After the cancellation of UFC 151 just weeks ago, mixed martial arts returns to the spotlight on Saturday night with a big event from Toronto, Canada, as Jon Jones defends his light heavyweight title against Vitor Belfort.
Jones became a pariah in the sport after he refused the offer to fight Chael Sonnen when his original opponent, Dan Henderson, went down with an injury. Since UFC still needed him to market the show, the outrage has calmed down and everyone can focus on watching him do what he does best.
Belfort is a surprise challenger for the title. We know he was at least fourth on the totem pole—Henderson pulled out, Sonnen's offer was rejected, and Lyoto Machida didn't take the fight—so it will be interesting to see how he reacts. His track record in big fights isn't great, so he has a lot of work to do.
Where: Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada
When: Saturday, September 22 at 10:00 p.m. ET
Watch: Main Card starts at 10:00 p.m. ET on pay-per-view; FX Preliminary Card starts at 8:00 p.m. ET; Facebook Preliminary Card starts at 6:30 p.m. ET
Light Heavyweight Championship: Jon Jones (c) vs. Vitor Belfort
Flyweight Championship: Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson
Middleweight Bout: Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann
Light Heavyweight Bout: Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett
Featherweight Bout: Cub Swanson vs. Charles Oliveira
FX Preliminary Card
Light Heavyweight Bout: Igor Pokrajac vs. Vinny Magalhaes
Lightweight Bout: TJ Grant vs. Evan Dunham
Welterweight Bout: Sean Pierson vs. Lance Benoist
Featherweight Bout: Jimy Hettes vs. Marcus Brimage
Facebook Preliminary Card
Welterweight Bout: Seth Baczynski vs. Simeon Thoresen
Bantamweight Bout: Mitch Gagnon vs. Walel Watson
Welterweight Bout: Kyle Noke vs. Charlie Brenneman
What Jones Must Do to Win
Attack Belfort early; establish unique offense
Jones' biggest strength happens to play right into Belfort's greatest weakness. Jones is going to attack an opponent with a unique style of offense from the opening bell, and because he is so long and lanky. he can get away with things few fighters can.
Since Jones has no problem experimenting when he gets in the octagon, he needs to stay on top of his offensive game in order to frustrate Belfort and get him to curl up into that shell he so often lives in.
What Belfort Must Do to Win
Stay focused: don't try to match Jones punch-for-punch
Belfort has a habit of folding when the pressure is at its peak. He sets up a game plan, but when someone comes along who can disrupt Belfort's thought process, Belfort goes into hiding before it is too late to do anything.
Since we know that Jones is going to try something strange early, Belfort must find a way to take advantage by finding an opening to pounce on.
What They Are Saying
Though I have talked about Jones' offensive attack being too difficult for Belfort to overcome, the champ is giving credit where it is due to the challenger, though he did tell reporters that he is ready for the battle.
“He’s a very powerful striker, but in this situation, I feel I am the more versatile striker in the fight,” said the champ. “I won’t shy away from a striking battle just because he has a punch. He’s got a unique style and I enjoy matching up against guys like that.”
Belfort will always have a puncher's chance in a fight, but Jones is so different from anyone else in the sport right now that you can't plan for him. He is the kind of fighter who can experiment with something in a round, have it fail, and still not miss a beat because he does so many things well.
Cub Swanson vs. Charles Oliveira
For reasons not entirely clear to me, other than the fact the division is still relatively new to UFC, the featherweight division does not inspire a lot of buzz among fans. Sure, the hardcore people understand it, but for the most part, the smaller fighters don't get the recognition they deserve.
Swanson vs. Oliveira is probably going to open the pay-per-view portion of the card, but could easily be the best fight on the show.
Swanson is one of the most complete featherweight fighters in UFC right now, mixing in a strong stand-up game with a good ground style that allows him to work an opponent into a submission.
Oliveira is still a baby by MMA standards at just 22 years old, yet he is building an impressive resume for himself. He has 16 career wins, including two straight submission victories.
Neither fighter is in the title picture right now, but this could be the kind of fight that elevates one or both to the next level.
The question isn't, Will Jones win? No, instead the question is going to be about all about how it ended so quickly. We will all have our theories, but in the end, it doesn't matter.
Belfort is past his prime and unable to stay energized in the most high-profile of match of his career, at least in 2012.
Jones wins via first-round TKO