleled insight into each others' vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Many fighters believe that you don't betray that trust.
Silva felt betrayed entering his UFC 126 bout with Belfort. If it weren't enough that Belfort had first hand knowledge of Silva's tendencies and weaknesses (are there any?), it certainly didn't help that Belfort is perhaps the lone fighter on the planet that can rival Silva's hand speed. On paper it was a fight for the ages.
In the octagon, it was a one-sided beatdown with a finish for the ages.
The two fighters circled each other for the first minute and a half, wary of each other's fight-ending power. After being knocked down briefly by Belfort, Silva got right back up and delivered a front kick straight to Belfort's jaw that dropped the challenger in a heartbeat. Two punches later and it was over.
Also on the card was light heavyweight phenom Jon Jones (12-1) taking on the previously undefeated Ryan Bader (12-1). Jones was impressive in his ability to stymie the Pac-10 wrestling champion in his takedown attempts and subsequently control his opponent both in the standup game and on the ground, finishing Bader with a guillotine choke in the second round.
After the fight, Jones was told that he would replace the injured Rashad Evans in the light heavyweight championship bout to take place at March's UFC 128 vs. champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
Forrest Griffin (18-6) defeated former middleweight champion Rich Franklin (28-6) by unanimous decision in the night's co-main event. Griffin utilized his superior size and strength to control Franklin on the ground and, ultimately, outpoint his opponent.
Ultimately, though, the night belonged to the reigning middleweight champion who only continues to invent new ways to dominate. Where he goes from here is still undetermined. There has been talk of a superfight with welterweight champion Georges St.-Pierre later on in the year and there's a middleweight contender in Yushin Okami who continues to wait for his shot but ultimately, does it matter? Is there anyone who can even pose a threat to Silva at this point?