This Saturday night (August 6, 2011), two of the UFC's most exciting middleweights will battle it out in the Wells Fargo Center in the co-main event of UFC 133 as former champion Vitor Belfort takes on the sexiest man in the sport, Yoshihiro Akiyama in what expects to be a thrilling stand-up affair.
Belfort is looking to redeem himself after suffering the worst loss of his career against Anderson Silva. "The Phenom" has been committing himself fully to his training, wanting to impress the UFC brass and work his way back up the middleweight ladder.
For Akiyama, he's not content with simply putting on exciting fights, he wants to win. While the South Korean superstar has won "Fight of the Night" in all three of his UFC bouts, he's also lost two of them. Expect to see "Sexyama" give it his all on Saturday night.
Can Belfort recapture the fire that earned him the nickname "The Phenom" at UFC 12? Will Akiyama use his full arsenal of skills instead of brawling? Which middleweight will take the next step forwards towards the top of the division?
Let's find out:
Record: 19-9 overall, 8-5 in the UFC
How he got here: Vitor Belfort has had a love affair with the UFC for a very, very long time. At just 19 years old and in just his second and third professional fights, he cruised through the UFC 12 heavyweight tournament, defeating both opponents in two minutes combined.
After crushing fan favorite Tank Abbott in just 52 seconds barely three months later, he earned a number one contender match against some unheralded old fogie named Randy Couture. Vitor would be completely overwhelmed by "The Natural's" wrestling and eventually TKO'd in just over eight minutes to halt the uber-prospect's momentum.
After two more victories inside the Octagon, including a 44 second thrashing of Wanderlei Silva that is still considered one of the most impressive displays of hand speed in MMA history, Belfort decided to send his talents to Japan to compete in Pride.
He would close is Pride run with four straight victories and returned to the UFC. After losing a decision to Chuck Liddell in his return bout, he would go on to earn a title shot against Randy Couture, winning the belt in one of MMA's biggest fluke injuries after a grazing punch slit "Captain America's" eyelid badly, forcing a cut stoppage in less than a minute.
Couture would get his revenge in the next fight, taking a decision and after a split decision loss to Tito Ortiz, he would not return to the UFC for two more years. During that time, he would have a series of highs and lows in Pride and Strikeforce before finding his groove in Cage Rage and Affliction.
After his devastating knockout of Matt Lindland, he was offered an opportunity to fight Rich Franklin at UFC 103. Belfort would crush the former middleweight champion with another nasty knockout in just three minutes to earn a title shot against Anderson Silva. After several delays due to injury, the showdown finally took place this February and Silva finished Belfort with one of 2011's finest knockouts, a front kick to the face.
He's out for redemption against Akiyama on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: It's not the biggest surprise what Belfort wants to do. He's known for his lethal hands and he'll be looking for an opportunity to explode forward with a lethal combination of strikes against Akiyama on Saturday night.
"The Phenom" has become more patient with time, he waited nearly three minutes before blasting Rich Franklin at UFC 103 and about the same time before he got really aggressive against Anderson Silva in his last fight.
If he doesn't see an opening, he won't take it. Akiyama is too dangerous with his power to give him an opportunity to land a free blow on a counter.
Expect Belfort to stay on the outside for most of the fight. We haven't seen a ton of judo from Akiyama, but he's still extremely dangerous in the clinch with trips, throws and short strikes if the fight gets up close and personal.
Don't mistake his patience for laziness though. If Belfort sees even an inkling of an opening, he'll lunge forward and look to blast the South Korean.
Record: 13-3 (2 No Contests) overall, 1-2 in the UFC
How he got here: Before Yoshihiro Akiyama was ever a fighter, he was one of Asia's top judo players. He won the gold medal in the 2001 Asian Championships as well as taking gold in the 2002 Asian Games. After some controversy about a slippery judogi, he transitioned to mixed martial arts.
"Sexyama" would lose his first fight in the Heroes promotion but would follow it up by going on a four year winning streak which included stoppage victories over Melvin Manhoef and Denis Kang.
He made his Octagon debut against Alan Belcher on the main card of UFC 100, winning "Fight of the Night" in a tremendously entertaining performance. After nearly a year away from the sport waiting on the sidelines, Akiyama fought Chris Leben in a thrilling affair that saw "The Crippler" pull off a miracle comeback triangle choke victory with 20 seconds left, which also won "Fight of the Night."
Lastly, Akiyama took on Michael Bisping and, despite rocking the UK superstar, he simply could not deal with the Brit's speed and footwork over the course of three rounds.
After another long wait of nearly nine months, "Sexyama" is back against another incredibly tough opponent.
How he gets it done: Akiyama has several methods of victory. Despite having tremendous grappling credentials, he's been prone to getting into slugfests with all three of his opponents, especially his last two fights. Trying to bait Belfort into a brawl wouldn't actually be a bad idea as the South Korean has an absolutely granite chin and could probably afford to trade power strikes with "The Phenom."
If Akiyama can bring this fight to the clinch, he can be extremely dangerous. He's already displayed some very impressive subtle judo moves in his fights and he's capable of doing anything from tripping, tossing and throwing Belfort to the canvas.
Not every judo fighter has been able to successfully transition their skills to MMA but Akiyama is more than capable if he puts his mind to it.
While it's very likely he tries to turn this fight into an all-out slugfest, don't be surprised one bit if he tosses Belfort on his head and works ground and pound from top position either.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this fight is how each man responds to previous bad losses. Belfort was knocked out cold for the first time in his career against Silva and that has to be a tremendous blow to his confidence.
Akiyama is also dealing with two tough losses as well, having victory snatched away with less than 30 seconds remaining against Chris Leben and then being completely outclassed by Michael Bisping over the course of three rounds.
Both men have a lot to prove if they want to be a factor in the division and how they respond mentally could be a huge key to victory.
Bottom Line: While Belfort is a talented judo and jiu-jitsu black belt and Akiyama has world class judo, this fight is almost guaranteed to be a "rock 'em, sock 'em robots" type of stand-up war. Both men love to strike more than anything and they're both very powerful punchers. Akiyama may be a bit slower, but he makes up for it with his ability to absorb a ton of punishment and keep going forward. This should be a ton of fun.
Who will win at UFC 133? Let us know in the comments below!