Rising in weight to 185 pounds (or, in reality, 197), the physically impressive Anthony Johnson takes on a tough assignment in Vitor Belfort, one of the middleweight division’s best, in the UFC 142: "Aldo vs. Mendes" co main event this evening (Jan. 14, 2012) from the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Looking to build a case for another title shot with Anderson Silva, Belfort takes on the talented Johnson, whose wrestling was a tad overlooked, thanks to several eye-popping knockouts, until he shut down Dan Hardy via decision.
"Rumble" returned to his overpowering ways with a numbing stoppage of Charlie Brenneman, dispatching an otherwise difficult guy with disdainful ease. Johnson’s much-chronicled battle to make the 170-pound weight limit left him with a tough decision to make, and to his credit, he’s going all-in with the debut at 185.
And this is no mere tuneup against a lower-tier middleweight, but rather a legit test to see if he can compete against someone a lot like him. Belfort’s ability to beat people on pure physical tools makes him exceptionally dangerous for anyone, and a victory for Johnson would elevate him in the 185 title queue considerably, especially since depth there is lacking.
Of Belfort’s nine wins in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), all have come by first-round (technical) knockout (that includes the aborted second Randy Couture fight). He’s 6-7 in fights that have gone past five minutes.
Blessed with a legendary combination of speed, power and finishing instinct, Belfort’s ability to strike early and pounce with brutal effect have had few equals in the history of the sport. The big question is how Johnson deals with this.
Will he be able to function on the feet with his more diverse mix of strikes, and still avoid getting caught? Can he use his solid wrestling – thus far unproven at 185 – to keep Belfort honest and suck him into a long, taxing battle?
Belfort’s conditioning went south after nearly taking out Tito Ortiz in their classic 2005 battle. And while many felt the scorecards were controversial in giving Ortiz the decision, there’s no question who had the better stamina down the stretch.
Johnson walks around north of 210 pounds and nearly weighed that much at weigh in yesterday because of a health issue. If he’s going to beat Belfort, he’ll have to put leather on "The Phenom" early to prevent the Brazilian’s confidence from growing. Because if there’s a sure way to keep Belfort from winning, it’s to plant doubt in his head.
It’s a tough assignment, but Johnson’s got an excellent mix of punches, fast kicks and athleticism to do it. He just has to pick the right angles and, more importantly, avoid the wrong ones, as Belfort can ram home a fight-changing shot as well as anyone in the game.
Few fighters in the sport’s history have won as impressively, nor lost as tragically, as Belfort. He’s the epitome of the hit-or-miss guy, looking like Superman in one outing and then coming up Clark Kent in the next. The key to this fight comes down to the opening round, where Johnson is most vulnerable to getting caught by Belfort’s blazing punches, which can hurt an opponent basically if they land anywhere on the skull.
Johnson should move constantly and use kicks – especially teeps and high-percentage, low-risk ones to the lower legs – to frustrate Belfort and get acclimated to how the Brazilian moves. Johnson isn’t likely to score a takedown early on pure tie ups and wrestling, as Belfort is extremely strong and athletic in the clinch. Johnson’s either going to get caught with a smoking left hand and smashed out in a classic Belfort flurry, or survive the early storm and go to work.
The guess here is that youth and tenacity make the latter happen.
Johnson will stick and move early, avoiding Belfort’s best shots and maybe getting caught a time or two, only to see Johnson tie up and kill the clock to clear his head. By the second, Johnson’s kicks and counters will be landing with more frequency. He’ll swing the momentum with his more-diverse attack, hammering him some punches and eventually muscling Belfort to the mat.
It’s here that Johnson will go to work, seizing the momentum and battering Belfort into submission via second round knockout.
Johnson via knockout
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