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Outside of his inclusion in the UFC’s Greatest Knockouts highlight reel, MMA fans under 30 know little about former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort nicknamed the “Phenom.” His phenomenal rise through the ranks shortly after debuting in the long since forgotten MMA event Super Brawl is worthy of a hall of fame retrospective. Adopted son of the late Carlson Gracie and a native of Rio De Janeiro Brazil, he is a former ADCC bronze medalist in submission grappling, former UFC Heavyweight champion and tournament winner, light heavyweight title holder and has fought a who’s who circle of MMA legends and superstars. At age 25 he knocked out Wanderleigh Silva with a stunning barrage of blazing fists, fought a trilogy of fights with Randy Couture winning the title at UFC 40, lost titanic battles to Tito Ortiz, and Chuck Liddell, and in Pride Fighting battled Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem and Middleweight legend Kazushi Sakarabu. Owning an MMA record of 19-8 Vitor Belfort is only 33 years old.

Now on the eve of facing one of the greatest pound for pound fighters in MMA history to date in Anderson Silva February 5th, Belfort has the opportunity to close the circle of combat heroics and solidify his identity as the “Phenom.” The former champion can be seen in extra footage on the UFC 117 Silva Versus Sonnen disc providing commentary and insight on the classic 2010 fight. Belfort is composed and intent in watching his former teammate Silva endure a beating from a hungry driven Chael Sonnen but offers pin point insight into Silva’s strategy even predicting the champions finishing move minutes before it happens in the octagon. Since his flash knockout of former middleweight champ Rich Franklin Belfort has maintained a low profile even in the wake of gongs sounding for his matchup with the “Spider”. Belfort’s nagging injuries prevented the fight from taking place two years sooner but meanwhile he has trained at his former rival Randy Couture’s gym Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.

Vitor Belfort will be the most well rounded MMA fighter the Spider has faced since defending the title. Silva, despite a reported prefight rib injury still had plenty in reserve to submit uber grappler Sonnen. Before UFC 117 the middleweight king seemed all but untouchable. Sonnen knocked the Spider down but lacked the finishing knockout power. Given his vulnerability to the takedown Anderson Silva can ill afford to have someone with Vitor Belfort’s pedigree raining down power shots from above. All of the Brazilians are trained tough—at times sparring without head gear. So in a matchup between two champions where no quarter is asked or given, who holds the edge?

Belfort receives the nod as the superior grappler. But to Silva’s credit he too is a Jiu Jitsu black belt and has submitted two Olympic caliber wrestlers and a world class Jiu Jitsu black belt during the time he has held the UFC title. Every MMA fan would like to see a stand up war between the two but if a decision should come via strikes it will likely unfold at a pedestrian pace. Look for Vitor Belfort to start cautiously finding his range behind a jab while Anderson Silva circles and looks for an opening. Without question Silva is the most dangerous striker in MMA and his pin point accuracy is “phenomenal.” Muhammad Ali might have been more accurate. Silva will move away from Belfort’s power but look for the champion to find a gap in the challenger’s defense and open up his Muay Thai arsenal. There has been little talk leading up to the fight but it is no secret that Anderson Silva would like to KO another legendary figure in Brazilian MMA. If Vito Belfort has studied the champions as well as it appears he will whether Silva’s assault covering up—blocking and then unleash the power that will make him the once, future and all time phenom.

Jdon Howard

Lost Kos

American Kick Boxing Academy brethren Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck resolved never to trade blows in the octagon unless the other held the title. It is also well known that their AKA fraternal loyalty has miffed President Dana White for a couple of fight calendars. They can give that controversial issue a rest for now because George St. Pierre punctuated the 2010 UFC fight season Saturday administering a boxing lesson to Koscheck that will require stiches and surgery to repair an orbital bone around Kos’ right eye socket. GSP’s jab was something out of the “sweet science” but can be blamed more so on the light weight MMA mitts. A boxing cornerman would have admonished Kos to parry the Canadian’s jab and come over with a short right cross—but this is MMA. The San Jose fight club stands 0-3 versus St. Pierre but Credit Kos for having a heart as big as his mouth in the line of fire and for that his AKA cohorts Fitch, Velasquez and Swick can be proud.

Interestingly GSP employed a similar strategy against Josh Koscheck that also carved up Jon Fitch at UFC 87. St. Pierre was light on his feet popping the piston like left jab into the mug of his opponent without any intervention and then leveraging a takedown when it presented itself. Gsp’s wrestling was not as unstoppable per usual but he had already won the fight standing after round 2. 33 year old Koscheck’s surgery will put him out of commission until spring but he has plenty of fights left in him and the skills to keep him in the line of contenders. Whether he earns another title shot in the Welter Weight division may be a matter of fate.

Riding a five fight winning streak Jon Fitch will rumble with BJ Penn in February while St. Pierre waits for a pairing with former Strike Force Middleweight champ Jake Shields. The Shields fight might be GSP’s celebrated adieu to the Welterweight division if he steam rolls Shields as is predicted. The winner of the Fitch-Penn fight would logically be the next in line but the parent powers that be can change that with a wave. Dana White does not want GSP to rematch a carousel of fighters whose tickets he’s already punched at least once. The entire MMA world from is clamoring for the two best pound for pound fighters in St. Pierre and Anderson Silva to meet in the center of the cage. This could be a climactic scenario for the end of 2011 if all falls into place with Silva’s meeting and besting fellow countryman Vito Belfort.

At 170 George St. Pierre is the picture of perfection. He has been quoted as saying that a move to 185 would be a permanent one, but it is hard to imagine the champion bottling the same athleticism and quickness into a frame 20-25 pounds heavier. Then again we never imagined the Canadian Black Belt in Koyokushin Karate tossing former NCAA wresting champs around like nickels. Next December we may finally have a sole pound for pound MMA champ and Kos might find his way back to contention even if it means fighting a friend.

Jdon Howard

Bully beat down after the bell

April 17, CBS’s second installment of Strike Force MMA Saturday Night Fights in Nashville Tennessee presented a mixed bag of Mixed Martial Arts entertainment that made national news in a negative highlight. First of all to recap Saturday’s MMA event, it was to be an opportunistic time slot for Strike Force to present a few of their best fighters vying for and trying to retain their championship titles. Lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez defended his title against champion Aoki of Japan’s Dream Promotion, Gegard Mousasi was defending his Light Heavyweight title against Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal and the main event featured Middleweight champion Jake Shields versus former champion and MMA legend Dan Henderson.
Lawal versus Mousasi, the first main card bout fired up the Nashville crowd. King Mo has only had seven MMA fights total including Saturday’s Strike Force event. He is a former standout collegiate wrestler for Oklahoma, but had one the bulk of his fights by KO rarely progressing beyond the second round. Mousasi has been hailed of late as one of the best light heavyweights in the world and displays very crisp Muay Thai standup. To sum up the encounter, King Mo essentially reasoned that if he could not KO Mousasi in the opening minutes of the fight he would simply rely on superior wrestling to take the crown. And so for all but a couple of minutes during the five round encounter Lawal pan caked and dragged Mousasi around the cage landing an occasional strike from the top position but chiefly controlling and confounding the champion. To Mousasi’s credit he landed some of the most accurate strikes from the guard anyone has ever witnessed—enough strikes to swell up King Mo’s face and close an eye.

Mousasi’s detractors include having zero take down defense, failing to regain his feet after hitting the mat and for whatever reason as the superior striker failing to go after Lawal with every punch and kick he’s mastered during the moments when both men were standing. It appeared that though Mousasi’s was the lauded striker entering the cage, he wanted no part of the uppercuts and overhand rights King Mo launched to start the fight in the first round. Muhammed Lawal is still a raw talent after only a few fights but this guy has tons of potential. He is an accomplished wrestler, strong as a bull and hits like a truck. Gegard Mousasi was looking for an easy title defense and could not find it Saturday. It was no surprise when King Mo’s hand was raised and the light heavyweight belt encircled his waist capping a unanimous decision.

Shinya Aoki versus Gilbert Melendez was in a word disappointing after the buildup, hype and Strike Force promotion. Aoki of Japan came in touted as the greatest thing going when it comes to Jiu Jitsu especially as it is practiced in Asia, hmm? Melendez, also a Jiu Jitsu practitioner of the Brazilian mold is a fierce fighter who barely gets more than journeyman respect perhaps to the lack of exposure in the MMA world. Saturday was Melendez’s coming out party and he shined in the spotlight.

The fight was very one sided and for five rounds excruciating. Yes you could see flashes of athleticism in the Dream champion’s movement and certainly the lion heart and toughness came with him to America but from a competitive standpoint Aoki was mismatched. Jiu Jitsu is an integral part of Mixed Martial Arts, but in a modern era will not suffice as the deciding factor in higher levels of competition. We have witnessed some of the more brilliant practitioners of Jiu Jitsu appear novice in championship fights over the past two years and Saturday was no different. Aoki, tough as nails and skilled as he may be could not throw a punch to answer Gilbert Melendez’s steady jabs much less stand and trade. Many of these fine grapplers could take a lesson from B.J. Penn, the Diaz brothers and Melendez in that if you’re going to ply your Jiu Jitsu skills in top level MMA you need another tool in the tool box of fighting be it boxing, Muay Thai or San Shou, one weapon will not do nine times out of ten especially when your opponent has some mastery of the same.

Ah, the main event featuring the talented multifaceted Jake Shields against Olympian and former Pride Champion Dan Henderson. Having only seen Shields other Strike Force CBS fight against Mayhem Miller I was a bit worried for him since his standup appeared to be the weaker of his cage skills. Hendo on the other hand besides being the most accomplished wrestler in MMA has a hammer of the god’s right hand that can KO a bull. Sure as you can say Strike Force, Henderson unleashed the pain alongside Shields head during the opening moments of the first round—curtains comes to mind and the word of choice. Maybe it was adrenaline, excitement, but Dan Henderson could not find the mark to finish the affair after dropping Shields with the thunderous right. It was impressive to see that Shields was still conscious and even more so to see him cover up and then revert to his Jiu Jitsu to last out the round after absorbing one more shot to the jaw from the ex champ.

The young champion recovered in round 2 scoring takedown moments into the action. Henderson worked a reversal on the mat putting him on Shields back and in position to sink in a rear naked choke. Shields spun a reversal turning into the challenger and gained the dangerous top mount position. For the average fighter this is normally curtains but Dan Henderson has never been KO’d and only been stopped a few times during his career. Few of Jake Shields blows from the top made it through Hendo’s guard to do significant damage. The end of round two summarized the rest of the match. Shields out wrestled and out maneuvered the former champion controlling his opponent and the fight en route to a unanimous decision. Yes, Dan Henderson had the fight in power of his right hand, but Jake Shields proved tougher and more durable than many predicted. It was surprising almost shocking that Henderson the most skilled wrestler in MMA would suffer a series of takedowns leading to his loss.

It was rumored pre-fight that Henderson has endured a back injury through training for the fight and needed every hour to ready himself for Friday’s weigh-in.
Disregarding the sundry, the fact is Shields outlasted and out worked the former champion and now must be held with esteem as one of the world’s best middleweights. However, before the congratulations could be extended and the victor had his say—enter the villain or joker. Jeremy “Mayhem” Miller seeking more TV time strode into the cage unchecked in the midst of most of the Gracie Academy contenders and pestered Shields for a rematch. Shields shoved Miller away and Gilbert Melendez barely dry from his own encounter leaped at Miller with the aid of the Diaz Brothers wrecking crew.

Cesar Gracie’s finest then proceeded to punch and kick Miller while exasperated CBS announcer Gus Johnson who very nearly got pulled into the fray tossed to a needed commercial break. It was very ironic that Mayhem Miller host of MTV’s Bully Beat down where in a skit like format he rescues the weak and feeble of America actually needed to be rescued from a gang style throttling. Back from the break apologies littered the air and with order restored Jake Shields finally made it through his interview where he hailed his opponent Dan Henderson and issued his own apology for his fight compadre’s reckless move to act on his behalf. Truthfully, not taking anything away from the skills of the Strike Force main card participants but the post fight melee was the most exciting action all night. Brawls occur in all sports, so fisticuffs between guys who make a living inflicting pain for a living does not come as an outrageous shocker. Strike Force needs to provide better training and beef up its security ala the behemoths in oversized blazers lurking about the octagon post fight at most UFC events.

It will be entirely up to CBS whether Strike Force is worthy enough to receive anymore air time but the promotion itself is in good enough shape with a cadre of world class MMA talent. Considering the lackluster five round snoozers put on by Zuffa of late the California Company should fare well in 2010 especially with the Last emperor Fedor on tap for June.

Jdon Howard

UFC 112 Main Event Predictions

It has been a busy couple of weeks for MMA fans, with shows blurring together at a heart-stopping pace, leaving fans with little time to catch their breath and bloggers across the net begging for some downtime. UFC 111 saw the rise of Shane Carwin as the new challenger to the HW crown and GSP showcased his continued dominance of the Welterweight division, while Fight Night 21 in North Carolina provided an exciting night of free fights, including Big Country’s lightning fast finish of Stefan Struve and Kenny Florian’s domination of one time superstar Takanori Gomi, solidifying himself as the number two lightweight in the UFC behind kingpin BJ Penn.

The madness doesn’t stop either, as just next weekend the UFC makes its first trip to the middle east, where the aforementioned BJ Penn and seemingly invincible middleweight Anderson Silva will put their belts on the line in a historic event.

Anderson Silva(champion) vs Demian Maia

The Fight: Vitor Belfort was originally scheduled to challenge Silva in this event, but an unfortunate injury offers Brazilian Jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia a chance of a lifetime. Anderson Silva was last seen dismantling former Light Heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin in mere minutes, showing impressive boxing for an MMA fighter as he dispatched of Griffin with awe-inspiring ease. Maia, on the other hand, carried a workman-like decision over a fellow BJJ black belt in Dan Miller.

Why Demian Maia might win: Anderson Silva has been submitted before; these losses were several years ago, but Silva has been shown to have a slight weakness against wrestlers and competent grapplers, evidenced when Dan Henderson stole a round from him in their fight. Maia has some underrated wrestling and good throws, as was shown when he threw a dominant wrestler in Chael Sonnen before pulling off a beautiful submission. Maia’s jiu-jitsu is some of the best in MMA, having submitted his first five opponents in the UFC and gaining their Submission of the Night honor four of those times; if he can get Silva on his back, things will get very interesting.

Why Anderson Silva might win: It may be an understatement to say that Silva’s standup is light-years ahead of Maia’s. Maia was seemingly blasted into another dimension by a straight punch down the pipe from Nate Marquardt, a fighter Anderson Silva has already dominated before; if the two fighters stay on their feet for any length of time, Maia is in serious danger of being starched. As well, Silva is no slouch on the ground, being a black belt under an MMA legend in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Silva has fought BJJ black belts before, submitting Travis Lutter and winning a unanimous decision over Thales Leites in their infamous bout last year.

What will happen: Don’t expect this fight to be Silva vs Leites II. Maia has converted his grappling to MMA better than Leites and is more aggressive in going for submissions and takedowns – whether by submission from Maia or a KO from Silva, this fight is not going the distance. Unfortunately for Maia, however, Silva is competent enough on the ground to survive being taken down. Maia may be able to put a scare into Anderson, but sometime during the third round, Silva will land a flurry that Maia will have no answer for, adding another KO to his seemingly endless highlight reel.

BJ Penn (champion) vs Frankie Edgar

The Fight: Though perhaps better known for his forays into the welterweight division against GSP, Penn is a dominant lightweight, disposing of tough contenders in Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez with vicious ease. Frankie Edgar received his shot at the crown after a submission victory over Matt Veach at The Ultimate Fighter Season 10 finale, edging out the other frontrunner in Gray Maynard, whose fighting still is seen as unsatisfying to some, as evidenced in his sloppy win over Nate Diaz.

Why Frankie Edgar might win: Edgar is a more than competent wrestler and is one of the more well-rounded fighters in the division, possessing good standup as well. That will serve him well against Penn, as being one-dimensional against the champion has proven nothing less than disastrous for would-be challengers. Unfortunately..

Why BJ Penn might win: ...Aside from wrestling, Edgar is in no way superior to BJ. Penn is one of MMA’s pound for pound top fighters, having great takedown defense, some of the best jiu-jitsu and excellent boxing all rolled into one complete package. Penn shrugged off multiple takedown attempts from Diego Sanchez in a dominating performance and made Kenny Florian look like an amateur in his attempt to wrest the crown away from Penn.

What will happen: Expect another Virtuoso performance from BJ Penn. Edgar may very well be a champion some day, but he unfortunately competes in a division Penn rules over ruthlessly, picking apart challengers with Freddie Roach-approved boxing or choking out fellow BJJ blackbelts like Kenny Florian as if it’s child’s play. Edgar will perhaps fare better than Sanchez did, but by the third round, an ill-timed takedown from a battered Edgar will lead to BJ securing a submission in no time, earning a tap out and showing why he’s one of the top five pound for pound fighters in the world.

Ryan James

UFC 111 Main Event Analysis and Picks

Georges St-Pierre vs Dan Hardy

The Fight: After mowing down a whos-who of credible challengers in Jon Fitch, BJ Penn and Thiago Alves, GSP’s latest challenger to his seemingly invincible welterweight crown comes in the form of British striker Dan Hardy. Hardy, who earned the shot with his win over Mike Swick, is doubted by many to be a serious challenger to GSP, but the Brit’s skill with his hands are formidable and he has yet to taste defeat in the octagon.

Why Dan Hardy may win: Unlike more heralded fighters such as Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, Hardy has yet to be defeated by St-Pierre and has at least one area where he excels over the champion – his boxing. If Hardy can keep the fight upright long enough, he should be able to outbox GSP and, ideally for the Brit, land a bit shot that will send St-Pierre to the canvas. However…

Why GSP may win: …Dan Hardy has never faced a wrestler the caliber of St-Pierre. GSP, though capable on the feet, will quite likely take this fight to the ground whenever he pleases; Hardy was able to stuff takedowns from Swick, but defending St-Pierre’s is another task altogether. Greasing allegations aside, GSP was able to defend submissions from jiu-jitsu ace BJ Penn and has excellent ground control that should make life difficult for Hardy.

What will happen: St-Pierre will dispose of another would-be challenger to his crown. Hardy may be the more technical of the two strikers on the feet, but at some point the Brit will find himself on his back courtesy of a takedown by GSP, and this is where he will be in trouble. Hardy may last longer than most expected, but by late in the second round or early in the third, GSP will deny his challenger entry to the championship rounds by either a TKO stoppage from ground and pound or a slick submission over the battered Brit.

Frank Mir vs Shane Carwin

The Fight: With heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar on the shelf until the summer after his scary bout with diverticulitis, Frank Mir and Shane Carwin will meet on the card with the interim title on the line. Mir easily disposed of French Kickboxer Cheick Kongo in his last fight, while Shane Carwin’s nearly unscrewed Gabriel Gonzaga’s head with a punch that blasted the Brazilian in his most recent outing.

Why Shane Carwin might win: Though Mir is heavy handed on the feet and has some nasty submissions, a certain powerful wrestler has proved his undoing as of late with heavy ground and pound. Shane Carwin isn’t terribly different stylistically from the aforementioned Brock Lesnar, with his impressive power and wrestling credentials. In addition to wrestling skill, Mir might be hesitant to trade punches with Carwin, who nearly sent Gonzaga’s head into the stands with a simple, short punch. But…

Why Frank Mir might win: …Mir’s holds an experience edge over Carwin in this fight, which may prove invaluable. Carwin only has a few less fights than Mir, but none of Shane’s fights have been past the three minute mark, much less making it out of the first round. Frank Mir almost certainly notices this and will be willing to drag this bout into the later rounds to test Carwin’s cardio; if Shane tires in the later rounds, he’ll be ripe for another cringe-worthy submission by Mir or more likely to get caught on the feet.

What will happen: Despite Mir’s experience edge, this fight is difficult to call. What is Carwin’s cardio like? On the other side of the same coin, what is Mir’s like after his recent bulking? Will Mir chance exchanging on the feet or will he allow Shane to take him down and work for a submission underneath the powerful wrestler? In a fight with so many questions, it’s more logical to go with the experienced fighter in Frank Mir. Whether the fight ends quickly or early, both seem to favor Mir, as Frank has superior technique on the feet and will be able to catch Carwin in a submission should the wrestler make an ill-timed takedown in the later rounds if his tank is running low. Expect Mir to rock Carwin sometime later in the first or early in the second, with Mir scrambling on top and grabbing a limb or taking his back for a nasty submission hold while Carwin tries to clear his scrambled brain; by the time he does, he’ll be reaching to save himself with a tap out, and Mir will earn his much anticipated rubber match with his nemesis, Brock Lesnar.

Ryan James

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