Vitor Belfort is 9-2 in his last 11 appearances. | Photo: Gleidson Venga/Sherdog.com
When it comes to jaw-dropping knockouts, Vitor Belfort has the market cornered in 2013. His stoppages of Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold were as spectacular as they were violent, and more importantly, they launched “The Phenom” back into 185-pound title contention. Belfort has been described as “difficult” by Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White when it comes to the matchmaking process, however, and the former light heavyweight king lived up to his reputation by shooting down a proposed matchup against Tim Kennedy.
A showdown with Dan Henderson in the UFC Fight Night 32 headliner proved to be more palatable for the Blackzilians representative, although the bout will be contested at light heavyweight instead of middleweight. If anyone can withstand Belfort’s onslaught it is Henderson, who has yet to be stopped by strikes in 39 professional outings. As added incentive, Henderson, who will try to rebound from a pair of narrow split decision defeats to former light heavyweight champions Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida, already owns a win over Belfort in 2006.
In a fight where both men are known for their numbing knockout power, this one could end well inside the allotted 25-minute timeframe.
Here is a closer look at UFC Fight Night 32, with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC Fight Night 32 Free Fan Pick’Em
Light HeavyweightsVitor Belfort (23-10, 12-6 UFC) vs. Dan Henderson (29-10, 6-4 UFC)
The Matchup: Belfort and Henderson first met seven years ago in Pride Fighting Championships, with the Team Quest founder capturing a unanimous decision triumph at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Belfort tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid after that fight, though he claimed he may have unwittingly received the substance from his doctor during injections while attempting to recover from a torn meniscus. Nonetheless, the Brazilian was fined $10,000 and suspended for nine months by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Fast forward to the present day, and Belfort remains a controversial figure. His use of testosterone replacement therapy while fighting exclusively in Brazil of late has raised questions about his performance. Enter the 44-year-old Henderson, who also has received a therapeutic use exemption for TRT. The treatment and its benefits continue to provoke debate throughout the MMA community, and a headliner featuring two beneficiaries figures to bring the TRT discussion to the forefront once again.
No fighter has looked more explosive lately than Belfort, who scored devastating knockouts of top 10 middleweights Bisping and Rockhold in his last two outings. Making matters even more frightening for the rest of MMA world is that the 36-year-old Brazilian seems to be adding techniques to his repertoire: his finishes of both Bisping and Rockhold came as the result of high kicks.
In terms of career goals, the fight with Henderson does not make a lot of sense for Belfort. The Blackzilians representative has had his sights set on 185-pound gold for some time now; fighting an opponent whose last three UFC bouts have come at light heavyweight, no matter how big a name, would seem to only incrementally further that cause.
There is the matter of unfinished business, however. While Belfort has only lost to Anderson Silva and Jon Jones since his first showdown with Henderson, the Team Quest founder has dropped his last two bouts. Granted, there is no shame in losing narrow split verdicts to the likes of Machida and Evans, but TRT or not, it appears that age may finally be catching up to Henderson. While his powerful right hand is as dangerous as ever, he has difficulty tracking down quicker and more agile opponents. That becomes a problem when the two-time Greco-Roman Olympian seems to have become more one-dimensional with advancing age. Contrast that with Belfort, who is suddenly expanding his arsenal.
With that said, there are aspects of Belfort’s approach that are tailor-made for Henderson. Even in his mid-30s, Belfort relies primarily on overwhelming his opponents with speed, power and athleticism. His patented flurries are based far more on physical tools than technique; it is just that few have the durability and composure to survive.
Henderson has yet to be stopped by strikes in his 39-fight career, but he has been dropped and rocked on numerous occasions. Thanks to an amazing recovery rate, the Californian always stays in the fight. If he can survive the initial blitz, Henderson may very well find an opening to land his famous equalizer.
Belfort’s attacks are usually of the straight-line variety, utilizing little in the way of head movement or angles. Such an approach could leave him wide open for a counter right hand from Henderson. Of course, the difference in speed and explosion between the two men is not to be ignored. Belfort could close the distance and begin bombing away before his foe even has a chance to unload.
Belfort needs very little space to generate power, but he expends a great deal of energy going in for the kill. If Henderson can maintain his senses, there is a chance he will eventually be able to test his luck against a fatigued opponent. Unfortunately, Henderson also tends to fade over the course of a fight, and while his recovery ability is well-documented, Belfort’s skill in following up on a dazed adversary with accurate, powerful strikes is unrivaled and can challenge even the recuperative powers of “Hendo.”
The Pick: Belfort appears to faster, stronger and more diverse than ever. Henderson, while tough, savvy and dangerous, is slowing down. Belfort wins by KO or TKO within three rounds.
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