UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones looked to defend his title for the fourth consecutive time against his fifth straight former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion last night (Sept. 22, 2012) when he took on short notice replacement Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC 152 in Toronto, Ontario, Candada.
Not many people gave Belfort a chance considering he hadn't fought at light heavyweight in five years and had failed to capture the middleweight title from Anderson Silva in 2011.
But everyone nearly became a believer in one incredible defining moment last night when Belfort made Jones look mortal for the first time with a surprise armbar from bottom.
Granted, Jones eventually recovered and overwhelmed "The Phenom," but Belfort definitely opened some eyes. So what eventually allowed Jones to defend his title? And where do both talented competitors go from here?
Follow me after the jump for our Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort UFC 152 post-fight review and analysis.
At the beginning of the bout, Jones wisely closed the distance, avoiding the threat of Belfort's first round blitz attack and putting "The Phenom" on his back with his wrestling in the clinch.
Just when it seemed like "Bones" was going to steamroll Belfort with elbows from top control, the Brazilian proved that an "old lion" can learn new tricks, throwing his legs up in incredibly quick fashion and locking the champion in an armbar. As evidenced from the above picture, Jones was in some serious pain, grimacing as his arm was hyperextended and instead of technically escaping the hold, he panicked a bit and powered out of it by lifting Belfort into the air and dropping him hard to the canvas which loosened the grip.
From here on out, it was all Jones. He made Belfort pay for his submission attempt by repeatedly elbowing him in the face, opening up a gash above his right eye, although it didn't threaten to stop the fight.
Belfort was never able to get off with his striking (although we learned later that he fought with a broken hand suffered in training), only throwing the occasional kicks while Jones picked him apart from a distance on the feet, repeatedly throwing a side kick to the lower leg and knee to keep Belfort concerned.
In a surprise move, Belfort seemed willing to go to the ground with Jones, pulling guard on more than one occasion and trying to work for submissions off his back, but for Jones it was "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me," and he was never really threatened by Belfort's ground game again.
Jones dropped Belfort with a beautiful side kick to the liver in the third round but couldn't secure the finish but the damage had been done. After a sharp exchange in the fourth round, Jones got it to the canvas and this time, he passed Belfort's guard, put him in his patented crucifix and went to work with elbows. When Belfort brought his arm up to defend, Jones locked up an Americana and forced the tap.
Jones was awarded "Submission of the Night" honors for his effort.
For Vitor Belfort, he did much better than many fans and analysts gave him credit for. Believe it or not, he was the fourth longest fight of Jones' career. No one saw that armbar coming, especially Jones, who he caught napping big time with his submission skills from bottom. Even Joe Rogan had been commenting about Belfort's lack of bottom game before he nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Considering his hand injury, it's no surprise that Belfort didn't want to stand with Jones for too long and was trying to pull guard. It seemed like after he nearly got the armbar, he felt that was the only way he could possibly win the fight. It didn't pay off in the end, but he still gets props for putting Jones in the worst trouble of his career.
It's likely that Belfort returns to middleweight next. He's not going to lose much stock for his performance so barring how long he'll be out with his injuries, he could face the winner of Alan Belcher vs. Yushin Okami next or perhaps Brian Stann. Other potential opponents include the Hector Lombard vs. Rousimar Palhares winner.
For Jon Jones, barring the near armbar, he was in complete control of this fight. He did everything he wanted to do both standing and on the ground, utilizing his length to perfection and keeping Belfort at bay. He definitely took his time on the ground after Belfort nearly broke his arm but that's nothing to be ashamed of. Belfort is a black belt and knows how to defend himself. Jones is getting extremely good at utilizing his physical gifts to give himself a big advantage. When he finally had Belfort worn down and the probability of a finish was high, he went for the kill first with the elbows and then with the shoulder lock. It was elementary.
"Bones" also deserves major props for gutting it out despite having an injured arm from the Belfort armbar.
There are actually several potential opponents for Jones on the horizon. Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson are rumored to be fighting but that could be scrapped to just give one of them the title shot if Jones wants to compete again shortly. If he's out for a while with the arm injury, then Machida and Henderson will likely decide the number one contender. Other potential challenge include the Mauricio Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson winner or Chael Sonnen if he can talk his way into it.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Were you surprised by the near submission from Belfort? Did Jones dominate as much as you expected him to? Can any challenger take anything from Belfort's performance for a future shot at "Bones?"