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If there's a consolation to be taken from the UFC 151 debacle, it's that we knew Jon Jones was going to destroy Dan "Hendo" Henderson anyway, and we were spared that mudfortunate inevitability. Now, like a bolt from the blue, we're facing the former youngest champion against the newest youngest champion, and it's actually got a lot more going for it than the alternatives.
Jones vs Henderson was really only a question of whether the older fighter could land a big right hand or not. All the other factors were pretty much measured in favour of the champion. He has longer reach to keep him at bay. He has better wrestling and takedown ability. He has better cardio. There was really nothing that was overly interesting about the fight. And lest we forget, amidst all these charges that Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen are just trumped up Middleweights, so was Dan Henderson not too long ago.
Jones vs Sonnen was another fight that would have been largely a waste of time. Sonnen wasn't in game shape, was coming off a loss, hadn't competed at Light Heavyweight in years, and really had nothing going for him that Jones couldn't handle on short notice. Anybody who believes Sonnen could take Jones down really needs to tell me who, in the entire career of Jones, has managed to take Jones down. Not Rashad Evans, who has arguably the best shot at Light Heavyweight, and perhaps second in the UFC only to Georges St-Pierre.
And Sonnen lacks what Henderson and Belfort have going for them, which is power in their hands. Whether Sonnen could have taken Jones, a Greco-Roman wrestler with a considerable size and weight advantage, down is an unknowable. What's knowable is that Sonnen hasn't knocked anybody out since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. So you've got to assume that even if Sonnen took Jones down in one or two rounds, the lesser fit fighter would eventually succumb to the strengths possessed by Jones.
Which brings us to Vitor Belfort. Does he deserve a title shot? Obviously not. But since when has "deserved" had anything to do with fighting for a title in the UFC? Did Joe "Daddy" Stevenson deserve a title fight against BJ Penn? Did John Alessio deserve a title fight against Pat Miletich? Did Elvis Sinosic deserve a title fight against Tito Ortiz? Of course not. So, let's not pretend this title fight thing is anything sacrosanct and holy or based on anything other than the entire whims of Zuffa.
Did Matt Serra deserve a title shot against George St-Pierre, for that matter? No. But it's a fascinating comparison. Just like Belfort, Matt Serra laboured as a smaller fighter in a heavier weight class than his natural size for years. His affinity for pasta notwithstanding, Matt Serra was a 155er who competed well at 170, even landing the biggest upset TKO against a champion in the history of the UFC. If we were handing out odds on that fight today, it would probably also be -1,300 for GSP.
But Serra possessed the same sort of intangible that Vitor Belfort brings to the table. Both have unpredictable power, speed, and an unwavering belief in themselves. Both have been knocked out before, but neither have tapped to strikes. Even when Serra was getting the worst beating of his life in the GSP revenge title fight, he wouldn't quit. You can expect the same sort of result from Belfort. He aint no Mauricio Shogun Rua (granted, Rua has a far better chance at winning).
What's even cooler is that this fight is such a mismatch, such a ridiculous blowout on paper, that it has all the makings of a classic Rockyesque upset. You've got the cocky champion who's destroyed all-comers. The promotion needs an older guy to step up. A guy who's had chances in the past but he really just wanted one big opportunity to prove himself. A guy who has no business in the ring with the champ, a guy who's counted out before he starts, a guy who by all measurable statistics has no right to challenge the champ.
And yet Belfort has that chance. He has his Rocky moment. If you really think about it, Vitor has everything to win and nothing to lose. If he gets destroyed by Jones, which we expect will happen about two minutes into the first round, then that's fine. But what happens if Belfort lands a Matt Serra punch? What happens if Belfort does the impossible, shocks the MMA world? Can you imagine the magnitude earthquake that creates in the division?
Suddenly, Jones looks like the chump. From hero to zero in the time it takes for a chin to turn off the lights upstairs. Already beset by animosity and hatred by fans, he'd be removed as an obstacle to the debate that has flummoxed the welterweight and middleweight divisions for years: who can dethrone the champion and bring competitive fights back?
All the classic storylines are there. Pioneer of MMA against new school superathlete. Brazil against America. Old against young. Former youngest champ against newest youngest champ. David against Goliath. Really, this is actually the best scenario Zuffa could have stumbled across, given the total failure that was cancelling UFC 151.
And imagine this: what sort of emotional damage would come of Jones getting knocked out by Belfort? Well, first off Jones fires Greg Jackson. That, in and of itself, can only be a good thing. After all, he's the genius who told him to turn down a sure win against Chael Sonnen. Second, Jones probably looks at a change of venue. Is 205 still the place for him? Might be nice to start fresh at 265, bulk up and begin a new undefeated run with the bigger boys.
Look, Belfort probably has less than one in a million chance of winning. He looked horrible against a severely weakened Anthony Johnson, and is well past his prime. But the tantalizing possibility of "what if" should be enough to get people to buy in to UFC 152. If only to see if Rocky can come true. If only to see if Jones dines on crow. If only to see the undefeated champion get hubris knocked right upside his head and his lights turned out.