Two of the best middleweights in the UFC will meet this Saturday night (May 5, 2012) as Alan Belcher takes on leg lock aficionado Rousimar Palhares on the main card of UFC on Fox 3 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Belcher was on the verge of contention before a freak eye injury put him on ice for nearly a year and a half. He returned last fall to lay the smack down on Jason MacDonald at UFC Fight Night 25. Now that he's back, he's trying to build some momentum in the division.
Rousimar Palhares is widely considered to be one of the most feared men in the UFC. He's the type of fighter that is capable of sidelining his opponent for six months or more on a moment's notice if he can secure his patented heel hook and doesn't give it up quick enough. He'll be trying his darndest to make Belcher squeal on Saturday night.
Will Belcher showcase his "Talent" with a huge high profile victory? Can "Toquinho" add another leg to his growing collection? What's the key to victory for both men this weekend?
Let's find out:Alan Belcher
Record: 17-6 overall, 8-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Still just 28 years old, Alan Belcher has been competing in mixed martial arts since 2004. After getting off to a slow 2-2 start to his career, "The Talent" went on a seven fight win streak to earn a berth in the UFC.
He had a rude awakening in the promotion, getting thrown in against top middleweight Yushin Okami in his promotional debut, a fight in which he would lose a decision after being physically dominated. Belcher would bounce back with a quick knockout of Jorge Santiago but Kendall Grove sent him back down to Earth with a D'Aarce choke.
Belcher really began to work on improving his ground game after the loss to Grove and it showed with a guillotine choke of Sean Salmon at UFC 71. After suffering a huge upset to Jason Day in a fight where he was completely controlled by Day's tricky rubber guard and eventually overwhelmed, Belcher began an impressive streak of top level performances.
It began with a close split decision over Ed Herman and continued with a fantastic guillotine choke victory over Denis Kang which would earn him "Submission of the Night" honors. "The Talent" would earn "Fight of the Night" at the infamous UFC 100 show, losing a razor thin split decision to Yoshihiro Akiyama in a fight that many felt he won.
He got back on track with consecutive finishes against WIlson Gouveia and Patrick Cote, again earning two more fight night bonuses to run his streak to four straight and even called out Anderson Silva afterwards.
He was instead booked to fight Demian Maia but the bout would never take place as Belcher lost vision in his right eye. He had to have surgery on his eye and many were concerned that he would never fight again. He suffered some setbacks but was finally cleared to begin training this year.
After 17 months, Belcher returned last year against Jason MacDonald, knocking out the Canadian grappler
How he gets it done: Belcher's go-to skills have always been his striking. He entered the UFC as a Muay Thai specialist and has been able to add other facets to his stand-up game since teaming up with famed MMA coach Duke Roufus over in Milwaukee.
Belcher has some very powerful punches and he's very strong in the clinch but he would be wise to avoid allowing Palhares to get close enough to even think about attempting anything. "The Talent" will have a massive reach advantage against Palhares so look for him to pick "Toquinho" apart with his punches, especially his very nice 1-2 combination.
I know that Belcher has put a lot of time into his ground skills, even knocking out MacDonald with ground and pound in his last fight, but he would be wise to avoid going to the ground with Palhares at all costs. Even if the Brazilian pulls guard on him, he should try to stand up and get away from him or risk losing limbs.
Belcher has terrific kicks but he'll have to be a little cautious throwing them as he likely doesn't want to have one caught and be taken down. This is a fight where his boxing and ability to keep the match standing should be the deciding factor. He'll need to snap his leg back quickly if he's going to throw it and he can't telegraph it.
This sounds totally lame, but Belcher should also shave his legs silky smooth before the fight so he can slip out of trouble easier if need be.
Record: 14-3 overall, 7-2 in the UFC
How he got here: Rousimar Palhares came from a very impoverished background and he left his family to compete in mixed martial arts where he earned the nickname "Toquinho" which means "tree stump" due to his stocky yet very muscular build.
Palhares took to Brazilian jiu-jitsu quickly and gained a reputation for his violent leg locks. The Brazilian won the Fury FC Middleweight Grand Prix after earning two quick first round heel hook submissions on the same night and he was quickly brought into the UFC.
Palhares won his debut against veteran Ivan Salaverry in just two and a half minutes but would have his momentum halted via decision by Dan Henderson. He would again build up steam with three straight victories in the UFC middleweight division including two more vicious heel hooks.
He pulled a bonehead move against Nate Marquardt, turning and complaining to the referee in the middle of the fight and was blasted into semi consciousness for his trouble but has since scored two straight victories, one of which being a kneebar. "Toquinho" crushed Mike Massenzio this past January with (you guessed it) another heel hook.
With three victories in a row, he's back in contention and hoping to score perhaps the biggest victory of his career.
How he gets it done: It used to be very easy to strategize how Palhares would win his fight, drop down, grab a leg and rip and twist until the opponent cries "Uncle!" but that is no longer the case. Against Dan Miller, Palhares showcased some improved strand up skills as well as some incredibly violent ground and pound.
While his arms are short, he's still capable of packing a significant punch if he can connect. In the stand up, expect to see Palhares try to get inside where he can actually land power shots unlike most fighters due to his shorter arm length.
If the fight goes to the canvas (and this is highly probable), Palhares now has the option of attacking with his merciless submission attack or he can work for top position and pound Belcher senseless. Considering his opponent's wrestling background, it's much more likely that the Brazilian will be dropping for a submission whether it's a heel hook, kneebar or even an ankle lock. If "Toquinho" latches onto a limb, he's going to torque it until the ref pulls him off.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Palhares pull guard in this fight if he can't score a regular takedown. He's just as lethal from bottom as he is from top, even baiting his opponents very well by letting them think they have an easy pass only to dive for kneebars and armbars. His aggression is something that could overwhelm Belcher.
Fight X-Factor: Obviously, the main X-Factor for this fight is whether it takes place on the feet or on the ground. While Belcher has been improving his ground skills and Palhares has been putting time in on his stand-up, neither man is even close to their opponent's level in regards to their specialty. Whoever can take and keep the fight in their realm will likely win.
The other factor is the occasional bonehead maneuvers that Rousimar Palhares pulls in his fights. He's been known to accidentally celebrate early, twist on knees for too long, stop fighting to complain to a ref, grab gloves, etc. He's got a very poor fight IQ at times. If he makes a mistake and Belcher can capitalize on it, it could cost him the fight.
Bottom Line: This fight should be very entertaining. Alan Belcher is an extremely exciting stand-up fighter while Palhares is one of the most violent ground fighters in the world. Wherever this fight goes, something crazy is likely going to be happening. The only way I can see this fight being less than stellar are if Belcher is too cautious in the stand-up so as to avoid takedowns and he ends up eeking out a boring decision by jabbing "Toquinho" to death. I don't see that scenario as very likely, though, so keep your eyes tuned in.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FOX 3? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!