Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com
MMAmania.com resident fight analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC on FX 7 headliner -- and former 205-pound champion -- Vitor Belfort, who defends his home turf against potentially the next No. 1 middleweight contender, Michael Bisping, this Saturday night in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight strap hanger Vitor Belfort takes on trash talking Brit Michael Bisping in the UFC on FX 7 main event this Saturday night (Jan 19, 2013) from Ibirapuera Arena in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
"The Phenom" comes into this fight fresh off his title loss Jon Jones at UFC 152. Even though he was beat with relative ease, he impressed many mixed martial arts (MMA) onlookers with heart he had never before displayed inside the Octagon. In fact, his especially volatile submission attempt nearly broke "Bones" and had Jones tap to an armbar.
He didn't, and now Belfort will attempt to finish another foe in his native Brazil and establish himself as (still) the second best Middleweight in the world behind division champion, Anderson Silva.
Does Belfort have the skills to become only the second person (Dan Henderson being the other in case you are seriously uninformed) to knockout Bisping?
Let's find out:
Despite receiving his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt at age 17, Belfort is most famous for his lightning fast hands. Even though his professional MMA debut was 16 years ago, his speed hasn't changed much nor has his gameplan evolved much, either.
It still -- and likely always will be -- to land as many punches to his opponents' faces in as little time as possible.
Belfort's boxing attack is not particularly complicated nor technical -- he rarely sets up his attacks or properly exits after them. Regardless, his reputation as one of the sport's greatest counter strikers of all time is well deserved. Whenever his opponent over commits to a strike, Belfort explodes into one of his famous boxing centered flurries. Throwing straight punches one after another, he is able to get off long combinations before his opponents can fully recover from his initial strike.
In addition to his boxing, Belfort boasts some nasty knees. He likes to escape to the clinch after he finishes his combinations, and then from there, he will land some knees to the face and/or body before breaking away and retreating to range.
Against Jones, Belfort demonstrated his exceptional his ability to close distance with flurries. Jones absolutely dwarfed Belfort, yet the Brazilian was able to connect with a couple solid combinations, more than most -- or any for that matter -- of Jones' recent opponents.
Unfortunately for "The Phenom," (another) broken hand and Jones' spectacular wrestling prevented him from capitalizing on this.
While his striking game has evolved quite a bit over the years, mixing in new elements like leg and high kicks, his flurries still make up most of his highlights.
Despite his striking prowess, Belfort is not without flaws. He uses his speed to explode from the kicking range, but even decent kickboxers have been able to keep him away from their chins. Noted strikers Chuck Liddell and Anderson Silva, for example, managed to damage -- or in Silva's case finish -- Belfort with kicks. Surprisingly, even Kazushi Sakuraba managed to damage Belfort with a variety of kicks, especially spinning back kicks.
In fact, half of Belfort's losses are to fighters who can out-kick him yet he hasn't done much to stop it.
Over his long career, Belfort has proven that his offensive wrestling is not to be underestimated. He used his wrestling to dominate Gilbert Yvel under the Pride FC banner, and recently took down current Middleweight champion Anderson Silva and (not-so recently) heavyweight contender Alistair Overeem briefly in their fights. Similar to his striking, Belfort's wrestling is based more off of speed and athleticism than perfect technique. Although he has shown he can grind for takedowns, he prefers to catch a kick and throw his opponent to the floor or shoot for a power double.
Even though Belfort has been fighting for nearly two decades, takedown defense remains his Achilles heel. The other half of his losses are to elite wrestlers, like Dan Henderson, Randy Couture (twice), Sakuraba and Tito Ortiz. Belfort has taken steps to fix this problem, training with the aforementioned Couture and wrestling guru Mike VanArsdale, but the problem remains. In a recent fight, against bloated middleweight Anthony Johnson, Belfort was taken down easily before being aided by referee stand ups and Johnson's gas tank running empty.
Belfort received his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt from the legendary (and now deceased) Carlson Gracie when he was just 17 years old. He has shown a very good defensive guard. Although he hasn't submitted anyone off of his back, he often threatens with armbars or gets under hooks to restrain his opponents and prevent them from landing any effective ground-and-pound. The reason Belfort hasn't submit many of his opponents is that he is partial to posturing up and throwing brutal ground-and-pound instead of trying to latch onto a submission.
As I mentioned above, Belfort's go-to move from the bottom is the armbar. He tried it a few times on "Rumble" and nearly shocked the world against Jones. He sets up his armbar by rotating his hips and reaching under the his opponents' leg, then throwing his leg over their face and lifting with his hips. It's a pretty basic armbar, but Belfort does it so fast that it nearly ended the reign of one of the UFC's brightest young stars.
Belfort is a very unique fighter in many ways. When he came into the UFC he was known for his jiu-jitsu, yet he knocked out everyone. He was also one of the first successful counter punchers in MMA. Of course his most unique quality is speed. One of the fastest light heavyweights ever, Belfort's hand speed and aggression are what made him famous. The final, and perhaps most important, trait that Belfort possesses is his phenomenal killer instinct.
Put simply: If Belfort hurts you, he finishes you ... violently.
An excellent example of this is his fight with Akiyama. The Japanese judoka's iron chin was well known, and when he was matched against Belfort many wondered if "The Phenom" would be able to crack it. About 1.5 minutes into the first round, that question was answered.
After a feeling out process, Akiyama threw a front kick reminiscent of the one Silva connected with to knockout Belfort back at UFC 126. It didn't land, but Belfort didn't like it and exploded forward. A crushing overhand left then landed, dropping Akiyama to the mat. Akiyama gamely tried to defend -- even momentarily standing back up -- but Belfort landed another five punches before the South Korean superstar crumpled to the mat completely unconscious.
The time from the front kick to the referee pulling Belfort off of Akiyama? 12 seconds.
This is just one of many examples of Belfort's killer instinct. Look at the .gifs above, none of the knockouts are anything less than brutal. When Belfort finishes a fighter with strikes, it isn't thanks to a referee stoppage or the fighter giving up mentally and balling up into the fetal position.
On the contrary, it's because the fighter is asleep on the mat.
Best chance for success
Belfort needs to attack early. A large percentage of his wins are in the first round, and if he wants to knockout Bisping, he needs to attack immediately. Bisping is a pretty high volume fighter and has a tendency to get hit with big punches, so there should be plenty of oppurtunities for Belfort to explode into a counter flurry. That said, Belfort fades as the fight goes on, and Bisping has excellent cardio. The longer this fight continues, the better it is for "The Count;" therefore, it is imperative that Belfort gets to work early.
"The Phenom's" strategy of blasting forward with punches in bunches should work pretty well against Bisping. Bisping's defense tends to deteriorate at the end of long combinations, as he will throw a weak, easily-countered jab or a half-hearted clinch attempt.
With Belfort's speed, one minor slip up on Bisping's defense could end the night.
Belfort also needs to circle away from the cage constantly. Bisping has a pretty good double leg takedown, and excels and finishing it once his opponent is trapped against the cage. Belfort does not want to be trapped under Bisping, whose ground-and-pound accounts for most of his technical knockout victories.
Will "The Phenom" give us a knockout to rival Henderson's, or will Bisping finally get his title shot against Silva?