UFC 142: Vitor Belfort vs. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson [Preview]

Vitor Belfort and Anthony Johnson have one of the most intriguing matchups of UFC 142. It’s not because they are both masters at one particular tradecraft, up and coming prospects or the fight has the dreaded “title implications” tag. And while the two may be in contention for a middleweight title shot after this fight, the reason this fight has more intrigue than almost any on the card is one main reason.

They both love to throw leather and do so with violent implications. They just do so in different ways.

Belfort, who has a UFC heavyweight tournament title from the old SEG days at UFC 12 and perhaps the most awkward light heavyweight title reign on record, has vicious power in his hands that he’s used for several highlight reel knockouts. But his power isn’t from a single shot; his knockouts come from combinations that start with one shot. That one shot tends to stun someone and once Belfort gets the opportunity to pounce he’s vicious with it. Once he connects with an initial combination successfully his ability to throw power shots en masse has stopped many fighters of note. Most recently Yoshihiro Akiyama, Rich Franklin and Matt Lindland were on the receiving end of highlight reel stoppages.

Johnson’s power is much closer to one shot style kill-shots than the swarming nature of Belfort’s KO power. Unlike Belfort, who has a highlight reel worth of devastating swarm style finishes, Johnson’s is littered with big one shot stops. Recently he finished Charlie Brenneman with a high kick. Johnson is dangerous when standing because he has that ability to finish people with one shot at nearly any time.

But the fight has as much chance ending violently, Johnson possesses one skill that Belfort doesn’t: first rate wrestling. A former junior college wrestling champion, Johnson is a good enough wrestler to get Belfort on his back. While Belfort is a first rate submission grappler with a bronze medal at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club championships in the Absolute division and has an underrated submission game.

He worked with the Gracies for some time as well; he has the bonafides in BJJ that Johnson is going to have to be leery if he brings it to the ground. If Johnson makes this a ground game he’ll have to watch his posturing and leave little openings for Belfort to exploit. Johnson hasn’t fought anyone with the submission pedigree of Belfort before and Belfort has submitted better fighters on the ground.

Johnson’s game plan going in is going to be simple. He has to take the fight into deeper waters, as Belfort has a tendency to collapse the longer a fight goes. Belfort tees off with combinations and as such Johnson’s game plan is to have to disrupt him from getting into a rhythm. If he can grind out Belfort and break his will he can grind out a decision win. If he can keep Belfort on the mat and on the bottom, smothered in a tight guard game while using ground and pound to sap his energy, Johnson will win without a problem.

The problem comes if he wants to test Belfort on his feet. He has to gauge his distance, using leg kicks to prevent Belfort from planting his feet and stepping into his punches with authority. He can’t let Belfort connect with a flurry because once Belfort does the fight can be over in seconds. His best shot, outside of a one shot KO, is to ugly it up. A grinding win is his best chance at winning and that’s most likely how he’ll end up doing so. By taking Belfort to the mat and grinding him for 15 minutes ala Dan Hardy, Johnson can walk away from UFC 142 a winner.

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