Monday Morning Reverie: Right to the Top

By Mike Sloan May 20, 2013
Vitor Belfort may get a second crack at Anderson Silva.| Photo: Marcelo Alonso/

With one swift heel to the unsuspecting face of Luke Rockhold, former world champion Vitor Belfort immediately was catapulted back into the UFC’s title picture, at least according to a sizeable chunk of the mixed martial arts community.

Belfort, who won his second consecutive bout, electrified all who watched with a surprising spinning back heel kick -- followed by a series of strikes on the fallen Rockhold -- that ended the contest in the first round at UFC on FX 8 card in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil.

Twitter and MMA forums were abuzz with the feat, as well as many a post-fight article, and almost all share a similar thought: Belfort is deserving of another shot at the undisputed title at 185 pounds. The win was Belfort’s ninth in eleven bouts and it snapped Rockhold’s nine-fight winning streak. But, before the Belfort bandwagon becomes so overcrowded that its wheels are driven into the earth and its chassis is snapped like a twig, those going bananas over his conquest need to first take a collective deep breath and gather themselves.

For starters, does his first-round destruction of Rockhold automatically send Belfort into a second battle with current champion Anderson Silva? While the immediate response to his highlight reel KO would indicate so, that might not necessarily be the case. Belfort already has locked horns with “The Spider” and that fight ended like so many others of Silva’s matchups. Belfort was kicked square in the face and removed from consciousness in three minutes and 25 seconds. Belfort barely made it past the halfway mark of the opening stanza, and while he might be able to employ a slightly different strategy against Silva if he lands a return bout, the outcome will most likely be the same.

Though it has been two years since the Brazilians locked horns, their initial meeting was as one-sided as they come. Belfort also suffered another loss along the way -- to champion Jon Jones at light heavyweight -- and that might play into a hand where Belfort does not get a title shot his next time out.

There’s no denying how fantastic a fighter Belfort can be when he’s focused and on point. Everybody loves the knockout artist and Belfort is one of the best the sport has ever seen. But with so many people in the aftermath of last night’s bombing of Rockhold clamoring for him to be the next in line to Silva’s throne, it might be a case of knockoutitis, a common ailment that afflicts short-sighted or illogical fight fans the world over who glom onto only what they saw last. These people sometimes tend to make irrational decisions and statements, or are duped into believing the hype of what some experts might spew on TV or on the web.

A few moments after Belfort vanquished Rockhold, cageside commentator Jon Anik declared Belfort’s knockout one of the greatest in the history in mixed martial arts. It’s natural to get caught up in the heat of the moment, and commentators are usually most guilty of this, but it’s been stated hundreds, if not thousands of times already, that the heel-on-face knockout delivered by Belfort was like nothing anybody has ever seen.

Yes, his knockout was spectacular, but among the greatest in the history of MMA? Let’s not get too hasty here. Rockhold was not sent into oblivion with the kick, but because it was so pretty and unexpected, it has been elevated to immortality.

File Photo

Silva iced Belfort at UFC 126.
That notion aside, has Belfort’s win over Rockhold really cast him into the front of the 185-pound line? Rockhold was right at the doorstep of Silva’s house and a win over Belfort likely would have placed him directly into the top contender spot. Now that Rockhold was turned into minced meat on Saturday, he’s out. That leaves a host of other middleweights that are equally as (un)deserving of Silva’s belt.

Chris Weidman is out of the equation because he’s already gotten his chance and he’s fighting Silva for the title in July, but for argument’s sake, let’s assume Silva beats him at UFC 162. Michael Bisping recently lost to Belfort, but he just toppled Alan Belcher, which leaves Belcher completely out in the cold. There’s Chael Sonnen, but he’s already been stopped twice by Silva; once via triangle choke, another by TKO. Mark Munoz is not in the picture because he was KOed by Weidman last July and hasn’t fought since. Brian Stann is completely out in the cold, having lost three of his last four and two in a row. There’s Costas Philippou, but even though he’s won five straight, he hasn’t taken down any top competitors. Yushin Okami is the last man to beat Silva, and though he’s won three in a row, he lost to Silva in their rematch back in August 2011 and followed that up with a loss to Tim Boetsch.

That leaves the only logical choice: Belfort.

If Belfort was to be granted an opportunity to try and wrest the middleweight crown off Silva’s head, how many people out there who consider themselves experts truly expect the result to differ from the first? It’s true that Belfort could land one of his lethal strikes and score what would be a substantial upset, but who believes that would be the case if they fought again?

Belfort historically has been most dangerous early in his fights, yet that’s when Silva iced him. Belfort’s cardio has been notoriously shaky throughout his career, so even if Silva couldn’t replicate what he did at UFC 126, the logical notion would be that “The Phenom” will eventually gas out midway through the bout and lose anyway. Sure, he might make the fight entertaining, but it seems highly unlikely that Belfort would be able to change his fortunes against Silva, the greatest striker the sport of MMA has ever seen.

It’s that weird dichotomy within the UFC where Silva is simply too good for his own good. He has no equal within his own weight division as he’s conquered everybody he’s faced. His first fight with Sonnen notwithstanding, Silva has made it look too easy against literally everybody he’s faced inside the Octagon. It makes one wonder whether Silva is more like Roy Jones Jr. when RJJ was on top of the boxing world: he’s either so unbelievably gifted that nobody can beat him or he’s stuck in a period when those in his own division are B-level fighters at best. It’s doubtful that Belfort is the second coming of Antonio Tarver, in that he would shock the world and bomb Silva in a rematch.

What it boils down to is this: Did Belfort’s thrilling knockout of Rockhold earn him another shot at the world championship held by Anderson Silva? Yes, most likely. He’s paid his dues and has beaten two consecutive top contenders, making him more deserving than any of his peers to step into the proverbial Coliseum to fight the lion. But is he truly deserving of said title shot? Not really. We’ve already seen this episode before and not many people are overly fond of reruns.

Misc. Debris

Ronaldo Souza, among the best jiu jitsu players on the planet, made good on his UFC debut by putting the tough Chris Camozzi to sleep with a textbook arm-triangle choke in the first round. Souza, a former Strikeforce middleweight champion, showed no sign of the UFC jitters by dismantling Camozzi with ease. Jacare has enjoyed more of a cult following throughout his career, but now that he’s finally on the big stage, only time will tell if he will become the elite superstar many have believed he’d become all along.

Nik Lentz looked terrific in winning a hard-fought unanimous decision over Hacran Dias on the preliminary card, and it begs the question: will Lentz become an elite-level fighter in the near future? The Minnesotan was on a fast track toward the top until he ran into the combo of Mark Bocek and Evan Dunham. He has since won three in a row, albeit not against top-flight competition, but Lentz is talented enough to eventually make some serious noise at featherweight. We’ll see how it pans out from here.

Rafael dos Anjos inched closer to a crack at the lightweight title with a terrific showing against highly-touted Dunham. The Brazilian scored a unanimous decision and has now won four consecutive bouts, all against quality opponents. It’s a matter of time before he’s in the top ten and lacing them up against some of the best at 155 again.

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