Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight strap-hanger, Vitor Belfort, is set to clash with Pride FC kingpin, Dan Henderson, for the third time this Saturday (Nov. 7, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 77 inside Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
There's been a swirl of controversy surrounding Belfort since his career's inception, and his most recent UFC run is no exception. Aided by the then-legal use of Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT), Belfort cut a swath through three talented fighters in 2013 in truly violent fashion.
While those victories -- despite a failed drug test and TRT being banned -- did eventually earn him a title shot opposite Chris Weidman, Belfort was finished inside one round. Now, he's looking to rebound once more against a familiar foe.
Let's take a closer look at "The Phenom's" skill set:
Belfort has been known as a ferocious counter puncher since the mid-90s, and that reputation is well deserved. In addition to his 17 knockouts inside the cage, Belfort has a victory as a professional boxer as well.
Over the years, Belfort has definitely developed a more technical side to his attack. However, much of his success still comes from his natural speed and power, which carried him through his early career. "The Phenom" is incredibly fast and insanely accurate, which has allowed him to overwhelm many tough fighters over the years.
Belfort is very uncomfortable leading with his own punches. When he does initiate exchanges, the Southpaw rarely throws more than a couple strikes. Normally, Belfort pairs off a hook or uppercut with his money punch, the straight left hand.
Even early in his career, Belfort was at his best when countering his opponent's strikes. Back then, his best attack -- one he'll still rely on to this day -- was to step back, get his opponent moving forward, and then explode with a flurry of straight punches.
It's simple, but seeing as how many fighters back straight up, it's nonetheless extremely effective.
Nowadays, Belfort is more likely to plant his feet and attempt to line up a single counter blow. Usually, Belfort looks to slip his opponent's strike and crack him with the usual straight left. Then, if his opponent seems hurt, Belfort will follow up with a flurry of strikes.
In his most recent victory over Henderson, Belfort demonstrated this ability in nasty fashion. As Henderson shuffled in with his head ducked low, looking for his usual overhand, Belfort hunkered down and absolutely crushed Henderson's jaw with a left uppercut. Henderson, known for his absolute iron jaw, somehow managed to survive initially, but a follow up high kick put him down for the count.
And just like that, "The Phenom" became the first man to knock out "Hendo."
Speaking of high kicks, they're the most significant addition to Belfort's game in years. Prior to his 2013 run, Belfort had never shown an answer to fighters who looked to keep him at range and kick at his legs and body. Then, Belfort flipped the script by earning three straight knockouts via some form of head kick.
Belfort's kicking game is dangerous for largely the same reason as Mirko Filipovic's was back in the day. When a Southpaw has a nasty straight left, it's difficult for fighters not to attempt to slip or parry the strike. Either defensive movement can leave that fighter out of position to defend the high kick.
Belfort's effectiveness was also greatly aided by how surprising it was. Belfort had been fighting professionally for 17 years before he faced off with Bisping, so the Englishman could be forgiven if he thought he knew what to expect. The vast majority of fights simply don't develop new tricks like that.
Finally, it's not exactly a technique, but Belfort's finishing instinct has to be mentioned. When Belfort rocks his opponent, he's one of the best in the world at swarming his foe and forcing them to make more mistakes. "The Phenom" capitalizes viciously, leaving most of the men he defeats completely out cold on the mat.
For the most part, Belfort has little interesting in taking fights to the mat and utilizing his jiu-jitsu black belt, as his focus has always been on landing the knockout blow. However, when faced with a dangerous striker, Belfort will occasionally turn to his takedowns.
Even when Belfort is looking to throw his opponent to the mat, he doesn't usually look for a standard double or single leg shot. Instead, Belfort will rely on his reaction time and comfort on his feet to catch a kick or knee before dragging his opponent to the mat.
Obviously, takedown defense is far more important to the knockout artist. While Belfort has never truly mastered defending the shot, he's certainly an above average wrestler. A large part of this is due to his counter punching style, as Belfort's opponent's are often forced to shoot from fairly far out, allowing Belfort to easily sprawl out on them.
Still, Belfort's takedown defense historically has had some issues. For one, he often sprawls effectively yet will allow his opponent to wind up on top regardless. As he impatiently attempts to return to his feet, he leaves openings that determined wrestlers can capitalize on. Where he a bit more patient in returning to his feet, Belfort would be able to separate entirely from the takedown.
Another issue with Belfort is his defense against the cage, where he tends to freeze up. Regardless of whether it's clinch work or defending a deep double leg, the cage often neutralizes Belfort's counter wrestling. Couture proved this twice, grinding Belfort against the cage before finishing him with strikes. The sad thing is there was seven years between fights, yet the fights were rather similar.
Finally, Belfort's major wrestling issue is not a technical one. Wrestling is as much a mentality as it is a martial art, and Belfort has long been a front runner. Simply look back at his most recent bout, in which Belfort barely defended himself as soon as Weidman survived his blitz and scored a takedown.
That same mentality has allowed multiple fighters to drag Belfort into deep waters and overwhelm him.
As mentioned, Belfort simply doesn't have much of an interest in taking his opponents to the mat or hunting for submissions. On paper, however, Belfort should be one of the finest grapplers in the division, as he's a longtime black belt and medalist in the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC).
While most of Belfort's jiu-jitsu ability remains unused inside the cage, he has shown a dangerous enough top game. Belfort is a solid guard passer and very aggressive from back mount, where he'll hunt for the rear naked choke.
In addition, Belfort's guard has historically been rather solid. Normally, he's just looking to escape back to his feet, but Belfort will get aggressive if he can manage to lock onto an overhook. Then, while his opponent looks to land some ground strikes, Belfort will quickly swivel his hips around and throw up his legs for the arm bar. Once again, this is a simple technique, but Belfort's speed makes it quite dangerous.
Of all the men Jon Jones has faced, Vitor Belfort came the closest to beating him, although it should be noted that there's some serious controversy surrounding that fight as a report emerged that Belfort failed a drug test prior to the fight. Regardless, Belfort nearly capitalized on Jones' lazy arm positioning, quickly latching on and cranking the arm. "Bones" managed to escape, but Belfort did manage to do some serious damage.
Best Chance For Success
In his last bout with Henderson, Belfort knocked out the former Olympian in just 67 seconds. That's pretty much the ideal result, so Belfort should be looking for a repeat performance.
Basically, Belfort needs to capitalize on Henderson's predictability and stance. When Henderson shuffles toward his opponent with his head down, it's tremendously easy to counter, and Belfort is one of the most successful counter strikes in history.
Simply put, it's up to Henderson to adapt and switch something up in this fight. Otherwise, Belfort likely has a very easy victory on his hands.
Will Vitor Belfort secure another knockout win or can Dan Henderson pull off the upset?