The main event of UFC Fight Night 77 is the third meeting of mixed martial arts legends Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort and Dan Henderson. The two greats have met twice before, with Henderson scoring a decision win while fighting for the Pride organization in 2006 and Belfort scoring a quick and brutal technical knockout over Henderson in 2013. Vitor Belfort (24-11 MMA, 13-7 UFC, -360 favorite) There are not many more intriguing figures in the sport of mixed martial arts than Vitor Belfort. He has been at the center of several controversies over the years, including the last few months. The Brazilian is the poster boy for the performance enhancing drug era in mixed martial arts. It goes all the way back in 2006 when Belfort first failed a drug test for having an elevated testosterone level. Although he was suspended a year by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, he disregarded the penalty and took a fight in Europe. Fast forwarding to 2011, Belfort was granted a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) after his middleweight title fight against Anderson Silva, which he had lost by highlight reel knockout. After that fight, his body appeared to gain significantly more muscle mass and he began a reign of terror in the middleweight division starting with a knockout win over Michael Bisping in early 2013. Consecutive knockouts of Luke Rockhold and Dan Henderson quickly followed and he was granted a title shot at middleweight champion Chris Weidman in May of 2014. However, he pulled out of the fight when the use of TRT was banned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the UFC. Amazingly, he still got his shot against Weidman, though not until May of this year. Belfort’s physique looked completely different than it had during his amazing 2013 run and it is not hard to figure out why. Weidman, who made his thoughts on Belfort’s antics well-known, ultimately finished him midway through the first round at UFC 187. This fight against Henderson marks Belfort’s first fight since that devastating loss to Weidman in May. Quite simply, Vitor Belfort is one of the most devastating strikers the sport has ever seen. His knockout power and amazing hand speed were evident from his first fight in the UFC, which quite amazingly was all the way back in 1997. The southpaw is known for his straight left, left uppercut, and right hook, which have been complimented in recent years by quick head kicks with his rear leg. While his resume is filled with knockouts, he is actually known to be quite inactive at times in between punching flurries. That could be because of his cardio, which has always been one of the weaker aspects of his game. The fighters that have given Belfort the most trouble over the years have been wrestlers, as his takedown defense and guard game are not on the same level as his striking. He is, however, a Carlson Gracie black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, but outside of a failed armbar attempt on Jon Jones you don’t see him use it much. Wrestlers such as Randy Couture, Weidman, Jones, and Henderson have beaten Belfort by taking him to the mat or clinch and working him over. Dan Henderson (31-13 MMA, 7-7 UFC, +300 underdog) There are not many fighters more beloved by the fans than “Hendo.” His attitude toward fighting and amazing knockout power have won him many fans over the years. Henderson is a two-time Olympic wrestler, though he did not win a medal on either occasion. It is interesting that Henderson was still competing in amateur wrestling tournaments during the first 13 fights of his professional MMA career. However, he abandoned wrestling in 2001 and put his entire focus on fighting. Henderson has had success in every promotion he has ever fought for. He is the only fighter to simultaneously hold the Pride Welterweight and Middleweight titles. Further, Henderson also won the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship at the age of 40 by knocking out Rafael Calvacante in 2011. For all his accomplishments, Henderson also has a checkered background with TRT. It is not known exactly when he started a TRT regimen, but he was forced to quit the treatment cold turkey following his 2014 knockout win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Henderson enters this matchup as the loser of five of his last seven fights, though he did win his last bout against Tim Boetsch in June. Henderson’s career is interesting because he successfully managed to transform his fighting style midway through his career. For the first part of his career he was often known as “Decision Dan” because of his tendency to use his wrestling to grind out victories on the judges’ scorecards. However, a few fights into his Pride career he realized he had dynamite in his fists and started relying more on his knockout power than his wrestling. Further, he was also in his late thirties at that point and his conditioning was no longer at the level where he could wrestle his opponent for three or five rounds, something extremely taxing on a fighter’s conditioning. These days, Henderson has almost completely disregarded his wrestling and actually has been outwrestled in several recent contests. The offense of the California native comes mostly from his inside leg kick, overhand right combination that has put several fighters to sleep. Henderson also has a strong killer instinct and a knack for knowing when his opponent is hurt. Like Belfort, Henderson’s conditioning is quite poor, as he is known to gas in fights that go past the first round. Further, his once legendry durability is almost completely gone. Henderson used to be able to walk through any punch, but a fighter’s chin can only take so much punishment before it starts to give. Thoughts This trilogy between two grizzled veterans with questionable cardio and durability should not last long. Henderson does not use his wrestling anymore, and even if he did, he does not have the gas tank to wrestle Belfort for five rounds. Basically, the fighter to land the first big shot is likely to win this fight. I would not be surprised to see either fighter land a knockout strike, but I think the more likely scenario involves the quicker Belfort catching the slow and prodding Henderson and finishing him early. The Prediction: Vitor Belfort defeats Dan Henderson by knockout (round 1)
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