07/05/2018 by Rich Plunkett
This Saturday, the UFC heads to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for its first night of fights in May of this year. Although the Pay Per View event looks a little light on compared to next month’s big Chicago card, MMA fans across the globe will be looking forward to the fights ahead, given that we have not seen any UFC action for a fortnight.
One of the key matchups on the night is the fight between two former champions, Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida. Although this bout as a spectacle is happening a decade later than us fight fans would have liked, there is still plenty on the line for these two legends, both fighting in front of a local crowd. Machida is coming off his first win since December 2014, a split decision victory over Eryk Anders, and looking to build momentum in a division that has only stopped, started and stalled in recent times. Belfort has again expressed a desire to retire soon and a victory Saturday night against a formidable opponent in the city he was born and raised would be a worthy curtain call to one of the UFC’s greatest entertainers.
Much has been made of the roller coaster ride that has been Belfort’s career. A prodigious talent, Belfort made a name for himself knocking out opponents far bigger and more experienced than he was. Back when names like Scott Ferrozzo and Tank Abbott were making waves, Belfort was said to have possessed ‘the fastest hands in the UFC”. Coupled with his killer instinct and controlled aggression, Belfort has been one of the greatest strikers the MMA world has ever seen. Unfortunately for a fighter nearing the end of their career, one of the first attributes to leave their arsenal is their hand speed. Belfort has slowed down immensely in the last five years, prior to when he was tearing through just about everybody. He still starts strongly and leaves nothing to the imagination, but if he doesn’t find the early knockout, will his 41 year old body hold up enough to find a late flurry of punches on the way to victory?
In Lyoto Machida, you have one of the greatest craftsman of counter punching to ever fight under the UFC banner. When he first burst onto the scene, his technique was a tricky puzzle no one could figure out how to solve. At the age of 39, he too is no spring chicken, but in his style you find a more calculating fighter, one that takes time setting up his punches. With a style that sits favourably with the judges, Machida’s last fight, just his second in two and a half years, showed that he can still go five rounds and come out on top. Prior to that fight though, he was knocked out stiff by Derek Brunson, a fast starter like Belfort, who ends fights quickly. Will Machida be able to weather the early storm against his cross country rival?
I expect Belfort to come out strongly in the first round and really put it on Machida in the opening minutes. There will be exchanges in which we will see how Vitor’s hand speed measures up to Machida’s evasive counterpunching. I believe Machida will do enough early in the fight to keep Belfort at range and start to find his feet in rounds two and three, where he will claim those rounds on the judges scorecard and a decision victory. More importantly, I would like to see Vitor thank his home crowd and announce his retirement from MMA, once and for all, because you can’t keep riding roller coasters forever.