All eyes will be on Jon Jones as he looks to erase at least some of the bad feelings from the canceled UFC 151 card with a dominant performance against former light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort. Even if Jones cannot find forgiveness by way of knockout or submission, his villainous image has likely only increased his drawing power, if only because the critics will be watching in hopes of seeing him fall.
UFC 152 on Saturday was the main beneficiary of Jones’ decision not to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice three weeks earlier. Now the Air Canada Centre in Toronto has the aforementioned light heavyweight title tilt, the flyweight tournament final between Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson and a marquee middleweight clash between Brian Stann and Michael Bisping. Due to a rash of injuries and withdrawals, such loaded cards have become less common in recent months.
For those of you who have been suffering MMA withdrawals, UFC 152 has the cure for what ails you. Here is a closer look at the card, with analysis and picks:
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UFC Light Heavyweight ChampionshipJon Jones (16-1, 10-1 UFC) vs. Vitor Belfort (21-9, 10-5 UFC)
The Matchup: When inside the Octagon, Jones has done nothing but good work, besting the likes of Ryan Bader, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans during his rise to prominence in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. In the minds of many, much of that good work was undone when the 205-pound king declined a short-notice fight against Chael Sonnen at UFC 151.
The result was the cancellation of an event for the first time in Zuffa’s history, and UFC President Dana White made it a point to lay all the blame on his young champion. Whether White was justified or not, Jones carries a large burden into the fourth title defense of his UFC tenure. Thus far, “Bones” has proven himself oblivious to outside distractions on fight night. He might very well be entering the cage as the UFC’s No. 1 heel here, but that does not make him any less excellent at his craft.
The good news for Belfort is that his UFC 142 bout at middleweight against Anthony Johnson -- who missed weight by 11 pounds -- served as something of a dress rehearsal for the Brazilian’s return to 205 pounds. The bad news is that “The Phenom” was taken down with relative ease on a couple of occasions by Johnson, who just a day before claimed his body had shut down as a result of a grueling weight cut. Belfort was the beneficiary of a few hasty restarts by referee Dan Miragliotta that night, and he eventually took advantage by submitting Johnson near the end of the opening frame. Still, if Belfort struggled to defend the wrestling of a drained “Rumble,” it does not bode well for his future prospects against Jones, who has made a habit of dumping decorated wrestlers on the canvas.
What made Dan Henderson an interesting opponent for Jones was the proverbial puncher’s chance -- his howitzer of a right hand could, at least in theory, have the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product in trouble at a moment’s notice. Belfort’s best chance also lies in his hands, but, unlike Henderson, his hope rests on speed instead of pure power. Even at 35 years old, the former light heavyweight champion possesses some of the fastest hands in the sport today. When given an opening, Belfort can unload a fearsome barrage of punches, ending a fight in a matter of moments. However, doing this against the likes of Jones is a much trickier proposition.
The New York native will use his 10-inch reach advantage perfectly, punishing Belfort with a wide variety of punches, kicks and elbows, all while staying out of harm’s way. On more even terms, Belfort would prefer to sit back and create angles in order to land combinations. Here, he will have to wade through dangerous waters to get close enough to have a chance at doing any significant damage to his opponent.
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Jones will also control the action when distance is closed. His Greco-Roman wrestling background allows him to control all tie-up situations, as well as set up takedowns from unusual angles. Once on the mat, he uses his long frame to control his foe while landing his trademark elbow strikes. Should Belfort become impatient or desperate, he will find himself struggling to escape the grasp of the champion, who is capable of locking up chokes from positions nobody else can.
The Pick: Because of his striking, Belfort might actually be a more dangerous opponent for Jones than Sonnen would have been. Other than the slight chance that Belfort blitzes Jones and ends the bout with a flurry of punches, all the advantage lies with champion. Look for Jones to land some shots on the outside early before taking Belfort to the canvas, where he ends the bout with nasty ground-and-pound by the late first or early second round.
Next Fight » Demetrious Johnson vs. Joseph Benavidez