If you were disappointed for the second consecutive UFC pay-per-view last weekend, don’t fret. You have yet another opportunity to wash that unpleasant taste from your mouth. Another edition of UFC Fight Night from Brazil comes to us on Saturday, March 11, and it’s a fairly decent card from top to bottom. The main event features mixed martial arts legend Vitor Belfort taking on a rising star in Kelvin Gastelum. Does “The Phenom” have one more amazing performance in him? Or is it Gastelum’s turn to make a great leap in the UFC’s middleweight division?
Strengths: While he finds himself on a two-fight losing streak, Belfort is still one of the most dangerous strikers in MMA. Don’t believe me? Ask Michael Bisping. Or Luke Rockhold. Or Dan Henderson. Or Wanderlei Silva. Those guys have all felt Belfort’s blitzkrieg offense and fast strikes, and it’s Belfort’s striking and knockout power that gave him a first-round knockout victory in the rubber match with his old rival Henderson.
Of Belfort’s 37 career fights, half of them resulted in him achieving a knockout or TKO victory. But his ground game should not be taken lightly, either. He nearly dethroned then-light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in 2012 with a keylock and choked out Anthony Johnson earlier that same year. Belfort’s last four victories haven’t lasted longer than early into the second round, so there is still no wasted motion with “The Phenom.” He wants to hit hard, hit early, hit often and finish you quick.
Weaknesses: As I said before, Belfort has lost his last two fights. While he has looked ageless as he approaches 40 years old, as the old saying goes, Father Time is undefeated. Belfort has looked overwhelmed, frankly, in recent losses to Gegard Mousasi, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Chris Weidman. Those losses also came as Belfort is no longer using testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) after the practice was finally banned.
Strengths: Besides the obvious age advantage that Gastelum has over Belfort (Gastelum is 25 years old to Belfort’s 39), he also has a nose for the finish. Even though Belfort is the more experienced fighter in terms of overall fights, all but four of Gastelum’s 13 total victories have come via finish, including six knockouts. He outstruck and battered Tim Kennedy in his last fight at UFC 206 en route to a third-round TKO victory. He also boasts finishes of well-known fighters like Nate Marquradt and Jake Ellenberger. Gastelum lands nearly four significant strikes per minute, so there’s no doubt that he looks to finish his opponents and finish them quickly.
Weaknesses: Gastelum seems to have found his home at middleweight after insisting on previously competing at 170 pounds, despite winning The Ultimate Fighter as a middleweight. He routinely struggled to make the 170-pound weight limit and it showed in his lackluster losses to Neil Magny and current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. Fighting at a weight class that was clearly not suited for him showed a lack of maturity and foresight on Gastelum’s part – traits that would not serve him well in a fight with a veteran as savvy and dangerous as Belfort. The losses to Magny and Woodley are the only two of Gastelum’s career thus far, so it remains to be seen if Gastelum can hang with fighters who can boast potency on the ground, which is something Belfort definitely can do.
Gastelum looked like a brand new fighter in his win against Kennedy. He looked comfortable, fit and dangerous at 185 pounds and is facing a fighter in Belfort who deserves all the accolades as one of the all-time greats. Unfortunately, I think his two consecutive losses show that Belfort’s best days are behind him. Gastelum is still a fighter on the rise, and though Belfort could always rely on his veteran savvy and tricks to score an upset victory, I don’t think Gastelum gives him the opportunity and stakes his claim as a possible middleweight title contender.
Winner: Gastelum by TKO
Photo Credit: MMAJunkie.com