Here's a preview of fights coming up this weekend in the world of MMA.
Jon Jones Takes on an Aging Vitor Belfort
This Saturday, at UFC 152 from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Jon Jones faces off against Dana White...er wait, no. It’s actually Vitor Belfort, but it certainly feels like the titanic struggle between Dana White and Jones has overshadowed Saturday’s card.
First we thought the majestic and mercurial skills of Jones would be pitted against Dan Henderson at UFC 151 in August, but Henderson’s injured knee argued otherwise. Chael Sonnen was called in as a replacement on short notice was not deemed suitable by Jones.
“The gumption!” cried fans. White started to curse - not a first for the UFC’s head honcho. But having to cancel a card was a first for White - and his relationship to one of his organization’s biggest stars is now strained to say the least.
When Lyoto Machida turned down the chance to face off with Jones in Toronto the only man available - and brave enough - on such short notice was Vitor Belfort.
Belfort is in the twilight of his career to put it politely.
Back in 1997, during the days when the UFC was but a mere twinkle in a television executive’s eye, Belfort was “The Phenom” - the same label that is inextricably affixed now to Jones. But now one of the UFC’s original prodigies is being given but a puncher’s chance against the incomparable physicality of Jones.
With an 84 inch reach, the longest in UFC’s history, Jones mixes power with athleticism, but the veteran Belfort believes he has more than a mere puncher’s chance.
"If I didn't think I could beat him, I would never have taken the fight," Belfort explained earlier this week to Yahoo! Sports. "I didn't say it would be easy to beat him. He is very talented, very good at what he does. But I see openings.”
The prophets in Vegas disagree and have given Belfort odds of 13-1, not that this has deterred the fighter.
"It's a 50-50 fight because when they close the door, it's just either him or it's me. And I believe with all my heart that I can beat this man."
Come Saturday we’ll see what 17 years worth of experience really counts for against one of the best talents the UFC has ever seen.
Flyweights No Soft Touch
While Jon Jones may be the vacuum that sucks up the majority of attention in the UFC nowadays, this Saturday he may have to start sharing the limelight with Joseph Benavidez (16-2) and his band of fellow flyweights. For the first time they will have a UFC belt to fight for in one of the organization’s hottest divisions.
Since the flyweight division was introduced earlier this year, Benavidez has been seen by most UFC cognoscenti as the man to reign the division with ease. Ranked highly in pretty much everyone’s pound-for-pound lists, on Saturday he’ll be out to prove that hype has substance against the formidable but beatable Demetrius Johnson (15-2-1).
The likes of “Bones”Jones create their own publicity by just existing, but everyone else (Benavidez included) need to try a little harder to create furors - but he did a good job this week when he claimed he could punch as hard as middleweight Michael Bisping. Not bad for a man fighting in the UFC smallest division.
Benavidez’s herculean hyperbole aside, the flyweight division may well reign supreme very, very soon. They may not pack the same power as the bigger colleagues (as much as Benavidez may claim), but their size means the speed and agility on display is a balletic grappling and striking blur.
On Saturday fans will get to see UFC’s smaller, faster and very much more exciting future.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.