It’s been a while since we’ve had a UFC card; it’s almost odd to have a Saturday without fighting from the world’s premier organization in MMA. Now we’ve got a filthily stacked card wih two title fights and another fight that could determine a title contender as well.
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship:
Jon Jones (c) vs. Vitor Belfort
Fight Breakdown – After prepping for Dan Henderson in a full camp, and seeing UFC 151 fall apart due to the Olympic wrestler’s knee injury, Jon Jones finds himself taking on a man synonymous with the no hold barred days of the UFC in Vitor Belfort. And for all the bluster of whether or not he should’ve taken the fight, Jon Jones goes from one cagey veteran to another.
Belfort may be a former light heavyweight champion but that’s kind of a misnomer; he won on a cut in the early moments of a fight against Randy Couture and was defeated fairly handily in the rematch. His biggest accolade in the UFC was a heavyweight tournament victory early as a teenager and since then he’s had a fairly sporadic career. On the one hand he’s destroyed major names in MMA over the years, as Vitor can be a killer on occasion. On the other hand Vitor can show up looking lackluster, as well. It all comes down to two things with him: his ability to avoid the clinch and get off his fairly unrefined boxing game.
Vitor’s boxing has been something people marvel about because of his fight ending power and hand speed but he doesn’t work it in a traditional manner. For the matter it’s not really that good from a pure boxing standpoint; he’s more accurately a puncher and not a boxer. He doesn’t throw jabs or for the matter a lot of hooks or uppercuts. Vitor’s power shots come from straight rights and lefts that have tons of power and speed. He doesn’t vary what he throws; it’s always zinging straights down the pipe fast and furious. When he connects and gets into a rhythm he has game-changing power. His hand speed is remarkable and once Belfort finds his groove and connects once or twice he can swarm and destroy guys quickly. He has a high level black belt in BJJ but he rarely uses his ground game; his takedowns are solid and usually unexpected but don’t expect him to take it to the ground. He couldn’t get Jon Jones down if he tried, either, but it won’t be his ground game that Jones will exploit.
What kills him in nearly every loss, though, is the clinch.
Randy Couture used the clinch twice to throw Belfort off his game and he hasn’t done much to change and adapt to the clinch over the years. It’s amazing to think that teenaged Vitor and 30-something Vitor have near the same difficulties in that spot. Jones’s ability to get the clinch as Vitor rushes in and throw him spectacularly, or turn it into an Anderson Silva style Muay Thai Plumb, will determine the fight. Look for Jones to keep his distance and make Vitor come to him, using his reach to keep him at a distance and suckering him inside to get the clinch game early. The path to beating Vitor, not an easy feat, is in Couture/Belfort 3. Vitor’s style hasn’t changed much since he was a teenager as he was essentially a finished product back then, he’s just refined it. And he’s still vulnerable to the same things, too.
The key to the fight will be how well Vitor can get off his back and/or stifle Jones’ top game. He needs to stay away from the clinch and tag Jones often. Belfort’s best chance is stopping him with strikes and this is where he has an edge (albeit slight). His power is key and if he’s on his back he’s going to be finished … and finished badly. Belfort’s submission game is top oriented and on the bottom he can be contained. Look for Jones to get him there, keep him there and most likely finish him there. Jones’s striking is good enough to keep it standing against Vitor but his clinch game is strong and his wrestling is miles ahead of Belfort’s. The champion’s edge is on the ground in top position and look for him to grab that as soon as possible and keep it as long as possible.
Why It Matters – It’s for the UFC light heavyweight title, one of the most prestigious titles in combat sport. With a win Jon Jones is going to enjoy some redemption in lieu of the UFC 151 cancellation. Belfort wins and the Jones hate train fills up.
Prediction – Jones by TKO, rd 1 … and it won’t be pretty for Vitor
UFC Flyweight Championship:
Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson
Fight Breakdown – You know how good Dominick Cruz is? Two guys who gave him all he could handle are fighting for a title in a weight division newly created. Whoever comes away with the first title, and a ranking the Top 10 P4P list, will make Cruz look a little bit better in comparison because they left for a new division because they couldn’t defeat Cruz, amongst other things. Don’t kid yourself; if either of these guys held the bantamweight title in the past 12 months they probably wouldn’t have left. Both fighters’ inability to get past Cruz made it easier to cut to 125.
Benavidez and Johnson are top five ranked fighters in the division and yet couldn’t solve the riddle that is the current bantamweight champion. Now they get a chance to battle to be a champion in a division they fit into easier.
Johnson and Benavidez were the two smallest fighters at bantamweight and the introduction of the flyweight class gave them a chance at gold. It would’ve been a while for either fighter to get a title shot against Cruz again; now they fight at their proper weight and have a chance at immediate gold. It says something that both fighters have first rate credentials despite being outsized for the better part of their career. And both fight in similar styles with some slight differences.
Both are wrestlers that can grind out decisions, of course, but Johnson is less of a knockout artist than Benavidez. Benavidez has some serious power and has stopped plenty of fighters at bantamweight; he had some of the best hands in that division and now he’s 10 pounds lighter against smaller guys. Against Yasuhiro Urushitani his power was nearly frightening. Johnson doesn’t have nearly that power but his ground game is excellent. Whereas Benavidez looks to use his striking to end fights Johnson is much more adept at using submissions.
It’s an intriguing style matchup and outside of that both fighters are fairly even. The key will be who can get off first in the takedown department. This is going to insanely close and the fight of the year, most likely.
Why It Matters – Being the first champion in anything still means something; Royce was the first UFC champion in anything, et al. Being the first flyweight champion of the UFC means something. It’ll also mean a probably ranking in the Top 10 Pound for Pound list as being a champion means more in that regard than being the #2-4 guy in a division.
Prediction – Benavidez by SD
Brian Stann vs. Michael Bisping
Fight Breakdown – In one corner you have the man UFC fans love to hate (except for the wacky Brits). In another you have a genuine war hero and probably a guy who’s going to have this in his past as something “wild” he did when he was younger. For MMA fans you have one of the more intriguing matchups of UFC 152 as Michael BIsping and Brian Stann fight in what is almost a title eliminator for both men.
Both fighters were solid light heavyweights who found themselves cutting little to no weight to make 205 to dropping to 185 and having a size advantage. And it’ll be a fun style matchup as neither fighter fights in a boring, plodding style. The key will be whether or not Bisping can avoid the heavy hands of Stann.
Bisping has a remarkable chin, only losing by stoppage to Dan Henderson in a big right that would’ve knocked God out. And Stann is going to test it early and often; Bisping has solid wrestling but Stann’s TD defense should be strong enough to keep it standing. Stann’s big key is the power shot. Bisping needs to counter with volume and avoid the big strikes from Stann.
Why It Matters – A win here for Stann or Bisping and it’s probably a title shot in the near future depending on Anderson Silva’s status. The winner will most likely get the winner of Boetsch/Weidman for a title shot if GSP/Silva is on for this spring for a title shot. Either way the road to the middleweight title gets one step closer with a win here.
Prediction – Stann by KO
Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett
Fight Breakdown – Matt Hamill will always have that one win over Jon Jones that no one can take away; it may be ridiculous because of the nature of that win but he’s the “1″ on the otherwise spotless record of the best fighter in the world. And he walked away from the sport over a year ago, thinking he had nothing left and constantly hurt. Now the deaf wrestling legend returns, claiming to be healthier and training better, against a solid but beatable prospect in Roger Hollett.
The fight will determine how much Hamill has left in the gas tank. The guy that Alexander Gustafsson rag-dolled was a guy starting the downward slope on his career and it seemed like the TUF contestant really didn’t care, either. He claims to have found that fire again and is finally healed up after years of over-training his body and now we’ll get to see how much of that was true and how much of that was a fighter on the down slope of his career. Hamill is 35, not exactly a young guy. The good thing for Hamill is that he has a style that isn’t based on things that disappear quickly, like reflexes. His game relies on an overpowering wrestling game with a power boxing style. Those kinds of abilities don’t go away quickly; a counter punching game does.
Hollett is a solid prospect with a fairly diverse game; he has a number of wins by submission and strikes. He has a pedigree in training and a solid record so far but doesn’t have the resume. A scalp like Hamill’s on his record, especially in his debut fight, and it’ll be a short path to a relevant fight.
Why It Matters – If Hamill has as much in the tank as his pre-fight talk would claim then he should run through a prospect like Hollett, who’s not quite ready for a fighter on the fringe of top 10 status like Hamill based on his resume so far. If the same Hamill that rolled over for Gustafsson shows up then Roger Hollett will have short work; how much Hamill has left is going to be determined right here and now.
Prediction – Hollett by TKO, rd 3
Cub Swanson vs. Charles Oliveira
Fight Breakdown – Cub Swanson has had a bit of a career resurgence as of late with two major stoppages of front line talent in George Roop and Ross Pearson. After a solid WEC career that led to a title eliminator, where Jose Aldo gave him one of the many highlight reel stoppages that dot Aldo’s YouTube highlight reels, Swanson has proven he belong in the featherweight division. But where does he rank? My guess is still as a gatekeeper to the elite of the division, somewhere between the 8th and 10th best fighter in the world, and now he faces a featherweight on the rise in Charles Oliveira.
The fight plan will be simple for Swanson: avoid the ground at all costs. He has enough power to knock “Da Bronx” out but Oliveira is other worldly on the ground. If he can keep it standing he can win; the longer it stays on the ground the more Oliveira will go for the submission.
Why It Matters – A win here and Oliveira gets closer to a title shot. Swanson wins and elite status is all but confirmed.
Prediction – Swanson via KO