Two of the top-ranked middleweights on the planet will finally meet this Saturday night (Jan. 19, 2013) as Vitor Belfort battles Michael Bisping in the co-main event of UFC on FX 7 at the Ibirapuera Arena in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Belfort is coming off the heels of a fourth round submission defeat at the hands of UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones. While he didn't win the title, he represented himself very well and put the champion in more danger than anyone else in the promotion's history. Now, he's just looking to derail someone else's title dreams now that he's back at middleweight.
Bisping had a very good 2012, losing a spirited decision to Chael Sonnen in a performance so impressive that his stock in the division actually raised. He followed that up by handily defeating popular "All-American" Brian Stann this past September. Now, it's been confirmed that he'll be earning a title shot should he get past Belfort on his home turf.
Will Belfort prove that an old dog can still learn new tricks? Will Bisping finally score that signature win and propel himself to a middleweight title opportunity? How can each man walk home a winner on Saturday night?
Record: 20-10 overall, 9-6 in the UFC
Key Wins: Rich Franklin (UFC 103), Randy Couture (UFC 46), Anthony Johnson (UFC 142)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 152), Anderson Silva (UFC 126), Dan Henderson (Pride 32)
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, who defeated him via TKO.
Belfort left the UFC to compete in Pride, but would return and 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 via decision and Belfort would leave the promotion for several years. After his devastating knockout of Matt Lindland in Affliction, Belfort was offered an opportunity to fight Rich Franklin at UFC 103 and he would crush the former middleweight champion with another nasty first round stoppage.
Since then, Belfort's UFC experience has been a seesaw of highs and lows. He was knocked out by Anderson Silva in highlight-reel fashion, but victories over Akiyama and Anthony Johnson opened the door for him to fight light heavyweight champion Jon Jones on short notice. In that bout, he damaged "Bones'" arm badly with an armbar, but was eventually submitted in the championship rounds.
Now dropping back down to middleweight, he'll try to stop Michael Bisping from earning a crack at the champion this weekend.
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 Bisping 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. If he doesn't see an opening, he won't take it, although he can't be too patient or Bisping will get in a groove and start working him over.
Belfort has a major power advantage, but he's most lethal early in the fight. Look for him to wait for Bisping to make the first move and then pounce with a sharp counter strike. When he has his opponents hurt, Vitor will do whatever it takes to finish the fight and it doesn't matter if the shots are to the back of the head. When he smells blood, he goes for it, and he'll definitely do whatever it takes to finish Bisping on Saturday night in front of his adoring fans.
Record: 23-4 overall, 12-4 in the UFC
Key Wins: Chris Leben (UFC 89), Yoshihiro Akiyama (UFC 120), Jason Miller (The Ultimate Fighter Finale 14)
Key Losses: Chael Sonnen (UFC on Fox 2), Dan Henderson (UFC 100), Wanderlei Silva (UFC 110)
How he got here: Michael Bisping entered season three of The Ultimate Fighter with a spotless 10-0 record and having been a Cage Warriors star in his native England. He dominated the competition and, despite being an undersized light heavyweight, won his first four fights in the UFC.
His momentum was finally halted when he dropped a decision to Rashad Evans, and he decided to make the cut to middleweight immediately afterwards. Bisping won his first three fights at 185 as well and was potentially in line for a title shot against Anderson Silva, but first he had to coach season nine of The Ultimate Fighter against Dan Henderson.
Bisping faced Henderson at UFC 100 and was infamously knocked out in one of the greatest knockouts in MMA history. "The Count" rallied against Dennis Kang at UFC 105 in his native England, but once again, he'd have his momentum halted by another Pride legend, this time Wanderlei Silva who was dropping down to 185 for the first time.
The Brit decided to coach another season of The Ultimate Fighter in his downtime and when he finally got an opportunity to put his hands on "Mayhem," Bisping took full advantage and crushed his opponent with repeated and efficient blows to force a stoppage.
Bisping was originally slated to take on Demian Maia at UFC on Fox 2, but an injury to Mark Munoz granted him the opportunity to fight Chael Sonnen for number one contender. He eagerly accepted the bout and put up a hell of a fight, but came up short. He bounced back in his last bout, a solid showing against hard-hitting Brian Stann where he showcased all the facets of his improving skills to win a decision.
Now, he'll be fighting to earn a shot against Anderson Silva, but he has to get through Belfort first.
How he gets it done: Bisping has developed a style which plays into his skill-set very well in the last couple years. He doesn't have much one-punch knockout power, but he's very good at getting in, landing blows and getting out. He's going to have to be very careful to avoid making fundamental mistakes like circling into Belfort's power, as that's hurt him before.
Conditioning could be key as well. Bisping is one of the best conditioned fighters at 185 pounds and he's been able to take over late in fights due to his excellent pace. Belfort has made a career out of finishing his opponents in the first round, but those stoppages have been much harder to come by once that first five minutes is over.
With this being a five round fight, Bisping just needs to survive that opening five minutes and then he can really start to take over with constant in-and-out movement and forward pressure to wear "The Phenom" down.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be the combination of speed, explosiveness and power that Belfort presents. It's something that Bisping simply isn't used to. Look throughout his career. Bisping has fought several powerful opponents, but almost all of them have been heavy hitters without the ability to close the distance with their speed (Ex: Leben, Akiyama, Stann, Wanderlei and even Dan Henderson). Even against guys who aren't that fast, he still manages to get hit and hurt in almost all of his fights.
Against Belfort, he's going to be dealing with someone who not only hits hard, but they have the striking technique and the speed to close that distance and really make him hurt. Guys like Wanderlei Silva and Brian Stann couldn't put Bisping away when they rocked him, but Vitor Belfort will launch himself with the fury of 1000 suns if he sees Bisping even start to wobble from one of his blows. This is a very, very dangerous situation for "The Count" and his defense is going to have to be better than it's ever been.
Bottom Line: This fight has all the makings of a great battle. The best part is the unpredictability of it. Both middleweights are elite and the stakes are tremendous with Bisping vying for a shot at Anderson Silva while Belfort wants to put on a great performance in front of his beloved countrymen. It's also a battle of two completely different styles of fighting where Belfort will be trying to get that first round stoppage while Bisping doesn't mind drawing the fight out with his pace and workrate. Tack on that they really, really don't like each other? Wow! Make sure not to blink.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX 7? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!