Silva KO's Belfort, defends title at UFC 126

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Silva KO's Belfort, defends title at UFC 126

Sunday, February 6, 2011, 12:35 a.m.

MMA NEWS

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.

Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell tied for lead at Tour Championship

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Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell tied for lead at Tour Championship

ATLANTA (AP) — Dustin Johnson had a reasonable lie in the rough and only a few pine tree branches blocking his path to the 17th green. Neither seemed like a problem until he played the wrong shot, clipped the tree and wound up with a double bogey Saturday in the Tour Championship.

It was an example of how one hole can change everything at East Lake.

And it's why the final round of the PGA Tour season suddenly has more scenarios than Johnson cares to consider.

Johnson recovered with a birdie from the bunker on the par-5 18th for a 1-under 69, giving him a share of the lead with Kevin Chappell (68) going into the last round that will determine who wins the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.

For the first time since 2009, there's a chance it might not be the same player.

"There's a lot of scenarios that could happen," Johnson said. "But yeah, I'm still going to go out and try to shoot as low a score as possible."

Johnson only has to win or finish second alone to claim the $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion.

Rory McIlroy, who has gone 28 holes without a bogey at East Lake, had three birdies over his last six holes for a 66 and was two shots behind. If he were to win the Tour Championship and Johnson finished in a two-way tie for second or worse, McIlroy would claim the FedEx Cup.

"It would just be great to try to win the Tour Championship, and if the chips fall my way, then so be it," McIlroy said.

The winner of the Tour Championship has won the FedEx Cup every year since 2009, when Phil Mickelson won the tournament and Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup.

Johnson led by as many as four shots when he ran off three straight birdies on the front nine, and he really didn't do much wrong to give up the size of that lead. He had a three-putt from 70 feet on No. 13, and missed the fairway by a few feet on the next hole, enough that his ball was buried so deep that even Johnson and his power couldn't advance more than about 135 yards.

It was the 17th hole that reshaped the tournament.

Johnson tried to played a fade from a flyer lie in the rough, and the ball came out high and hit a branch, leaving him in more rough about 60 yards short of the green. He put that in the bunker, blasted out to 6 feet and missed the putt to make double bogey.

Chappell rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt for a three-shot swing on the hole and suddenly had the lead, only for Johnson to catch him with the final birdie.

They were at 8-under 202.

Chappell, a runner-up three times this season who has never won on the PGA Tour, has made only one bogey in 54 holes this week, a show of consistency, discipline and a few good breaks when he does miss the fairway.

His next chance at a breakthrough victory is to face golf's best player at the moment (Johnson), with McIlroy and Ryan Moore (66) two shots behind.

"I've always kind of been the underdog, so it's a role I'm comfortable in," Chappell said.

Moore went out in 31 until he was slowed by a pair of bogeys, though very much in the mix just two shots out of the lead. The mystery is whether anything he does on Sunday - even if that means a victory - is enough for Davis Love III to use his last captain's pick on Moore for the Ryder Cup.

"I came here this week to win a golf tournament, and I'm 100 percent focused on that," Moore said, adding that the Ryder Cup is "completely out of my control."

And that's how the last day is shaping up for everyone - post a score and see where it leads.

Johnson, for a moment, looked as though he might take all the drama out of the season-ender when he made a 15-foot par putt early in his round and then ran off three straight birdies on the front nine to go four shots clear.

The putter cooled off, however, and Chappell stayed in range.

Chappell chipped in on No. 12 to match birdies and stay three shots behind, and then he quickly closed the gap when Johnson made back-to-back bogeys, only to respond with a 4-iron over the water to a peninsula green on the par-3 15th to 15 feet for birdie.

The 17th hole changed everything.

"I thought about just trying to hit it in the front bunker, which I probably should have done - probably would have made 4 if I'd have done that," Johnson said. "But it is what it is. I came back and birdied the last hole, tied for the lead going into tomorrow. I like my position."

And he doesn't need a degree in math to figure out the easiest scenario - just win.

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