UFC on FX: Fight card preview
Following a three-week hiatus, the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns with the eighth installment of the "UFC on FX" series Saturday in Jaraguá do Sul, Brazil.
In the main event, UFC pioneer and Brazilian hero Vitor Belfort welcomes the last reigning Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold to the Octagon.
A Brazilian is featured in every fight on the card, giving the local crowd plenty to cheer for on Saturday night.
Here's a closer look:
Main Card (FX, 9 p.m. ET)
Vitor Belfort (22-10) vs. Luke Rockhold (10-1)
Headlining a card in his native Brazil for the second time this year, the former UFC champion Belfort battles the Strikeforce torchbearer Rockhold.
Belfort, 36, first competed under the UFC's bright lights in 1997, earning notable wins over Wanderlei Silva and Randy Couture. Since returning to the promotion in 2009, Belfort has finished Rich Franklin, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Anthony Johnson and Michael Bisping, while losing his title fights against pound-for-pound kings Anderson Silva and Jon Jones.
One of the sport's most fearsome strikers, the heavy-handed Brazilian southpaw utilizes sharp timing and quick flurries, evidenced in his 15 career knockout victories.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo black belt, Belfort showcased a glimpse of his submission game as he nearly caught Jones with a first-round armbar when they faced off last September.
Surrounded by world-class wrestlers in camp with the "Blackzilians" in Florida, the Rio de Janeiro native is constantly adding new elements to his repertoire in hopes of once again challenging for a world title. In fact, Belfort has taken down every opponent he's tried to get to the ground in the last 15 years.
Rockhold, 28, makes his promotional debut on the strength of a nine-fight winning streak. Following first-round stoppages of his first six Strikeforce adversaries, including Cory Devela, Jesse Taylor and Paul Bradley, Rockhold earned a shot at the 185-pound crown.
Despite entering the tilt as a massive underdog, Rockhold shocked observers as he tactically outpointed Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza to win the championship before successfully defending his belt against Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy last year.
A product of San Jose's American Kickboxing Academy, Rockhold is a BJJ brown belt with a dynamic kickboxing arsenal. Like his opponent, Rockhold is a southpaw and he should possess a reach advantage, particularly with his utilization of unorthodox kicking techniques.
This fight will mark Rockhold's first time competing outside of the U.S., while Belfort's vast international experience, which includes a stint in Japan with the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championships, should serve him well.
Ultimately, it will come down to which fighter can successfully execute his game plan. Rockhold will need to dictate the pace by maintaining his range and picking the Brazilian apart with kicks. Although Rockhold holds the record for most finishes in Strikeforce history, he should rely on his athleticism and high-level conditioning, capitalizing when he takes Belfort into the championship rounds.
Conversely, Belfort, who often starts with a slow pace, will need to blitz Rockhold when the opportunity presents itself. A proven finisher with devastating power and the most first-round finishes in UFC history, Belfort will need to capitalize by charging forward with a thunderous flurry if he hopes to take Rockhold out early. Belfort is always targeting a knockout, landing 80.7% of his significant strikes to an opponent's head.
Rockhold's youth and athleticism have made him a slight favorite, but Belfort's experience and power could be the deciding factors. Rockhold has been most successful when he fights at his own pace. If Belfort can take the UFC newcomer out of his comfort zone, he'll rack up yet another victory to maintain his perfect record on Brazilian soil.
Verdict: Belfort via TKO, Round 1
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (17-3) vs. Chris Camozzi (19-5)
In the co-main event, the red-hot Camozzi has seized the opportunity to step in on short notice for injured middleweight Costantinos Philippou against debuting former Strikeforce champion "Jacare" Souza.
Camozzi, 26, has vanquished his past four opponents, including back-to-back decisions over Luiz Cane and Nick Ring. Since his stint on the 11th season of "The Ultimate Fighter," the well-rounded southpaw has evolved significantly as a striker, landing the second most leg kicks in middleweight history and possessing the third highest striking rate among active middleweights.
The California native will have his hands full as he embarks on the toughest test of his career in his opponent's home country.
Souza, 33, has racked up three straight wins since dropping the Strikeforce middleweight title in a competitive five-rounder against Luke Rockhold in September 2011. Most recently, Souza submitted Ed Herman via first-round kimura this past January.
Widely regarded as one of the sport's elite submission grapplers, the BJJ and judo black belt is a former Abu Dhabi Combat Club and five-time World Jiu-Jitsu champion. Some of his notable career victims include Alexander Shlemenko, Jason Miller, Matt Lindland, Tim Kennedy and Robbie Lawler.
Anchored at Black House, Souza has developed into a dangerous striker with strong takedowns and shark-like killer instinct on the ground. "Jacare" has the second most takedowns and submission wins in Strikeforce history, so he has all the potential to cement himself as one of the most dangerous middleweights on the roster.
Camozzi has been on a hot streak, but he could be biting off more than he can chew against the debuting submission magician. Souza should utilize his improved striking to close the distance. Once "Jacare" puts Camozzi on his back, it's his world. Camozzi should scramble well, but it should only be a matter of time before the Brazilian powerhouse locks in a fight-ending submission.
Verdict: Souza via Submission, Round 2
Rafael dos Anjos (18-6) vs. Evan Dunham (14-3)
In an intriguing lightweight pairing, the top 10-ranked Brazilian contender dos Anjos looks to move one step closer to a title shot when he tangles with the scrappy Las Vegas-based Dunham.
Dos Anjos, 28, has come into his own as of late, amassing a three-fight winning streak, including back-to-back decision victories over Anthony Njokuani and Mark Bocek.
A BJJ black belt based at Evolve MMA, the Brazilian is a talented muay thai practitioner, hoping his skills under Kru Chatri Sityodtong.
Dos Anjos is a difficult target to hit as he has the fifth best striking defense in lightweight history and he's equally difficult to take down with an 81.5% takedown defense success rate, the third highest among active lightweights. Additionally, dos Anjos is a legitimate takedown threat himself, scoring 10 in his past two fights.
Dunham, 31, a BJJ black belt fighting out of Las Vegas' Throwdown Training Center and Xtreme Couture, is coming off a split decision win over Gleison Tibau last February, the best victory of his career.
Prior to returning to the win column, Dunham had fallen short in bouts against Sean Sherk, Melvin Guillard and T.J. Grant, but the crafty southpaw appears to be back on track.
Dunham is well-rounded, threatening foes wherever the action spills. The Oregon native has the second highest striking rate in lightweight history, landing 5.2 significant strikes per minute, as well as the fourth highest takedown defense rate among active lightweights. His seven major submission attempts against Sean Sherk at UFC 119 are tied for the third most ever by a lightweight in a single fight.
Both men are capable of fighting at a frantic pace, so we should see some back-and-forth action throughout the fray. Dos Anjos' striking output and several critical takedowns could determine the outcome.
Verdict: Dos Anjos via Decision
Rafael Natal (15-4-1) vs. Joao Zeferino (13-4)
Brazilian middleweights will kick off the main card festivities as the Belo Horizonte native Natal meets the Santa Catarina native Zeferino.
Natal, 30, last saw action in January, dispatching Sean Spencer by third-round submission. Since joining the UFC in 2010, Natal has put together a 3-2-1 record.
The Gracie Fusion representative is a BJJ black belt under Vinny Magalhaes, as well as an instructor at Renzo Gracie's academy in New York.
Although Natal's background is primarily submission-based, Natal has the fifth highest striking accuracy and fourth highest takedown average among active middleweights, coupled with a 75% takedown defense rate.
Zeferino, 27, makes his first appearance in the Octagon, entering the UFC riding a seven-fight winning streak.
The Nitrix Fight Team product is a BJJ brown belt and former BJJ world champion, submitting nine career victims, including UFC veteran Sean Salmon.
With the grappling game potentially neutralized, Natal will look to expose holes in Zeferino's limited standup arsenal. By countering effectively and anticipating Zeferino's takedowns, Natal should tee off with combinations before putting the newcomer away with a storm of shots.
Verdict: Natal via KO, Round 1