Jon Jones (top) submitted Vitor Belfort. | Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
For an instant, it appeared as though Vitor Belfort might get the best of Jon Jones. Then reality set in.
Jones (17-1, 11-1 UFC) retained his light heavyweight crown in the UFC 152 headliner, as he submitted “The Phenom” with a fourth-round keylock on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. His arm bent at a grotesque angle, Belfort tapped out 54 seconds into round four, a victim to submission for just the second time in his long and storied professional career.
Against an undersized light heavyweight, Jones was far from flawless. Belfort attacked from his back after succumbing to a first-round takedown and trapped the champion in a tight armbar. Jones escaped after a brief struggle but remained in visible pain in the immediate aftermath of the fight.
“He got that armbar in every way, shape and form,” he said. “I’ve never had my arm pop like that before. I felt it, but I worked too hard to give up. I was honestly waiting for it to break, but I wasn’t going to tap out. It just felt numb.”
Jones admitted it affected his arm throughout the bout.
“My brain is trained to throw it, but it definitely didn’t feel powerful at all,” he said. “It was just a really numb feeling, so I’ll have to see what is wrong with it.”
Belfort (21-10, 10-6 UFC) knew a golden opportunity had come and gone.
“It was cracking and popping,” he said, “but he was tough.”
Once Jones freed himself, he settled into Belfort’s guard and hammered away at the Brazilian with his trademark elbow strikes from top position. It was not long before the blood was flowing. Belfort’s situation did not improve. Jones kept him contained on the feet -- he even dropped him with a side kick to the solar plexus in the third round -- and battered him on the ground.
Belfort elected to pull guard on a number of occasions, but the tactic did not serve him well. Less than a minute into the fourth round, Jones jumped into a topside crucifix, isolated the challenger’s arm and finished the fight with the keylock. Belfort had not been submitted since Alistair Overeem put him away with a guillotine choke more than seven years ago in Pride Fighting Championships.
“I was trying to work my jiu-jitsu, but I couldn’t catch my breath,” Belfort said. “He was long and moved his pace pretty well, so that’s why he’s the champion.”
Split Verdict Gives Johnson Flyweight Gold
AMC Pankration representative Demetrious Johnson threw and landed more kicks and punches, mixed in five takedowns and captured a split decision over Joseph Benavidez in the co-main event to become the first flyweight champion in UFC history.
Two of the three judges, Jeff Blatnick and Doug Crosby, scored it for Johnson (16-2-1, 4-1-1 UFC) by 48-47 and 49-46 counts; a third, Richard Bertrand, saw it 48-47 for Benavidez (16-3, 3-1 UFC).
“I was a little shocked [that it was a split decision],” Johnson said. “I felt that on the standup I got him there. I took him down a lot more. He didn’t get me down once. I controlled him and had his back. The judges are doing their jobs, and I’m doing mine, which is to fight.”
The two flyweights engaged one another for the full 25 minutes in a dazzling display of skill, speed and technique. Benavidez made his most significant moves in rounds two and four, nearly finishing it in the fourth, where he staggered Johnson with a right hand and jumped into a mounted guillotine choke. “Mighty Mouse” struggled to free himself from the hold and was ultimately successful, threatening Benavidez with a leg lock before returning to his feet.
Johnson -- who opened a cut near his foe’s left eye with a stout right hand in the third round -- answered the championship call in the fifth, as he delivered a pair of takedowns, countered beautifully and finished with a flourish.
“Joseph is a great competitor,” Johnson said. “I train hard, and I dedicate my life to this sport. It means the world. I still have to prove a lot of things. It’s like I said. If I become a champion, the same thing is going to happen. I’m going to go home and rest, get back in the gym and get ready for the next battle.”
Bisping Denies Stann, Eyes Title Shot
Michael Bisping strengthened his case for a title shot at 185 pounds, as he weathered a harrowing encounter with Brian Stann’s right hand and outdueled the Marine en route to a unanimous decision in their high-stakes middleweight showdown. All three judges sided with Bisping (23-4, 13-4 UFC) by identical 29-28 counts, giving the 33-year-old Brit his fifth win in six outings.
Bisping’s 13 Octagon victories tie him with Jon Fitch for 10th on the promotion’s all-time list.
Stann (12-5, 6-4 UFC) had his chance late in the first round, when he clobbered “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner with a searing right hand. Bisping found himself on rubbery legs in a blink, but he survived and escaped to new life in the second round. There, Bisping took control with accurate, high-volume punching. He also exploited Stann’s most glaring deficiency -- takedown defense -- as he grounded the American twice in each of the final two frames.
“I always try to push a fast pace,” Bisping said. “I was never a particularly gifted athlete. I just want this so bad, and I train so hard. Ask any of my coaches. No one trains as hard as me. Listen, I’m not the most talented person in the world, but I’m hungry and I want it. That overpowers anything. My desire to be the world champion is not going away. To the owners of the organization: come on, hook a brother up.”
Hamill Returns to Decision Hollett
“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 alum Matt Hamill returned from a year-long retirement to defeat Bellator Fighting Championships veteran Roger Hollett in a featured matchup at 205 pounds. All three cageside judges scored it for Hamill (11-4, 10-4 UFC): 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27.
Hamill did his best work in rounds one and three, as he took down the Canadian repeatedly and racked up the points with punches. The 35-year-old Ohioan held fatigue at bay down the stretch, leaning heavily on his wrestling chops and suffocating top game. Hollett (13-4, 0-1 UFC) entered his promotional debut on a five-fight winning streak and left it a defeated man.
Surging Swanson KOs Oliveira
Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts standout Cub Swanson knocked out Charles Oliveira with a looping overhand right in the first round of their featherweight showcase. Swanson (18-5, 3-1 UFC) sealed it 2:40 into round one, as he won for the third time in as many appearances.
Oliveira (16-3, 4-3 UFC) struck for a takedown inside the first minute but failed to capitalize. Once he returned to his feet, Swanson landed a crippling left hook to the body and, not long after, delivered the fight-ending blow. Oliveira remained upright for a brief moment before crumpling to the canvas in a bizarre delayed reaction.
“He was tough. He threw me off for a little bit, and it took me a minute to get my rhythm,” Swanson said. “My coaches had a lot of confidence in my power, and they told me that if I landed one big punch, he was going down for sure. I dipped down to make him think I was going to the body again, and then he dropped his guard. I went up top and hit him with that one to the eye.”
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