UFC Fight Night 32 Preview – Vitor Belfort vs. Dan Henderson

Hot on the heels of UFC Fight Night 31 (a Wednesday event) is UFC Fight Night 32, which goes down on the typical Saturday and brings the UFC back to Brazil. The card is headlined by MMA legends Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson in what has potential Fight of the Night bonus written all over it.

Fighter Summary

Dan Henderson (29-10 overall, 1-2 UFC – most recent stint)

Strengths: H-bombs for days, wrestling, amazing durability

Weaknesses: Sheer age and wear and tear, reliant on TRT

Vitor Belfort (23-10 overall, 5-2 UFC – most recent stint)

Strengths: Devastating kicks and strikes

Weaknesses: Reliant on TRT

Fight Breakdown – Most people probably know by now what Dan Henderson’s M.O. is once a fight starts, but in case you don’t, here it is in short: land that right hand on his opponent’s head somewhere and watch his legs go out from under him.

That won’t change against Vitor Belfort. Hendo is going to try and set up an opening for that rocket right hand of his, the patented and fight-ending H-bomb that we have seen him use to victimize opponents time and again. It’s both his gift and his curse at this point though, because the last two guys to fight him have shown the blueprint on how to beat him.

Henderson is very much like a Roy Nelson type, stalking the opponent around the cage and launching the haymakers every now and again, looking to clip the other fighter just once. Of course he’ll shoot for takedowns when openings are there and look to throw some serious ground and pound, but his bread and butter is that homerun punch that makes fans choke on their beer. The problem with this strategy is that elite and smart fighters are good enough to work around it. Both Machida and Evans were able to win decision victories over Hendo because they didn’t play his game.

Machida didn’t employ the most courageous or entertaining strategy against Hendo, but it was a smart decision. Hendo beats people when they decide it’s safe to exchange with him in the pocket. Why would any fighter who wants to beat him decide to go ahead and see if Hendo still has that infamous punching power?

That’s exactly why Vitor Belfort will stay the hell away from Hendo’s hands. You can bet Belfort wants to avenge his loss to Henderson from their days in Pride, but as they say, there’s no time like the present and presently, Belfort’s stock is sky-high. Belfort is going to play it safe and be smart about this one, but “playing it safe” for Vitor Belfort doesn’t have the same meaning as it does for most fighters. Belfort is going to be wary of Henderson’s punches, but he’s also going to counter and look to throw those spectacular head kicks he used to defeat Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold. Hendo has an iron chin, and it may very well get tested once again by Belfort’s explosive and dynamic striking.

We could see this fight hit the ground, we’ve seen Belfort pull guard before to try and end the fight, but it’s very unlikely unless one of the guys gets stunned. Both of them are smart and capable enough to hang on and recover if they do get tagged, but they are also both excellent finishers from the top. But again, only if one of them gets stunned, because otherwise this fight will be decided entirely on the feet as both guys have very good takedown and ground defense.

Key to Victory: Can Belfort stick to his gameplan?

Henderson is still a very dangerous fighter, but if Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida can beat him, so can Vitor Belfort. Henderson is becoming more and more of a one-trick pony and one-trick ponies just don’t cut it at the elite levels of MMA anymore. Belfort has the ability to avoid the big shots that Hendo is going to throw, as well as stay out of trouble spots and stuff Hendo’s takedowns or get back to his feet if he is taken down. Granted, Belfort may not knock him out, but winning a decision victory is entirely within his ability.

The real question is if Belfort will keep his composure and not get baited into a wild striking exchange with Hendo – which he may even get the better of if it does happen. This is the main event, and it’s in Brazil. With Belfort’s popularity, the fans will be thunderously supportive, but they’ll also want to see an impressive win/finish and that could make Belfort get a little too close to the edge and make a mistake.

If Belfort sticks to letting Hendo swing and miss to his heart’s delight, and then counters at opportune moments with an assortment of punches and kicks, we could see a replay of Hendo’s last two fights. He’s got to pick his spots though and never forget that Hendo can literally end the fight at any time. Fighting on Hendo’s terms is a bad idea.

Why It Matters – This matchup really doesn’t make any sense if you look purely at their recent performances. This is more of a “hot fight” that people want to see solely because of the name recognition and because Vitor needs something to do while the Weidman/Silva situation sorts itself out. Belfort crushed two potential contenders in Bisping and Rockhold, so who does he get next? Dan Henderson, who looked okay in back to back (and close) decision losses. Right.

Henderson has slid a long way from Strikeforce champion and a guaranteed shot at Jon Jones to where he is now. He certainly has a crowd pleasing style, but he’s on a two fight skid and his contract is up after this fight. At 43 years old, his name might not be enough to keep him around when he’s losing to top fighters left and right. Then again, it might be because people probably still want to see Henderson fight.

But he’s going to need something special when he faces Belfort. Belfort is on a huge tear right now and they’re fighting in his home country. With Henderson’s contract expiring, at his age, with his recent performances, he has to turn back the clock even more than he usually needs to and pull something magical out of that 43 year old body of his. With the guys who have been cut from the UFC and subsequently picked up by organizations like WSOF and Bellator, it wouldn’t be a shocker (gasp!) to see Hendo get his walking papers with a loss here. Of course a win would be huge, because Belfort is on fire right now and that would put Hendo right back in the mix.

As for Belfort, what can be said? He’s on a mission to get back into that cage to fight for a title and has disposed of two of the top guys in the Middleweight division. The Silva/Weidman picture has to sort itself out and you can bet the farm that if Weidman defends then Belfort gets him next (with a win here). Even if Silva regains his title, Belfort may already have earned a rematch. He has to win against Hendo though and if he plays his cards right, he probably will.

Prediction – Belfort

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