Despite the razzmatazz that accompanied the UFC’s deal with FOX, the litmus test was always going to be the product itself and with two events in the bag, it is fair to say that the contests are still yet to truly catch fire.
Enter rising middleweight powerhouse Rousimar “Torquinho” Palhares (14-3) and a returning Alan “The Talent” Belcher (17-6) in a 185lb dust-up that promises to deliver much excitement and drama, as the UFC makes its third outing on the network TV giant.
At first glance the UFC middleweight division appears to be the promotions weakest link. Champion Anderson Silva has cleaned house and is now looking to vanquish an opponent he has already defeated. Much could depend on the outcome of that feverishly anticipated rematch with Chael Sonnen but there will continue to be an influx of fighters who have the quality to, at the very least, challenge whoever the champion may be.
Palhares’ reputation as a top contender is burgeoning with every performance, as he continues to climb the ladder with increasing notoriety. The fiery Brazilian submission specialist has shown no mercy when chasing the finish and it has been suggested that many a UFC middleweight had opted out of the opportunity to face “Torquinho” (Portuguese for little tree stump, due to his short, stocky frame) after witnessing his handiwork.
Belcher has shown no such reservations as he continues his return from what was a career threatening eye injury and will have plans to upset the apple cart as he looks to regain the momentum lost, during his sixteen-month spell on the sidelines. The wily kickboxing standout has shown himself to be more than a match for just about anyone the UFC has thrown his way and has given the fans many a memorable contest, winning fight night bonuses on four consecutive occasions.
Much has been said within the MMA community about the proficiency of leg-locks at this elite level of competition with many arguing them to be impractical and ineffective but fighters like Japanese standout Masakazu Imanari and Rousimar Palhares have proven these techniques to be a dimension of MMA that any fighter would be foolish to dismiss.
Ever since Palhares entered the fray at UFC 84 he has solidified his reputation for spectacular submission finishes. With a penchant for heel hooks and an astonishing ten of his fourteen victories coming by way of bone-crunching tapout, “Torquinho” is always favored to end the fight once he secures a limb. Since losing in contentious fashion to former number one contender Nathan Marquardt he has won his last three bouts convincingly with his only other loss under the Zuffa banner coming to MMA great Dan Henderson, who he was hastily paired with in only his second UFC tussle.
Before Belcher was struck by serious injury he had begun to look like a legitimate top five middleweight. Having secured eye-catching victories over esteemed fighters like Dennis Kang and former number one contender Patrick Cote, “The Talent” was beginning to garner attention, albeit tentatively, as a future challenger to Anderson Silva’s middleweight crown. He has only lost once in six fights (a split decision to Yoshihiro Akiyama) and his growth under revered striking coach Duke Roufus has clearly paid off, showing little sign of ring rust as he routed Jason MacDonald in his September comeback at UFC Fight Night 25.
While Palhares’ striking game is not even close to the level of his grappling prowess, he has shown, most notably against Dan Miller, that he is not afraid to stand and trade punches. But with due respect to Miller, Alan Belcher is a much more effective striker and so I expect “Torquinho” to remain true to his roots and actively seek the takedown from the outset, even pulling guard if necessary.
The good news for Belcher is that he knows what to expect, the bad news is that Palhares is so well versed in his approach that any lapse in concentration could result in fight ending and quite possibly nerve damaging consequences. “The Talent” is no slouch on the ground himself but he must clearly adopt the opposite approach by keeping Palhares on the end of his strikes and utilize his superior reach and footwork in order to frustrate his opponent into over committing on his takedown attempts.
I expect Belcher to find success in the early exchanges but I believe Palhares’ relentless pressure and world-class grappling will ultimately prove the decisive factor.
Prediction: Palhares wins via third round submission (knee bar)