Friday May 22nd, 2015

Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort.

Overview

It was on a February night in 1997 that a boyish Brazilian made his first big splash. Vitor Belfort was all of 19 years old when he stepped inside an octagon set up for UFC 12 in a tiny arena in Dothan, Ala., and his night’s work lasted all of three minutes. That’s three minutes over two separate bouts as part of the evening’s heavyweight tournament, which Belfort won with explosive thumpings of Tra Telligman (1:17) and Scott Ferrozzo (:43). Not a bad debut.

Eighteen years later, Belfort has another opportunity to grab the golden ring. On Saturday night, in the co-main event of UFC 187 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, PPV), he will challenge Chris Weidman for the middleweight championship.

Beyond that glorious tourney in the Deep South nearly two decades ago, Belfort did once become a true UFC champ, but the circumstances weren’t ideal. He took away Randy Couture’s light heavyweight belt in a 2004 bout that ended in 49 seconds after his grazing left hook opened an abrasion on Couture’s left eyelid. It would be a short reign for “The Phenom,” however, as the rematch seven months later saw him get battered into a bloody mess, with Couture grabbing back the belt.

Twice since then, Belfort has tried to recapture UFC supremacy—while taking on two of the greatest fighters ever to step in the octagon. In 2011, he challenged Anderson Silva for the middleweight title and was KO’d via a spectacular front kick. Then, a year and a half later, Vitor had a go at Jon Jones, but after failing to submit the light heavy champ with an early armbar, he was beaten down and finished.

Now, at age 38, Belfort is taking on a champion who was a sixth grader when the pride of Rio made his UFC debut.

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With Jon Jones suspended, Rousey No. 1 in pound for pound rankings

Weidman already has buried a couple of Brazilian legends. He captured his championship in 2013 with a stunning knockout of Silva, who had reigned for six years and had won 17 straight fights. The former NCAA Division 1 All-America wrestler beat “The Spider” again five months later in a fight that ended gruesomely, with the former champ suffering a broken leg on a checked kick attempt.

In his most recent title defense, last July, the 30-year-old New Yorker pushed his record to 12-0 with a unanimous decision victory over former light heavy champ Lyoto Machida.

​Weidman stands at No. 3 in the SI.com pound-for-pound rankings, behind only Ronda Rousey and José Aldo. Belfort is No. 2 in our middleweight tally, right behind the champ.

In addition to the 10 p.m. ET pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1, starting at 8 p.m., and the event’s first three bouts will be available on the UFC Fight Pass online service at 6:30. The main card also will be screened by Fathom Events at select movie theaters nationwide.

Background

It’s been a long time in coming.

This fight was scheduled to take place a year ago, at UFC 173. But three months beforehand, in February 2014, Vitor Belfort was in Las Vegas to attend the World MMA Awards and a Nevada Athletic Commission representative approached him to take a random drug test. Belfort, who had been using testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) since returning to the UFC in 2009, failed the test with an elevated testosterone ratio.

But Vitor didn’t reveal the failure. He declined to speak about it, which was his right, since he was not yet licensed for the May fight and was not obligated to make his test results public. Fans put two and two together, however, when Belfort suddenly pulled out of the Weidman fight. And before the month was out, the NAC had acted, too: The commission ended the use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) for testosterone.

TRT was dead. And so, it seemed, was the rejuvenated version of Belfort, who in his late 30s was spectacularly knocking out the likes of Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson.

Belfort had long been the poster child for TRT abuse. After he tested positive for elevated testosterone following a fight in Vegas in 2006, the Nevada commission made it known that the Brazilian would not likely receive a TUE for any future fights. So three of Vitor’s four most recent bouts have been held in his native country, where regulation is about as rigid as a mambo dance party.

After UFC 173 lost Belfort, the promotion slotted in former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, who then had to wait an extra six weeks for his shot at the belt after Weidman injured a knee and required minor surgery. Finally, in July, the champ took on “The Dragon” and won a unanimous decision.

Weidman’s sights once again were set on Belfort. The fight was scheduled for December, but after Weidman broke a hand in training, it was rescheduled for February. Then a Weidman rib injury pushed the bout back again. Until this weekend, by which point Belfort will have been out of the cage for a rusty 18 months (and Weidman 10 months).

In the leadup, both fighters have undergone several random drug tests. Both have passed.

Last five fights

Weidman
7/5/14 Lyoto Machida W UD 5
12/28/13 Anderson Silva W TKO 2
7/6/13 Anderson Silva W KO 2
7/11/12 Mark 
Muñoz W KO 2
1/28/12 Demian Maia W UD 3

Belfort
11/9/13 Dan Henderson W KO 1
5/18/13 Luke Rockhold W KO 1
1/19/13 Michael 
Bisping W TKO 2
9/22/12 Jon Jones L Sub. 4
1/14/12 Anthony Johnson W Sub. 1

Tale of the tape


Weidman
 
Belfort

June 17, 1984

BIRTH DATE

April 1, 1977

Baldwin, N.Y.


BIRTHPLACE

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Baldwin, N.Y.

RESIDENCE

Boca Raton, Fla.

12-0

RECORD

24-10

185*

WEIGHT

185*

6'2" 

HEIGHT

6'0" 

78"

REACH

74"

 * Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Other numbers to count on

2.98: Strikes landed per minute by Chris Weidman, according to FightMetric statistics. That’s exactly twice the output of Vitor Belfort (1.49 per). Of course, with Vitor all it takes is one.

51: Percentage of takedowns successfully defended by Belfort in his career. Against a relentless wrestler like Weidman, that sounds like an express ticket to one’s keister. 

3: Head kick KOs by Belfort in his last three fights (vs. Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson).

Greatest hits

Chris Weidman KO’s one of the greatest fighters ever:

Vitor Belfort gets third straight head-kick finish:

Matchup

Belfort is a first-round terror. Seventeen of his 24 career victories have come within a fight’s initial five minutes. And this trend has been especially unwavering in the later stages of his long career: Since September 2009, he has won seven fights, all but one in the first round. (The lone exception was a 2013 KO early in the second.)

So it would seem that the strategy for defeating Vitor is to survive his early onslaught, right?

Well, Weidman is not a wait-you-out kind of guy. He fights on his terms, not his opponent’s. When Anderson Silva went all Emmett Kelly on him in their first meeting, the New Yorker steadfastly went right at him and knocked out “The Spider.” He didn’t hesitate to engage on his feet with deadly karate man Lyoto Machida, either.

Weidman is smart enough not to rush in where fools might—but then again, the same might be said of Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson, Belfort’s last three opponents, each stopped by a kick to the head. Belfort is dangerous … until he’s not.

When Vitor cannot get the job done in a round or two, he tends to fade. He’s gone past two rounds eight times in his career, and won just twice, the last time being nearly eight years ago. Now he’s facing a pressure fighter who’ll make Belfort work every second of every round. Weidman is going to take him down—Vitor has stuffed only half of his opponents’ takedown attempts—and the champ is a load when he’s on top. It’s exhausting. Can the post-TRT version of this 38-year-old endure?

The odds

Weidman is a significant betting favorite, with a money line ranging from -435 (bet $435 to win $100) to -675 (bet $675 to win $100) at various sportsbooks. The line on Belfort ranges from +300 (bet $100 to win $300) to +475 (bet $100 to win $475)..

Prediction

This is Belfort’s first fight since the Nevada Athletic Commission put up the “No Swimming” sign next to the fountain of youth. An unenhanced 38-year-old man who hasn’t competed in 560 days, locked inside a cage with Chris Weidman? That sounds unpleasant. Weidman by KO. 

Fighting Words

He’s been caught cheating. And I’m not going to let a cheating juice-head take my belt.”

— Chris Weidman speaking to ESPN about Vitor Belfort

“I believe that I am doing the best of my ability for right now, to achieve what is in front of me. I’m not concerned with what people say, because what’s true for some people is not true for me. What it is is it’s about belief. If you believe, you can move mountains.”

— Vitor Belfort, speaking to MMA Junkie on where his career stands at age 38

The Rest Of The Card

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Crash Course to UFC 187: Daniel Cormier vs Anthony Johnson

Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson, light heavyweight championship (main event); Donald Cerrone vs. John Makdessi, lightweight; Travis Browne vs. Andrei Arlovski, heavyweight; Joseph Benavidez vs. John Moraga, flyweight.

Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): John Dodson vs. Zach Makovsky, flyweight; Dong Hyun Kim vs. Josh Burkman, welterweight; Uriah Hall vs. Rafael Natal, middleweight; Rose Namajunas vs. Nina Ansaroff, strawweight.

Online prelims (6:30 p.m., UFC Fight Pass): Mike Pyle vs. Colby Covington, welterweight; Islam Makhachev vs. Leo Kuntz, lightweight; Juston Scoggins vs. Josh Sampo, flyweight.

Programming Notes

Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on pay-per-view as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the UFC Fight Pass. An hour-long postfight show begins at 1:30 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

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