Two generations of cagefighters will clash tomorrow night (Sept. 22, 2012) as current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones looks to defend his title against former champion Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC 152 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Jones has been hit hard in the court of public opinion following the cancellation of UFC 151. He's still the champion and one of the best fighters in the world but with so many people likely rooting against him this weekend, he's got plenty left to prove to the masses.
Vitor Belfort proved he's got some huge cajones by stepping up a weight class to challenge Jones for the belt. He had previously been working his way back towards the top of the middleweight division but was happy to take a shortcut to a title opportunity. He's got nothing to lose.
Will Jones silence the critics by making a statement against "The Phenom?" Can Belfort shock the world and the bookies with one of the year's biggest upsets? What's the key to victory for both men tomorrow night?
Let's find out:Jon Jones
Record: 16-1 overall, 10-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: None
How he got here: Jon Jones' path from can't-miss prospect to world champion has been very fast. Just five months into his professional MMA career, he was already 6-0 and making his UFC debut in place of an injured Tomasz Drwal at UFC 87. He defeated his opponent, Andre Gusmao via decision but his star turn didn't truly take place until his next fight against Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94 in which he showcased a diverse array of attacks and all kinds of slams and throws.
"Bones'" star continued to brighten as he began finishing his opponents in increasingly impressive fashion, smashing tough light heavyweights Brandon Vera and Vladimir Matyushenko in the first round. After handing Ryan Bader the first loss of his career in another two round destruction, Jones was offered a title shot in place of his injured teammate Rashad Evans.
The young gun took it to the champ, smashing "Shogun" over the course of three rounds and stopping him to become the youngest titleholder in UFC history. If there were any doubts at all about his ability to be a long-reigning champion, Jones answered them in September and then December with a four round thrashing of former champion "Rampage" Jackson and then a second round technical submission of Lyoto Machida.
Jones finished his feud with Rashad Evans by earning a dominant unanimous decision earlier this year and after some wild and crazy shenanigans with the cancellation of UFC 151, he's looking to defend his belt against a UFC champion for the fifth straight time.
How he gets it done: Jones has a plethora of weapons and he's capable of finishing a fight by multiple means. The best plan of attack, at least at first, will be to keep his distance to a point where he can still snap his jab against Belfort, who's considerably smaller than him and has a much shorter reach. The further he can keep Belfort away from him, the easier it will be to avoid that blitz of punches in bunches.
Jones is capable of utilizing all kinds of tricky attacks like spinning elbows and more, and there's a very real opportunity for him to showcase all the crazy stuff he's been working on in this fight. .
If "Bones" really wants to hurt Belfort, the best plan of attack is to close the distance and utilize his strong Greco Roman background. If Jones dumps Belfort on his head with a throw, he will likely be able to finish "The Phenom" on the ground with his devastating elbows.
Keeping the pressure is important. Belfort has a long history of mental issues when he falls behind in a fight or thinks he's going to lose. If he keeps constant pressure, he could very well break him.
Record: 20-9 overall, 9-5 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.
The Brazilian would close his 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, Belfort 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.
"The Phenom" redeemed himself against Akiyama at UFC 133, crushing the Korean/Japanese fighter inside the first round by brutal knockout and accepted a catchweight bout in his last fight when Anthony Johnson failed to make weight, earning a first round submission.
In true Vitor fashion, he stepped up in a big way and accepted a light heavyweight title shot on short notice. We'll see how he performs tomorrow 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 lightning quick combination of strikes against Jones on Saturday night.
"The Phenom" has become more patient with time, he waited nearly three minutes before blasting Rich Franklin at UFC 103 and nearly two minutes before exploding against Akiyama his last time around.
If he doesn't see an opening, he won't take it, although he can't be too patient or Jones will get comfortable and start working him over.
Expect Belfort to wait for Jones to make the first move and try to spring on him with a huge assortment of blows. If he can actually hurt Jones, his killer instinct is incredible and he could actually put him away. You never know in this sport.
Fight X-Factor: The X-Factor for this bout has to be Jon Jones' mental status. He spent the majority of the beginning of his title reign trying to get fans to like him, adjusting his image and trying to act like he was a choir boy. That hasn't worked out, backfiring with fan reaction and then really going splat with the DUI and the cancellation of UFC 151 which unfairly was blamed solely on him.
On top of all that, he's likely meeting with UFC President Dana White right now. If that meeting doesn't go well, he could be in bad shape for the fight. Any mental mistake could lead to an opening for Belfort, a fighter who knows exactly what it's like to not have focus in big moments.
Bottom Line: This fight is almost 100 percent not going five rounds. Someone is likely getting finished and it's probably gonna be a knockout. Either Jones or Belfort are going down. It's a mismatch physically and skill-wise on paper and if Jones fights to his potential, we could see something really special here. If not, who knows, all you Jones haters could get Christmas a little bit early. Don't miss it.
Who will come out on top at UFC 152? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!