Even as the UFC holds white-knuckle tight to its contention that Anderson Silva is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world – and maybe the best fighter ever, Dana White says – the company has done its best to sell Vitor Belfort as a serious threat to Silva’s four-plus years as the world’s most dominant middleweight on Saturday at UFC 126.
That’s the UFC’s job, after all: To sell stuff to guys in bars who don’t know any better.
If you like Belfort in this fight, your school of thought is probably something like this: He’ll be the best striker that Silva has fought in the Octagon and, besides, the 35-year-old UFC champion just doesn’t have it anymore. After a near-miss against Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 and a string of lackluster showings at middleweight – rudely interrupted by his drubbing of Forrest Griffin at light heavyweight at UFC 101 – your hypothesis is that Silva has lost a step.
Almost out of sheer necessity, you also think this fight, scheduled for five rounds, will be short. You think this because that’s how Belfort wins. Dating back to 2000, seven of his 10 victories have come during the first round. When Belfort gets his hand raised, it’s typically after a quick-and-brutal stoppage and the UFC has gone out of its way to promotes his “12 first-round knockouts” (a number that includes his lone career professional boxing win) leading up to this bout.
Of course, you’re also forgetting one thing about Vitor Belfort: This guy will break your heart.
He’s been doing it since 1997 and his entire career has played out in kind. For the first 5-10 minutes of a fight, Belfort is hell (or, heaven, as he’d probably like us to say) on wheels. After that? Well, he has more than a decade-long track record of fading down the stretch, especially in big fights. Though far less spectacularly, it’s a trait that has defined him more comprehensively than his ability to craft highlight reel wins. If Vitor doesn’t get his way early, he folds up the tent. He starts thinking of all the other stuff he could be doing.
In this fight, it’s hard not to see how that plays right into Silva’s hands. The champion after all is fairly notorious for taking the first minute or two of a bout to scout his opponent’s offense then – once he feels he’s seen enough – he explodes with his own attack, once aptly described by Joe Rogan as a “ballet of violence.” He’s also gone the distance (or damn near) in three of his last four bouts and emerged victorious each time. Against Sonnen, Silva even did something Vitor Belfort’s never done: He responded to adversity and found a way to win in the final seconds of a fight he was surely about to lose.
Make no mistake, Belfort could win this fight. He could come out and KO Silva like he did Rich Franklin at UFC 103 and Matt Lindland in Affliction. He could steamroll him like he did Wanderlei Silva way back at UFC 17.5 and Tank Abbott, Scott Ferrozzo and Tra Tellignman before that. Could happen – but I think to hope for that – or even to expect it, is foolhardy.
Silva simply has too much on his side here: The clock, his cardio and, oh yeah, history. That’s a lot of overcome for a guy who’s never been great at beating the odds.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for CraveOnline, CagePotato.com and Versus.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.