Sunday, February 6, 2011, 12:35 a.m.
By GREG BEACHAM,
AP Sports Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Anderson Silva stopped Vitor Belfort with a single kick to the face in the first round, defending his UFC middleweight belt for a record eighth time at UFC 126 on Saturday night.
Silva (28-4) knocked out his fellow Brazilian brawler with one magnificently placed kick that caught Belfort squarely on the jaw, bringing a dramatic end to Silva's 13th consecutive victory at 3:25 of the opening round. Belfort's eyes rolled while his knees buckled as he fell flat on his back, and Silva landed two punches to Belfort's head before the fight was stopped.
After little action in the opening minutes of their bout, Belfort (19-9) blamed himself for failing to block the straight-ahead kick from Silva, whose athleticism and well-rounded style have kept him perfect since 2006.
"It's no excuse. He caught me with a kick," Belfort said. "I just got caught up. He faked the body, and he kicked to the head. Anderson is a great fighter."
Jon "Bones" Jones earned a light heavyweight title shot with a second-round submission victory over fellow prospect Ryan Bader on the undercard at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in the UFC's hometown. Forrest Griffin won an unanimous decision over fellow veteran Rich Franklin.
Silva is the longest-reigning champion in UFC history, largely dominating all contenders since winning his belt in October 2006 with a first-round stoppage of Franklin. The fighter known as "Spider" is considered the world's greatest mixed martial artist by UFC president Dana White and most experts.
Yet Silva's aura had lost much of its luster in the past 10 months. He was ripped by White for embarrassing the UFC in Abu Dhabi by barely engaging Demian Maia during a title defense last April, then Silva was largely dominated on the ground for four rounds by Chael Sonnen in Oakland last August before escaping with a fifth-round submission victory.
Belfort was the youngest fighter to win a UFC bout 14 years ago, but the 33-year-old still known as "Phenom" had to fight his way back to the UFC after losing his light heavyweight title to Randy Couture in 2004. After stops with four MMA promotions and his boxing debut, Belfort returned to the UFC in September 2009 with a knockout of Franklin, but hadn't fought since.
Earlier, Jones (12-1) won the bout between elite MMA prospects with a guillotine choke, stopping the previously unbeaten Bader (12-1).
Moments after the bout ended, the UFC announced Jones will get the next shot at light heavyweight champion Shogun Rua's title. Rashad Evans was scheduled to fight Rua at UFC 128 on March 19, but has a knee injury.
"I feel like it's my time," Jones said. "I'm hungry and hopeful."
Griffin capitalized on a strong first round, hanging on for a victory over Franklin in a meeting of veteran light heavyweights and former UFC champions. After Griffin (18-6) controlled nearly the entire opening round, he traded punches and avoided takedowns to grind out a win over Franklin (28-6), the former middleweight champion who has lost three of his last five fights.
"Rusty, rusty," said Griffin, who hadn't fought since late 2009. "It's great to be back. I was so nervous. Camp didn't go right, but I feel good now. It's hard to come back after a year when you haven't gone full speed. Fortunately I got him down in that first round and was able to grind on him a bit."
Jones' bout with Bader matched arguably the top two prospects in the loaded light heavyweight division. Jones is among the UFC's most tantalizing up-and-comers for his athletic, unorthodox approach and dramatic stoppage wins, while Bader forged an unbeaten record with remarkable strength and superb wrestling skills.
Jones dominated the first round on the ground, nearly submitting Bader with an unusual hold. The fighters spent most of the second round on their feet, but Jones took down Bader and landed a difficult guillotine choke, forcing Bader to tap out for the first time in his career.
Griffin and Franklin had never met during their lengthy MMA careers, but both are former UFC champions who rank among the sport's most popular fighters. Griffin recently published his second book, a facetious survival guide for the apocalypse, while Franklin is a former math teacher.
Both returned from injury absences to meet at Mandalay Bay. Griffin hadn't fought for 14 months -- the longest inactive stretch of his career -- while recovering from surgery on his right shoulder, and Franklin needed three months of inactivity after breaking his arm while blocking a kick from Chuck Liddell last June in the final fight of Liddell's career.
In the early fights at UFC 126, several fighters from the defunct WEC made their UFC debuts. Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone stopped England's Paul Kelly with a rear naked choke in the second round, and former WEC champion Miguel Angel Torres won a dull decision over Antonio Banuelos.