Vitor Belfort has fought for UFC titles in two weight classes. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
In the dog-eat-dog world of mixed martial arts, the pursuit of validation carries with it inherent risks. For former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold, those risks come in the form of a face-to-face showdown with the man they call “The Phenom.”
Rockhold will appear inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s famed Octagon for the first time when he meets Vitor Belfort in the UFC on FX 8 main event this Saturday at the Arena Jaragua in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil. A victory over Belfort, a former light heavyweight champion who has fought for UFC titles in two weight classes, could provide the 28-year-old American Kickboxing Academy export with a rightful claim to the top contender’s seat at 185 pounds.
The UFC on FX 8 “Belfort vs. Rockhold” lineup provides plenty of water cooler fodder. We discuss some of it here:
Whitman: For my money, Belfort’s best strike has always been his counter left straight. If he lands that punch, you can put it in the bank. The problem with Rockhold is that, like Anderson Silva, he uses his range extremely well and is not likely to waltz into punching range. Rockhold is also a superior kicker, in my opinion. Can Belfort find a way to close the gap?
Knapp: That is the $64,000 question in this bout, is it not? Rockhold will hold a three-inch height and three-inch reach advantage on Belfort, and, as you said, he understands how to use those advantages. If Belfort cannot close the distance with any regularity, it seems likely he will find himself trapped on the outside eating punches and kicks. Rockhold strikes at a much higher clip than the Brazilian and wields significantly better standup defense, at least from a statistical standpoint.
Whitman: If Belfort does manage to get inside, do you think Rockhold be able to deal with his power?
Knapp: We have all witnessed the results when Belfort touches someone clean. There is no reason to believe Rockhold could withstand what others before him could not. If one of Belfort’s punches or kicks finds its mark and he follows with one of his trademark blitzkriegs, it is all but certain the referee will be calling it a night shortly after.
Whitman: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza has really developed into an excellent middleweight in recent years. He holds power in his hands, his wrestling is improving all the time and his jiu-jitsu is ridiculous. Does Chris Camozzi have a prayer in this fight?
Whitman: I think Rafael Dos Anjos and Evan Dunham are going to rip each other to pieces. Should this fight be the consensus favorite to win “Fight of the Night?”
Knapp: It feels like a good bet. Both have shown a willingness to stand and trade despite their excellent grappling backgrounds, and they have combined for four “Fight of the Night” bonuses in 21 UFC appearances between them.
Whitman: Gleison Tibau has become the UFC’s resident lightweight measuring stick for up-and-comers looking to prove they are worthy of a serious run in the ultra-deep division. Is John Cholish ready for such a test?
Knapp: Cholish has the requisite ability and, as an Ivy League graduate, the IQ to go along with it. He had won eight in a row prior to his decision loss to Team Alpha Male’s Danny Castillo a year ago, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to the adversity and the layoff. He will need to stay on his feet and off his back against Tibau, a bull-in-a-china-shop lightweight who can outmuscle just about anyone at 155 pounds.
Whitman: Hacran Dias and Nik Lentz are both killing it right now. How far do you think the winner of their matchup can go in the featherweight division?
Knapp: I think most would agree Dias has the higher ceiling, but there is no denying that Lentz looks like a different animal at 145 pounds. Their fight will tell us a lot, though I’m not so sure it was wise for Lentz to accept this one on short notice.
Whitman: Although Jussier da Silva was the best flyweight in the world before it was cool, “Formiga” nevertheless now finds himself in a division that seems to be improving every day. The Brazilian steps back into the Octagon following a knockout loss to John Dodson -- the first such result of his career. Does the Brazilian have it in him to contend for the UFC belt one day?
Knapp: Unless he sharpens the other areas of his game, I can’t see it. He’s a terrific grappler and scrambler, but he seems to lack the standup skills necessary to truly threaten the elite players at 125 pounds. Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez are not going anywhere anytime soon, and the flyweight division figures to deepen further with this trickle-down effect now prevalent in MMA, with smaller lightweights dropping to featherweight, smaller featherweights moving to bantamweight and so on. I think da Silva can certainly be a factor at 125 pounds, but I cannot tout him as a future titleholder in the UFC.
Whitman: It has been nearly seven months since Fabio Maldonado took one of the worst beatings this sport has ever seen. No one can question the Brazilian’s heart, but should any of us feel pleased about watching a 24-fight pro known for his ability to absorb blunt force trauma sign on to receive more punishment? Does watching Maldonado fight again make you nervous, too?
Knapp: I would not necessarily say I’m nervous, but I’d rather not see someone take that kind of abuse again -- ever. Thankfully, Maldonado will not be standing across the cage from a Terminator like Glover Teixeira this time. So long as he can stay upright and utilize his boxing skills, Maldonado should be able to avoid that kind of punishment against Roger Hollett.