UFC returns to free television this weekend with an explosive event on FX and a main event with two stars in Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping.
Belfort makes his return to the Octagon after his memorable bout with Jon Jones. We may not know how close he actually was to finishing the fight, but Belfort did appear to have Jones on the ropes early before losing his game late.
Bisping will look to take another step towards a title shot. He has spent his career fighting the gatekeeper label, because he always seems to lose the big match that can propel him to a championship fight.
Where: Ibirapuera Arena in Sao Paulo, Brazil
When: Saturday, Jan. 19 at 9 p.m. ET
Watch: Main Card starts at 9 p.m. ET on FX; Fuel TV Preliminary Card starts at 6 p.m. ET; Facebook Preliminary Card starts at 5:30 p.m. ET
|MAIN CARD (FX)|
|Middleweight Bout: Vitor Belfort vs. Michael Bisping|
|Middleweight Bout: Daniel Sarafian vs. CB Dollaway|
|Heavyweight Bout: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Ben Rothwell|
|Lightweight Bout: Thiago Tavares vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov|
|PRELIMINARY CARD (FUEL TV)|
|Featherweight Bout: Godofredo Castro vs. Milton Vieira|
|Middleweight Bout: Ronny Markes vs. Andrew Craig|
|Featherweight Bout: Diego Nunes vs. Nik Lentz|
|Lightweight Bout: Edson Barboza vs. Lucas Martins|
|Bantamweight Bout: Yuri Alcantara vs. Pedro Nobre|
|Light Heavyweight Bout: Wagner Prado vs. Ildemar Alcantara|
|PRELIMINARY CARD (FACEBOOK)|
|Lightweight Bout: Francisco Trinaldo vs. CJ Keith|
Belfort's Keys to Victory
Don't Get Starry Eyes; Stay on the Offensive
Belfort's career has been one of the most interesting in the history of mixed martial arts. If you just look at the numbers and championships, he appears to be a superstar. He is a former light heavyweight champion and holds a victory over Randy Couture.
But this is one instance where the numbers do lie. Belfort has never performed well in a "big-match situation." He is a front-runner, someone who needs to be in control of every aspect of a fight. If he isn't, he gets frustrated and leaves himself open to attack.
In order for Belfort to come out on top in front of a Brazilian crowd that will be going nuts for him, he has to come out of the gate swinging and landing hard shots to put Bisping on his heels.
Belfort has never had great defense, so his striking and power have to carry him in this match. The earlier the fight ends, the more likely it is that he will walk away with a victory.
Bisping's Keys to Victory
Keep the Pressure on; Embrace the Moment
Even though his resume doesn't look as good as Belfort's, Bisping's career arc is similar in a lot of ways. He is a fighter who has a tremendous amount of talent and charisma, though he uses it to get under the skin of fans and opponents instead of trying to make them love him.
The biggest problem Bisping has had in his career is performing in big matches. He has had opportunities to earn a fight against Anderson Silva for the middleweight championship, only to find the banana peel every single time.
In order to overcome that stigma, Bisping has to embrace the entirety of the moment. He has to accept the villain role he has crafted for himself, as well as let the spotlight be his ally.
Doing that against a fighter like Belfort isn't as hard as it seems, because Bisping has the size and reach advantage. Not to mention the fact that Belfort can fold like a cheap tent when the going gets tough.
As long as Bisping is making adjustments early and staying in Belfort's face, he should have no problem finishing this fight.
What They Are Saying
Never one to let a good quote pass him by, Bisping said in an interview with Dann Stupp and John Morgan of MMA Junkie that he is actually getting a lot more love from the Brazilian crowd than he expected.
"I'm shocked. I'm getting a lot of respect. I'm getting a lot of people rooting for me and not Vitor, surprisingly. With that said, I'm still expecting them to boo me on Saturday night."
That respect is not going to last very long. What happens in the days leading up to a fight and what happens on fight night are seldom the same thing.
Bisping prides himself on being a great villain, because it allows him to get an easy reaction from the audience. Sometimes that works to his benefit, other times it makes him look like a bad person.
Undercard Fight to Watch: Ronny Markes vs. Andrew Craig
While I am not of the opinion that Markes or Craig has great upside in UFC, I am always intrigued by two young fighters who have had instant success and could take the next step in the right situation.
Markes is just 24 years old with 14 professional fights under his belt. He has compiled a strong 13-1 record, including 2-0 in UFC. He is making just his second appearance at 185 pounds after fighting at light heavyweight, so there will be a period of adjustment he goes through learning to fight with less weight.
Craig is 26 years old and boasts a perfect 8-0 record (3-0 in UFC). More impressive than that is the evolution he appears to be going through. He has never been a knockout artist, but was able to score his first KO in UFC against Rafael Natal last July with a head kick.
By the way, Craig was able to do that after being destroyed for the majority of that fight. He may not be a great fighter, but he has a lot of guts and will keep coming at you until he has nothing left.
Main Event Prediction
Even though Belfort has the home-field advantage, Bisping is the better fighter at this stage of their respective careers.
Bisping wins via second-round TKO