Top: Vitor Belfort stays outside Anthony Johnson's punching range to evade an overhand right and counters with a left hook. Bottom: Belfort steps back out of range to avoid a Johnson left hook and responds with a left head kick. (UFC.com)
Luke Rockhold utilized his striking heavily in recent fights to defend the Strikeforce middleweight belt, out-landing every opponent he faced in title fights under the promotion.
However, the American Kickboxing Academy product is about to take a step up in competition as far as striking is concerned. Ronaldo Souza and Tim Kennedy are tough opposition, but they are much more dangerous on the ground than standing, combining for only one knockout in their Strikeforce careers. Keith Jardine has beaten some good fighters with his stand-up, but he hadn't won under the Zuffa banner in years heading into his bout with Rockhold.
Vitor Belfort is a different animal. A young dinosaur, if you will.
In addition to knocking out a top-10 middleweight—Michael Bisping—in his last outing, Belfort is plenty used to dealing with the type of reach advantage he'll face against Rockhold. Belfort was having early success against Anthony Johnson, a fighter with a reach very similar to Rockhold's, before finishing "Rumble" on the ground.
Though Belfort hasn't finished a fight with ground-and-pound in years, he's showed some glimpses of how dangerous he can be from the top position. The Brazilian set up a rear-naked choke on Johnson by landing strikes from his opponent's back. Since re-joining the UFC roster, he also finished off Michael Bisping, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Rich Franklin with devastating punches on the ground after scoring knockdowns.
Rockhold did not stop any Strikeforce opponents with strikes on the ground. With five submissions during his time with the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion, Rockhold is usually much more focused on advancing positions than striking when on the ground.
The chances aren't high that this fight will be decided with ground-and-pound, but Belfort is much more capable of ending the bout with ground striking than Rockhold.
Power and Durability
Rockhold's finish of Jardine was only the second knockout win of his MMA career. While he's developed a solid striking arsenal, Rockhold will have a tough time stopping Belfort, who has only been knocked out by Anderson Silva and Randy Couture.
Belfort, on the other hand, has been putting opponents away left and right throughout his 16 years in the sport. Inside the Octagon alone, Belfort has finished nine opponents with strikes, with greats like Wanderlei Silva and Franklin being among his victims.
Should Rockhold engage in wild exchanges with Belfort on Saturday, his long winning streak could come to an end with a single punch. While it came years ago, Rockhold has been knocked out previously.
Overall Striking Edge: Belfort