Vitor Belfort has finished 16 opponents inside one round. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
They are two of the most accomplished and celebrated mixed martial artists in history, having combined for 52 victories, four major championships and a hefty share of highlight-reel knockouts.
Onetime Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight boss Vitor Belfort will meet former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson in the UFC Fight Night 32 main event on Saturday at the Goiania Arena in Goiania, Brazil. The five-round headliner serves as a rematch of their first encounter at Pride 32 in October 2006, which Henderson won by unanimous decision.
Belfort has won nine of his past 11 bouts, losing only to Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. The 36-year-old Blackzilians representative last appeared at UFC on FX 8 in May, when he leveled the American Kickboxing Academy’s Luke Rockhold with a spectacular spinning heel kick and follow-up punches at the Arena Jaragua in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil. A judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt blessed with lightning-quick hands, Belfort has secured 16 of his 23 career victories by knockout or technical knockout. His list of victims includes “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner Michael Bisping, former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin, 2000 Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland and onetime Pride 205-pound titleholder Wanderlei Silva.
Henderson, meanwhile, finds himself on a two-fight losing streak for just the third time in his career. The 43-year-old Team Quest founder last competed at UFC 161 in June, when he wound up on the wrong side of a split decision against Rashad Evans at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. “Hendo” wrestled collegiately at Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State University before representing the United States in the Summer Olympics in 1992 and 1996. Still the only fighter to hold major MMA championships in two weight classes simultaneously, Henderson has never been knocked out in 39 professional bouts.
The UFC Fight Night 32 lineup provides plenty of water cooler fodder. We discuss some of it here:
Whitman: The number of shows the UFC is putting on is becoming rather intense. Excluding the main event, is there a matchup on this card that you can immediately peg as a must-watch fight?
Knapp: You are not the first person to mention MMA fatigue to me, and there is no denying the fact that all these events have watered down the product a bit. Personally, I would rather have too much than not enough. With that said, there are a couple of fights beyond the Belfort-Henderson rematch that have me interested. Brandon Thatch did his bull in a china shop routine in his promotional debut against Justin Edwards, but I want to see how he handles a seasoned opponent like Paulo Thiago, who was once considered a top 10 welterweight. The first matchup on the UFC Fight Night 32 lineup also bears watching, as prospect Dustin Ortiz climbs into the Octagon for the first time to face Jose Maria Tome and his gaudy 33-4 record.
Whitman: Why is Belfort fighting Henderson at light heavyweight? I get that Henderson beat him seven years ago, but would you not rather see “The Phenom” stay at 185 pounds and fight meaningful bouts within the division?
Knapp: I stopped trying to figure out Belfort a long, long time ago. This fight does not make much sense for him, as the risks far outweigh the benefits. I guess that at this point in his career he would rather not make the cut to middleweight unless the title is on the line. He may come to regret that decision.
Whitman: Rafael Cavalcante did not look good in his June knockout defeat to Thiago Silva; it was his first fight since testing positive for steroids. What do you think we can expect from “Feijao” against Igor Pokrajac?
Knapp: Maddeningly inconsistent, Cavalcante is a tough guy to read. His physical ability is undeniable, but he has almost looked disinterested at various times in his career. The cage tends to be unforgiving to those who run hot and cold. Still, “Feijao” has a favorable draw here. I think he runs circles around Pokrajac, who lacks to the tools necessary to put the Brazilian on his heels.
Whitman: Jeremy Stephens is set to make his second appearance as a featherweight against Rony Mariano Bezerra. I figure fireworks are all but guaranteed in this one. Do you agree?
Knapp: Given their histories -- they have 29 finishes in 46 bouts between them -- you would have to think a little reckless abandon is in our future. The devastating power Stephens wields in his hands only figures to be enhanced at 145 pounds. Bezerra has been on a tear, but it only takes one unfortunate encounter with Stephens’ fists to ruin a man’s night. Ask Rafael dos Anjos, who had his incisors rattled by a “Lil’ Heathen” uppercut at UFC 91.
Whitman: My friend has been telling me for some time that Ortiz is a future title contender at 125 pounds. Do you think the Tachi Palace Fights veteran will make waves in the UFC?
Knapp: I expect him to stick around and succeed, but I have not seen enough to label him a future title contender, not with guys like Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson and Ian McCall populating the upper reaches of the division and bantamweights like Scott Jorgensen moving down from 135 pounds.