Vitor Belfort def. Michael Bisping via TKO (strikes) at 1:27 of Round 2
PREVIEW by mmajunkie
Michael Bisping has been a middleweight for five years, but only in the past 12 months has he truly been in the running for a title shot.
Only in the past few months has he looked like the most viable option for champion Anderson Silva, whose decimation of the 185-pound ranks has left few credible challengers.
And maybe there aren't any. Silva's masterful performances have widened the gap between him and others to the point where an even fight seems a stretch. At this time in his career, observers are more sold on bouts outside his division (against light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones and welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre) than within it.
So is Silva, with one exception: Bisping. The Brit is the most bankable star not bestowed with a title shot. A pay-per-view fight between them would offer the kind of financial incentive the 37-year-old champ requires in the latter part of his career.
But Bisping (23-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC) needs one further bit of vetting by the UFC, who was forced to rejigger the middleweight ladder when top free agent Hector Lombard fizzled this past summer in his octagon debut. So enters ex-champ Vitor Belfort (21-10 MMA, 10-6 UFC), who fell prey to Silva almost two years ago. The front kick that ended Belfort's night likely consigned him to gatekeeper status, which makes him a perfect measuring stick for Bisping's title worthiness.
The two headline Saturday's UFC on FX 7 event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo. The main card airs on FX following prelims on FUEL TV and Facebook.
Belfort, who most recently returned to light heavyweight to scare Jones with an armbar before submitting to the champ late, offers skills that historically have challenged Bisping, but they also present gaps to exploit.
Mainly, he's got knockout power, and he pressures opponents early in the fight. Most of his signature wins have come in the first round, when his power is at its peak. Big punchers (Dan Henderson and Wanderlei Silva) who give him no room to work have thwarted Bisping. Belfort will look to end the fight early with just such an attack.
But Bisping also has gotten better at avoiding bombs and picking spots from which to strike. And he's more than just a kickboxer, as he was in his early days in the UFC. Now, he's able to close the distance against striking specialists and exploit poor takedown defense. Belfort is not known to be a particularly good sprawl-and-brawl artist (he defends less than half the takedowns attempted on him, according to FightMetric).
That means Bisping is likely to hit and run early before smothering Belfort against the cage and taking him down, which exposes Belfort's other historical weakness: cardio. The aggression and power that make "The Phenom" dangerous early on are his undoing in later rounds. Particularly when fights go to the ground over several frames, he loses steam and adopts a passive style.
Belfort made no attempt to scramble to his feet against Jones and took a tremendous amount of punishment while keeping the champ in his guard. If he takes the same stance against Bisping, the same fate will befall him.
And the longer the fight goes, the more it favors Bisping.
Interestingly, current betting lines see the fight as a tossup. That's likely a reflection of Belfort's punching power, which plays right into a scenario Bisping encountered against Henderson. Underpowered and bulled into a corner, the trash-talking Brit was knocked into orbit.
It's shortsighted, however, to believe that Bisping has not only prepared for this scenario, but rehearsed his plan to prevent it. Unless a punch is able to separate him from his senses, as it did with Henderson before the big kibosh, he only needs to avoid early danger and drain Belfort of energy. While Belfort is only two years his elder, he has monumentally more mileage on his body. That shows up in later rounds.
In this case, bettors might be giving the ex-champ a little too much credit. But if Belfort can pull it off, expect to see Silva resume his push for a superfight. If not, you can take UFC President Dana White's promise to give Bisping a title shot to the bank.
OTHER MAIN-CARD BOUTS
C.B. Dollaway (12-4 MMA, 6-4 UFC) vs. Daniel Sarafian (7-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC): This middleweight bout sees both fighters return from injury layoffs. Dollaway, "The Ultimate Fighter 7" runner-up, suffered a hip injury that kept him out of the cage most of this past year while Sarafian suffered an undisclosed problem that kept him from the finals of "The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil," where he was scheduled to compete in the reality show's tournament final. Sarafian showed off impressive striking skills with two knockouts on the show, but his wrestling is likely to be put to the test against Dollaway, who most recently grounded Jason "Mayhem" Miller and kept him there en route to a decision victory. If Sarafian can stay on his feet, it's his fight to win.
Gabriel Gonzaga (13-6 MMA, 8-5 UFC) vs. Ben Rothwell (32-8 MMA, 2-2 UFC): Onetime heavyweight title challenger Gonzaga returned to the octagon one year ago, and it's taken him another year to fight again. But if the Brazilian is on in the same way he was against an overmatched Ednaldo Oliveira, it could be a long night for his opponent, Rothwell. The American looked impressive in stopping Brendan Schaub in his most recent fight, but he's got to land big and early against Gonzaga, whose aggressive ground game is a serious threat. The shape of this fight should be determined by who lands the first big punch.
Thiago Tavares (17-4-1 MMA, 7-4-1 UFC) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (18-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC): Lightweight Tavares also has sat on the shelf for a year, but not by choice. He was scheduled to fight at UFC 151 before opponent Dennis Hallman badly missed weight, and he refused a catchweight bout. That means he'll likely grapple with a bit of ring rust against Nurmagomedov, who fought this past July. The undefeated Sambo specialist passed a big hurdle with a decision win over the bulky Gleison Tibau, and he could jump into the Top 15 with a win over the well-rounded Tavares, who boasts a two-fight win streak.
The full UFC on FX 7 card includes:
MAIN CARD (FX, 9 p.m. ET)
- Vitor Belfort vs. Michael Bisping
- C.B. Dollaway vs. Daniel Sarafian
- Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Ben Rothwell
- Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Thiago Tavares
- Godofredo Castro vs. Milton Vieira
- Andrew Craig vs. Ronny Markes
- Nik Lentz vs. Diego Nunes
- Edson Barboza vs. Lucas Martins
- Yuri Alcantara vs. Pedro Nobre
- Ildemar Alcantara vs. Wagner Prado