The Ultimate Fighting Championship have promoted over 200 events worldwide since its inception, but none have presented a featured fight perceived to be as lopsided as Saturday’s light-heavyweight title fight between Jon Jones and Vitor Belfort.
Jones, the 13-to-1 favorite this weekend, has been thrashing opponents like we had only ever seen done in a video game set on the easy difficulty in the past.
Last year was a career defining twelve months for Jones. He began the calendar year as one of the hottest prospects on the market. 365 days later he was the UFC light-heavyweight king, who had buzzsawed through three former champions with relative ease.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s tear through the 2005 middleweight grand prix paled in comparison to the year that the Albuquerque, New Mexico resident had. In 2012 he hasn’t been able to keep the ball rolling.
No, he hasn’t missed a step inside the Octagon, but he has had more hurdles to overcome outside of the eight-sided fighting surface. First he crashed his Bentley Continental GT into a pole while driving under the influence.
Just when he had almost got the public’s forgiveness for his lapse in judgement, next came the UFC 151 debacle. An injury to Jones’ original dance partner Dan Henderson forces the former dual-division Pride titlist to bow out of the championship fight on eight days’ notice.
While many were quick to jump at the opportunity to dethrone the 205-pound king, Jones wasn’t willing to take an opponent change that soon. He declined to compete on the UFC 151 Main Event. Subsequently, this decision was the nail in the coffin for the Las Vegas card that got cancelled as a result.
As we emerge on fight week all the focus is being put on Jones. All the media are writing about Jones and all the fans that are going to inhabit the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada are against Jones. This could be the perfect time for Belfort to swoop in.
If you’ve been watching this sport for a long time then you will probably have a soft spot in your heart for Belfort. Blasting onto the national scene in the late nineties with hands that are quicker than a hiccup disposing of fighters like Tra Telligman, “Tank” Abbott and Wanderlei Silva in record time.
Now as a sixteen year veteran of this sport he has seen it all and done it all. He’s thrown leather with K-1 World Grand Prix champion Alistair Overeeem, he’s grappled with submission ace Kazushi Sakuraba and he’s wrestled with world-renowned mat artists like Randy Couture and Dan Henderson.
Despite being in the home stretch of his career at 35-years-of-age Belfort has only tasted defeat once since 2007, a knockout defeat to pound-for-pound king and middleweight champ Anderson Silva.
The self-proclaimed “young dinosaur” has been one of the top-ranked stars at 185-pounds but now he moves up to light-heavyweight to test his skills against the division’s alpha dog, his first appearance in the UFC light-heavyweight division since 2005.
It’s a tired cliché, but all fights begin on the feet so let’s begin there breaking this fight down. Belfort has unquestionable earned his tag as one of the better knockout artists in the game with fourteen foes fallen at his feet, but might be the most overrated striker in all of combat sports.
Belfort doesn’t use great footwork, he doesn’t use his jab to set up his power shots, he doesn’t throw crisp combinations or any of the conventional things associated with great boxers, yet he unrightfully gets that title.
If you pay attention to when he levels his opponent’s, it isn’t from good boxing; it’s from a dozen fists coming towards his opponent’s forehead at lightning-speed like he was E. Honda from Street Fighter (minus about 200-pounds).
Now don’t get me wrong, if Belfort hit the champ with a string of powerful shots it’s completely possible that he could be a two-time divisional ruler, but Jones is a completely different beast than anything Belfort has seen in his 30 professional fights.
The striking repertoire of Jones is an unanswered puzzle at this stage, his unmatched length coupled with his barrage of leg kicks, knees, punches and the most dangerous elbows in the business makes it hard for most to make the final buzzer.
With a whopping 10-and-a-half inch reach advantage Jones can spend a significant amount of time on the outside throwing his push kicks to the knee and battering Belfort with his body kicks to wear him down.
Over the years the biggest chink in the armor of the Brazilian has been his wrestling game and I don’t expect that to change in his mid-thirties. Jones was a state champion wrestler in high school and a national champion in junior college and has the option to force the fight to the floor if he wants it.
While Belfort has shown improved takedown defense over time even less accomplished mat artists like Anthony Johnson took down the Blackzillian member with relative ease.
While the odds point towards Jones sitting inside his guard and blistering his forehead with elbows until it looks like the final kill scene from your favorite horror movie Belfort isn’t one to discount in a grappling contest.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt might rely strongly on his heavy hands these days, but grappling remains his bread-and-butter and is definitely something he keeps in his back pocket. The Abu Dhabi Combat Club bronze medallist is a strong grappler who could surprise the champ if given the opportunity.
He isn’t the only one with submission chops though. Jones has five taps to his credit but not really in the conventional sense. Jones likes to batter his opponents on the feet, find an opening then force them to submit like he did as he treated Lyoto Machida and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson like un-trained children.
All signs are pointing towards Jones walking out of Tononto with his ten-pounds of championship gold in tact but with an experienced power-puncher like Belfort in the mix you cannot count him out completely.
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