Two of the top-ranked middleweights in the world will clash this Saturday night (May 18, 2013) as Vitor Belfort takes on incoming Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in the main event of UFC on FX 8 in Brazil.
Record: 21-10 overall, 10-6 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, 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.
He returned to the middleweight division just in time to prevent Michael Bisping's title shot and he's looking to do the same thing this time around playing spoiler with Luke Rockhold.
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 Rockhold 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 Rockhold will begin to employ his gameplan and start to make things difficult.
Belfort has a power and overall striking advantage, but he's most lethal early in the fight. Look for him to wait for Rockhold 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 Rockhold on Saturday night in front of his adoring fans, especially after all the things the invading Strikeforce champion has had to say about his TRT usage.
Record: 10-1 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Luke Rockhold transitioned to MMA after competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. While most of his professional wins in the sport have come by way of submission, he's still a brown belt in BJJ.
Rockhold signed on with Strikeforce for his third professional fight, quickly becoming a local favorite due to his propensity of having exciting fights that ended early. Rockhold continued to fight progressively more difficult opponents under the Strikeforce banner and continued to finish them in the first round.
Veteran Cory Devela couldn't last 30 seconds against Rockhold, quickly being overwhelmed with punches before succumbing to submission. Former Ultimate Fighter castout, Jesse Taylor, was choked out in less than four minutes as well.
Rockhold defeated UFC veteran Paul Bradley, twice dropping the Minnesota fighter standing and finished him off with some gruesome knees to the body that completely sucked out Bradley's will. He was expected to fight several of the top fighters in the promotion but was repeatedly delayed due to injuries suffered in training. He finally got his shot at the big time when he challenged "Jacare" Souza for the Strikeforce middleweight title and he walked away with a decision victory.
When a scheduled title defense against Tim Kennedy fell through, veteran Keith Jardine's name was called upon and Rockhold disposed of him as expected. He finally faced Kennedy last year and dominated the fight for five round to earn a relatively easy decision against the smaller fighter. Now, he's looking to make a proper introduction to UFC fans against one of the promotion's most established veterans.
How he gets it done: Rockhold is a bit of an enigma. He employed his strong jiu-jitsu game in the early part of his career, but he's been utilizing his striking ever since taking the leap against the toughest opposition in Strikeforce. He squeaked past Jacare, knocked out Jardine and kept Kennedy at bay with his stand-up.
That won't be so easy against Belfort.
What's on Rockhold's side is his youth and all the time he's had to work on his overall game these past 10 months while he's been waiting to earn another big fight. If he's been improving his game the way I think he has, he'll be ready to catch Belfort off guard with all sorts of new skills, particularly in the clinch and at a distance. He's got a decent reach and height advantage here so he should try to utilize it without giving Belfort an easy counter striking opportunity.
Time is on Rockhold's side as this is a five round fight and Belfort has faded in many a bout as the clock began ticking down. If he can survive the early onslaught from "The Phenom," he could start to take over just about everywhere and find success.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FX 8? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!