The title bout that we’ve long waited for is finally days away from fruition.
A Year of Detours and False Starts
UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman will finally defend his title against Vitor Belfort in a matchup that has been on and off for the past year. Belfort earned the right to face Weidman after three spectacular highlight reel knockout victories over Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson in 2013. That fight was originally scheduled for UFC 173 in May of last year but a February 2014 ban on Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) by the Nevada State Athletic Commission prompted Belfort to beg off the schedule. Belfort has a medical exemption to use TRT but with the NSAC ban, he asked for a period off to let his body adjust.
After it was agreed that their bout would be moved to UFC 181 in December of 2014, Weidman injured his hand and forced the fight to be moved farther ahead to UFC 184. One month before the bout, though, Weidman once again pulled out of the fight after injuring himself in training, pushing the fight back once again to UFC 187 on May 23rd – more than one year after its original schedule. But with only a few days left before Saturday, it’s almost safe to say that a year of detours and false starts is over, at least for this fight.
Not the Same Phenom
Weidman-Belfort used to be one of the most anticipated match-ups in the UFC especially after the Phenom went on a tear in 2013 and after Weidman dethroned Anderson Silva in July of that same year. But while everyone back then felt that Belfort would give Weidman a run for his strap, many have changed their mind and now feel that the Phenom is just a stepping stone to a more interesting title fight between Weidman and Luke Rockhold or Jacare Souza.
For one, the TRT-less Vitor Belfort physically looks like the Belfort who lost five of seven fights from 2005-2006. Gone is the ripped Phenom who obliterated one title contender after another in 2013. When Belfort made a TV appearance in the latest episode of UFC Embedded, he looked nowhere close to being a Phenom. Secondly, Belfort has not fought in over a year with his last octagon appearance in November 2013. Weidman may have been inactive lately but our last sight of him was surviving a tough five round grinder against Lyoto Machida at UFC 175 last May of 2014.
UFC flyweight champion Jose Aldo predicted that Belfort will KO Weidman within the first two rounds. But he may have said that because of national affinity and admiration more than facts and statistics.
Weidman enters Saturday a 3-1 favorite to beat Belfort. The Brazilian phenom is now 38-years old and is no longer the raging 20-year old bull who captured the UFC Heavyweight Tournament in 1997. The latest version of Vitor Belfort looks like a physically fit middle-aged man, more than an elite title contender. On the other hand, Weidman has looked impressive fight after fight. If he is 100% healthy, he has all the tools to defeat Vitor Belfort.
The blueprint of beating Belfort is in the history books. Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz survived Belfort’s initial flurry and let his energy run out. The other men who beat him also had similar game plans. A healthy Chris Weidman is capable of doing that and more. Weidman is younger, faster and stronger. But the main thing in this fight isn’t really Weidman at all, but Vitor Belfort, himself.
We all saw the difference between TRT Vitor and non TRT Vitor. The latter went 4-6 from 2002 to 2006 while the former looked like the 1997 Phenom. The question is which Belfort will show up on Saturday night? We’ll won’t get our answers until the first strikes are thrown. In the meantime, these clouds of doubt over Vitor Belfort make him a bad gamble and Chris Weidman a logical betting choice.