UFC light heavyweight Vitor Belfort
UFC Fight Night 32 went down Saturday night from Goiânia, Brazil. Topping the show was a display of continued age defiance from two of the sport's graying predators, Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson. Both men want one last run of consequence inside the octagonal thunderdome.
At the moment, Belfort, 36, is playing the role of Ponce de Leon (or however they're euphemizing it these days), having taken four of his last five, with the lone smirch coming at the hands of one Jon Jones.
Meanwhile, fellow legend and TRT special-exemption-receiver Henderson, 43, resides stage left and bathed in twilight. He says all the right things about still wanting to compete and contend, but the fact is he's dropped his last two, and was plodding and tired in each effort.
Did the trends continue or reverse Saturday night when the two consummated a rematch seven years in the making (Hendo took the original)? And what of the rest of the card, which featured plenty of veterans and youngsters, Brazilians and Americans?
The final stat lines only reveal so much. Here are the real winners and losers from Goiânia.
Rafael Cavalcante scored a first-round knockout Saturday night.
Pretty winning night for stoppages, though. Only two fights went the distance; seven ended in the first round. Knockouts were the weapon of choice on the evening, with seven of those taking place.
Putting it all together, first-round knockouts won the evening. Hats off to Omari Akhmedov, Sam Sicilia, Jeremy Stephens, Brandon Thatch, Rafael Cavalcante and Vitor Belfort for getting the job done.
Sam Sicilia (left), shown in an earlier fight, took himself off the hot seat at Fight Night 32.
Coming in a loser in his last two and not looking especially great in either effort, Sam Sicilia needed this one. He knew that, of course, and comported himself accordingly.
He was a slight underdog on some books against Godofredo Castro, but left no doubt of his dominance on this night with a series of powerful right hands on the feet and the ground that forced the referee's stoppage.
Jeremy Stephens' knockout ability wasn't the surprise. He does have 15 of those to his credit.
What was surprising Saturday night was the manner of Stephens' knockout, coming not only in 40 seconds but by way of a perfectly timed head kick. It was the first kicking knockout of his career, and it moved him to 2-0 as a UFC featherweight.
Six months ago, Ryan LaFlare was a no-name. After Saturday night, no longer.
Two dominant victories in two UFC fights, including over Santiago Ponzinibbio at UFC Fight Night 32, have established LaFlare as a legitimate UFC welterweight. Here's to the underdog.
Everyone likes Paulo Thiago. It's not the liking he has to worry about. It's that, after tapping out following a painful body shot from the fast-rising and incredibly impressive Brandon Thatch, he has now lost three of his last four and five of his last seven.
That's the kind of thing that can get even a popular fighter released from the big show, especially when said fighter is about to turn 33.
First, Paulo Thiago tapped to strikes against Brandon Thatch at about two minutes of the first round.
Then, in the very next fight, Rafael Cavalcante forced veteran Igor Pokrajac to tap to strikes in about a minute and 20 seconds.
Come on, Rafael. Get your own gimmick.
What is this? A closely contested split decision? After a 40-second head kick knockout, a dominant unanimous decision and two consecutive taps to strikes in the first round?
Jeers, guys. Jeers.
I kid, of course. But it was jarring to watch that grindfest—ending in an unpopular decision for Ferreira—after such massive fireworks elsewhere across the card.
Right on cue.
With the crowd chanting his name, Vitor Belfort fired what has become the signature in-cage move of his latest UFC run. It was a head kick, and just as a similar version felled a younger, buzzier Luke Rockhold five months before, this one dropped the seemingly undroppable bull that is Dan Henderson.
A few nails later, the coffin was sealed and Belfort had become the first man to stop Hendo with strikes. He also may have jumped to the front of the title line, certainly at middleweight if not light heavyweight.
Read that last sentence again. If you know what to make of that, you're a smarter man than me.
It will be interesting to see if or how Belfort's next opponent approaches the prospect of a bout with him, with the TRT specter looming over everything, even the very location of the fight. Something tells me New Jersey is out.
There's no one under the MMA sun who doesn't respect Dan Henderson and just about everything he's done in his illustrious combat sports career.
But at 43 years old and having just suffered his first career knockout loss and third consecutive defeat, you have to wonder whether UFC Fight Night 32 is just the latest—final?—piece of evidence that a Hall of Fame career is drawing to a close.
It's hard to know where he goes from here. But I can't see him receiving an elite opponent. If I'm Dana White, I'm thinking it might be time for The Talk. Send in Liddell, Dana. He'll know what to say.
- Vitor Belfort def. Dan Henderson by KO, 1:17 of Rd. 1
- Cezar Ferreira def. Daniel Sarafian by Split decision
- Rafael Cavalcante def. Igor Pokrajac by Submission (strikes), 1:18 of Rd. 1
- Brandon Thatch def. Paulo Thiago by Submission (strikes), 2:10 of Rd. 1
- Ryan LaFlare def. Santiago Ponzinibbio by Unanimous decision
- Jeremy Stephens def. Rony Jason by KO, 0:40 of Rd. 1
Scott Harris is a writer for Bleacher Report MMA. You are invited to follow him on Twitter. Or not. Either way.