Vitor Belfort unleashed a kick heard ’round the MMA world. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
2. Phenomenal Finish
Given Vitor Belfort’s trio of dominant victories over the last 12 months, MMA fans could easily call 2013 the Year of “The Phenom.” While Sherdog.com did not select Belfort as its “Fighter of the Year,” the Brazilian’s stellar performances certainly put him in the running.
Belfort kicked off his campaign with a sweet stoppage of Michael Bisping and ended it by becoming the first man to knock out Dan Henderson in 40 pro fights. Although both finishes were spectacular in their own right, the middleweight’s May 18 victory over Luke Rockhold was regarded by the Sherdog staff as his most outstanding showing this year.
Rockhold entered his Octagon debut at UFC on FX 8 as the reigning Strikeforce middleweight champion and was looked upon by several media members -- myself included -- as a future challenger for the UFC crown. An excellent athlete with loads of potential, the 6-foot-3 Rockhold had not lost since his second pro fight back in 2007, running the table during his Strikeforce stint and capturing the organization’s 185-pound crown from Ronaldo Souza in 2011. Two successful title defenses followed for the American Kickboxing Academy talent, who stopped UFC veteran Keith Jardine before outpointing Tim Kennedy.
Belfort, meanwhile, walked into the pivotal confrontation riding both his victory over Bisping and a growing wave of controversy due to his use of testosterone replacement therapy. If questions outside the cage about his TRT exemption served as any kind of distraction in the bout’s lead-up, Belfort certainly did not let on inside the Octagon, showing the type of aggression and violence that once inspired onlookers to christen him the future of the sport many years earlier.
Spurred on by the cheers of the partisan Brazilian crowd, Belfort cautiously engaged Rockhold in the bout’s opening moments before attempting a spinning kick that came up short. Belfort then tried to blitz his agile foe with a series of punches after failing on a takedown attempt, but his fellow southpaw deftly maneuvered away from the Brazilian’s aggression.
The same could not be said for Rockhold during his next exchange with Belfort, who fired off a second spinning heel kick, this one connecting flush on his taller opponent’s cheek and sending him to the canvas. The old dog with a new trick then quickly pounced on his prone opponent with a flurry of more traditional Belfort offense -- namely, a hailstorm of fastballs to the cranium.
Belfort, 36, has scored many memorable knockouts in his 17-year career, and he will probably earn several more before he hangs up his gloves, but it is hard to imagine any of those surpassing his artful stoppage of Rockhold in May.
Number Three » Hardcore Upset