Vitor Belfort is the perfect example of a fighter whose performances haven’t quite matched his hype. For many years, people have looked at Belfort and seen a man that represents the prototype of everything a fighter should be.
A phenomenal athlete…
For all the hype, what Belfort has delivered is a 19-9 overall record which includes a 6-9 record against “UFC-quality” opponents.
The wins: Gilbert Yvel, Heath Herring, Randy Couture (by cut stoppage), Terry Martin, Matt Lindland, and Rich Franklin.
The losses: Randy Couture, Kazushi Sakuraba, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture (again), Tito Ortiz, Alistair Overeem, Alistair Overeem (again), Dan Henderson, and Anderson Silva.
Before you point out the absence of Wanderlei Silva from the wins list, keep in mind that Victory Score is based on a fighter’s record at the time a fight took place. When Belfort beat Silva, Silva was 5-1 and his best win was against Mike Van Arsdale.
Even if you want to include Wanderlei, that makes Belfort a lackluster 7-9 against top competition. Granted, his losses are generally to outstanding fighters, but with the way Belfort gets hyped, one would think that he was some kind of MMA deity. Instead, what Belfort has been is a very average fighter (by UFC standards). There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it illustrates that there’s a real disconnect between the way Belfort performs and the way people perceive the performances of Belfort.
The problem with Belfort is that, historically, if he doesn’t get the sudden KO, he struggles. A big part of the MMA game is being able to maintain offense throughout a fight, and too often, Belfort has gotten shut down by his opponents. Whether it’s Dan Henderson, who thoroughly controlled Belfort at PRIDE 32, or Alistair Overeem, who did a good job of taking Belfort out of his game, Belfort isn’t the kind of fighter who has shown he can rally if things aren’t going well for him.
With all of that having been said, there’s a real chance that Yoshihiro Akiyama can take Vitor Belfort out of his game. Akiyama has very good judo, and is quite capable of getting into the clinch, taking Belfort down, and making the fight difficult for him. Akiyama has decent hands as well – he’s certainly not incapable of striking with Belfort.
The problem is that Akiyama seems to like his hands a bit too much. Against Michael Bisping, Akiyama seemed to have a decent chance on paper, but he almost certainly did himself a disservice by making the fight a striking war. As it turns out, Akiyama played to his opponent’s strengths, not his own. The same could be said of Akiyama’s fight against Chris Leben, although Akiyama displayed his judo quite a bit more in that fight. Both times, Akiyama ended up fatiguing well before the end of the fight, and that’s despite being a fighter who cuts very little, if any, weight.
I would implore Akiyama not to get sucked into a striking war with Belfort, because if he does that, he’s almost certainly going to lose. Instead, Akiyama should do everything he can to get into the clinch and play to his strengths, which in this case happen to be his opponent’s weaknesses. Take Vitor Belfort out of his game, and Akiyama should have an excellent chance of victory.
SILVA PREDICTION: VITOR BELFORT (33.47) OVER YOSHIHIRO AKIYAMA (29.24)
Unfortunately, I have little faith in Akiyama’s ability to play a smart game here. Akiyama’s three fight UFC career – against Bisping, Leben, and Alan Belcher – has revealed that his desire is to strike with his opponents, even when that means playing to his opponent’s strengths. That means that I have to give Vitor Belfort a sizable advantage here. Belfort might not be the ruthless machine that he’s portrayed to be, but he still has serious, devastating one-punch KO power. When Akiyama decides to test the power of Belfort, he’ll be putting himself at severe risk of becoming Belfort’s latest victim.