UFC on FX 8 takes us to Santa Catarina, Brazil, where headliner Vitor Belfort welcomes the last reigning Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold to the UFC. Some words have been exchanged between the two prior to the fight, centered mainly around Belfort’s TRT usage. Aside from the smack talk, the matchup is intriguing as we haven’t seen Rockhold face a guy at Belfort’s level. And further, we could be looking at the next middleweight title challenger emerging from this fight.
Fight Breakdown – Luke Rockhold will be the last reigning Strikeforce champion to fight in the UFC as all of the other champions have already performed in the Octagon since crossing over. More than that, he’ll be debuting against Vitor Belfort in the main event, in Belfort’s native country of Brazil. It’s safe to say fans won’t be rooting for Rockhold. It will be interesting to see how the new kid measures up against Belfort in this type of situation. Fellow Strikeforce alum Daniel Cormier reportedly spoke to Rockhold about avoiding the UFC jitters, something that may have affected Cormier in his debut against Frank Mir.
Belfort has demonstrated time and again his ability to put guys out with his rocket hands, but his last performance against Bisping showed he can do damage with his legs as well. That headkick knockout of Michael Bisping was devastating. At the age of 36, Belfort absolutely floored a veteran fighter who is constantly in the title picture. Belfort should have the advantage in quickness against Rockhold and should look to utilize that to execute some well-timed barrages of punches and kicks, possibly to set up some power shots. Belfort is no stranger to submissions and could very well finish this fight with a sub, but Rockhold went the distance with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, a very good BJJ practitioner himself. So if Belfort wins this fight, it’s likely going to happen from the stand-up.
Rockhold may want to avoid getting caught in furious exchanges against a guy with the hand speed, power and accuracy of Belfort. Belfort is easily the best fighter Rockhold will have ever faced and it’s going to be apparent from the opening minute. Rockhold is going to have a slight size advantage so he should look to utilize that in the stand up, but it may not matter against the crafty Belfort, who much like Lyoto Machida, picks his spots to charge and swarm. Rockhold does have a lot of power in his hands though and demonstrated a dangerous clinch game with his violent finish of Keith Jardine in his first Strikeforce title defense. He should look to keep Belfort close and wear him down with clinching, throwing knees and punches to the body. That would help to slow Belfort down in the later rounds and take a lot of the zing out of Belfort’s strikes. Taking Belfort down for some ground and pound would be even better, but Belfort has a good guard and nearly upset Jon Jones with that armbar attempt.
If Belfort can manage to play his game and keep the fight where he wants it, he should be able to implement his speed and striking to good use. Belfort has the experience, and thanks to TRT and a good diet, the physical ability to dictate where the fight goes. Rockhold gets better and better every time he fights, but the pressure of facing a legend like Belfort in hostile territory – the crowd is sure to be deafening in favor of Belfort – may be a little overwhelming. If Rockhold can keep his cool and fight a technically sound fight (and stay the hell away from a Belfort KO punch/kick), he’s got the goods to come out of Brazil with a win.
Why It Matters – Belfort keeps knocking on that middleweight title shot door with quality wins over quality fighters. Problem is, Silva’s front kick to the face KO win over the Phenom is on every Anderson Silva highlight reel in existence and people may not be open to a rematch regardless of how impressive Belfort has been since.
Rockhold on the other hand, is a new name and face to the division and a very likely challenger to Anderson Silva at some point in the future – if he can get by Belfort. Rockhold has beaten quality fighters and won the Strikeforce middleweight championship against a very game Ronaldo Souza, successfully defending his title twice before moving to the UFC. His resume is almost there and a win over Belfort would propel him to the forefront of the MW title picture. A bad loss here would do a lot of damage to Rockhold’s momentum, and possibly his psyche as well. Other former Strikeforce guys have done very well so far: Cormier, Josh Thomson and even Gil Melendez in his ultra-close loss, they’ve all shown they can compete in the UFC. Rockhold has some pressure on him to do the same.
For the Phenom, a win over Rockhold and it would be hard to ignore him for much longer. The UFC rankings don’t always mean a whole lot, but Belfort is right behind Weidman and there aren’t a lot of other options for a contender at the moment. Belfort demolished Bisping and nearly pulled off the upset against Jon Jones, so maybe he is more deserving of another shot at Silva than most people would think. It’s hard to erase that kick from Silva but if Belfort keeps winning against the top guys in the division, he has to be granted a title shot at some point in the future. There’s a lot at stake for both guys here and on paper they’re fairly evenly matched, so it may simply come down to who wants it more.
Prediction – Belfort