For those who doubted whether Anderson Silva still was the world’s best fighter, he delivered a message loud and clear on Saturday night.
Actually, his left foot made the statement.
After an extended feeling-out process, Silva landed a left front kick to the bottom of Vitor Belfort’s chin to knock out the former champion and retain the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title on Saturday night at Mandalay Bay.
The main event of UFC 126 began with the Brazilian southpaws dancing around the cage for the better part of three minutes to loud boos in the sold-out arena. Belfort made the first move and got the better of the first true exchange.
Moments later, he learned why few fighters choose to engage Silva, who extended his UFC records for longest winning streak (14) and successful title defenses (eight).
"Vitor is a guy who has very quick hands. He has great boxing skills. I practiced this kick a lot, and it happened to work out," Silva said, while crediting action movie star Steven Seagal with helping him perfect the maneuver. Seagal was a part of Silva’s entourage on Saturday.
Silva threw a kick down the middle and sent Belfort sprawling to the mat. Referee Mario Yamasaki allowed Belfort to try to regain his senses, but two well-placed fists from Silva brought about the official end.
"I was waiting. I was doing my thing. I don’t know," Belfort said. "He faked to the body and kicked to the head. Anderson’s a great fighter. I was going to bring the fight to him, but he caught me, and that’s what happened."
Silva was coming off a few odd performances as he faced a string of opponents who preferred to find a way to get the fight to the ground. He survived a beating in August from wrestler Chael Sonnen with a late submission, though Silva suffered a rib injury before the fight.
There was no such need for late heroics on Saturday night. Silva’s win officially came at 3:29 of the first round.
He now is likely to fight welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, should St. Pierre get by Jake Shields in April. Silva and St. Pierre widely are considered the sport’s two best pound-for-pound fighters.
The night’s biggest surprise came after Jon Jones ran through yet another opponent. After the 23-year-old submitted Ryan Bader late in the second round, commentator Joe Rogan announced during the postfight interview that Rashad Evans has a knee injury and Jones will step in for his training partner to fight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in March.
Jones had little trouble getting through what was supposed to be his toughest challenge to date. He nearly secured a choke on the previously unbeaten Bader in the first round and controlled the opening five minutes.
Bader landed a couple of shots in the second round, but Jones was too fast and too good. He locked a guillotine on Bader late in the round from the top position and forced the tap.
In the other high-profile bout, Las Vegan Forrest Griffin dominated the first round and did enough in the second to earn the judges’ favor in a narrow decision over Rich Franklin.
Griffin took the fight to the ground and pounded on Franklin throughout most of the opening round, but the final two rounds were closely contested and almost entirely standing up.
Griffin, who was visibly exhausted by the middle of the fight, said he felt "rusty" after 14 months away from competition but was satisfied to escape with a win over a fellow former champion.
After surviving a few precarious positions against submission specialist Carlos Eduardo Rocha in the first round, Jake Ellenberger did enough in the final two rounds to earn a split decision.
Miguel Torres opened the main card with a technically sound, though not particularly crowd-pleasing, unanimous decision over Antonio Banuelos.
The former World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion won his second straight fight after consecutive losses by utilizing his noticeable reach advantage to control distance with his jab.
Torres won all three rounds but not much support from the crowd in his UFC debut.
Two newly signed Japanese fighters suffered losses on the card as Kid Yamamoto and Michihiro Omigawa lost unanimous decisions to former WEC fighters.
Demetrious Johnson used his speed to beat Yamamoto, while Chad Mendes secured several takedowns of Omigawa, who was 0-2 in a previous UFC stint.
Donald Cerrone, another former WEC fighter, made his UFC debut with a second-round submission over Paul Kelly.
The card got off to a thrilling start with three highlight-reel knockouts in the three untelevised preliminary fights.
The best one came from Paul Taylor, who dominated the standup against Gabe Ruediger before ending the bout with a vicious head kick against the cage and landing a series of punches early in the second round.
Kyle Kingsbury needed 21 seconds to knock out Ricardo Romero with punches on the ground after several solid knees to Romero’s ribs.
Mike Pierce knocked out Kenny Robertson 29 seconds into the second round.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509.