Vitor Belfort - Luke Rockhold
At UFC 152, “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort had the whole MMA world on pins and needles when he had Jon “Bones” Jones firmly in an armbar. It was the most trouble the light-heavyweight champion had seen in his career. Jones of course went on to beat Belfort and retain his title, but for Belfort it was a sign that perhaps he was on course for a new renaissance in his career.
At UFC on FX 8 from Jaragua do Sul, Brazil, Belfort will face off in front of his countrymen against Luke Rockhold [10-1]. More importantly, the winner stands a chance at perhaps earning one of the most prized shots in the sport — a fight with Anderson Silva.
For Belfort [22-10] who sports 18 stoppages from his 22 victories, he would like nothing more than to test his power once more against Silva, who knocked him out in the first round in their last encounter in 2011. As for Rockhold it would be a rapid ascension for a man who had a relatively unheralded time in MMA until 2011, when he became the Strikeforce middleweight champion after dispatching Ronaldo Souza by unanimous decision.
Rockhold also proved the upset victory was far from lucky with successful defenses of his title coming against Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy. It might be his UFC debut, but he’s apparently ready and seasoned.
So what can fans expect from a matchup where both fighters have so much to gain from emerging victorious? Well, since his loss to Jones, Belfort has continued looking impressive with a second round knockout in January of the always dangerous Michael Bisping. In fact, given that in the last five years, Belfort’s only losses have come at the hands of Anderson Silva and Jon Jones, perhaps illustrates what sort of form Belfort is in.
As for Rockhold, a well-rounded fighter with a significant four-inch reach advantage over Belfort, he could nullify the hand speed that has proved so hard for other opponents. Belfort uses his speed to wear down or stun opponents early, so if Rockhold can cling on, he was a very good shot at victory. As for Belfort, he knows his superior speed will be the key. If he can figure out a way of getting inside on Rockhold and mix up kicks and punches, his dominance may yet see another day.
Ronaldo Souza - Chris Camozzi
What an amusing parallel it is that Souza, who was defeated by Rockhold in his Strikeforce days, is making his UFC debut on the same card.
Souza [17-3] was supposed to face Costas Philippou but due to a late withdrawal, Chris Camozzi [19-5] decided to step up to the plate and take on the formidable Souza.
Camozzi was supposed to be fighting lower down on the card, but instead moved up to take on Souza in what will no doubt be the biggest test of his career. Souza has victories against the likes of UFC veteran Ed Herman and has not lost in three outings since his title loss to Rockhold.
Souza is a great proponent of takedowns and grappling, in fact the five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, and will no doubt utilize this as well as his judo background against the overmatched Camozzi. Expect the fight to be over quickly.
Rafael dos Anjos - Evan Dunham
Dos Anjos [18-6] was undefeated in 2012 with three solid victories in a deep and talented lightweight division, while Dunham [14-3] has only lost once in his last four outings. Neither are top ten lightweights but a convincing victory could ensure a contest against one of the more talented contenders in the stacked division.
While Dos Anjos’s main strengths lie on the mat, he has power that any opponent would need to be wary of. He got a knockout with his hands at UFC 132 while also dispatched and rocked opponents with kicks. As for Dunham, his jiu-jitsu background also matches that of Dos Anjos. Both guys are adept at fighting on the mat and this is likely the location where the fight will end while going the entire distance.
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.