UFC on FOX: Palhares vs. Belcher

Rousimar Palhares (14-3) vs. Alan Belcher (17-6)

In a captivating clash of styles, Brazilian submission ace Palhares seeks his fourth consecutive victory against muay thai specialist Belcher.

Palhares, 32, a product of Brazilian Top Team, has built a reputation as the sport’s elite leg lock specialist, joining the likes of Japanese fighters Shinya Aoki and Masakazu Imanari, both of whom are significantly smaller and less explosive.

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under former UFC champion Murilo Bustamante, the muscular middleweight has won seven of his career outings by form of leg lock or heel hook.

Most recently, Palhares made short work of Mike Massenzio in January. Palhares has struggled when his level of competition has increased, dropping fights to Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt.

One of the most active submission grappling competitors under a UFC contract, Palhares placed second at the 2011 Abu Dhabi Combat Club, the world’s premier no-gi grappling competition.

Palhares’ Herculean frame makes him one of the most physically imposing fighters at 185 pounds, but his striking is still a work in progress. If he manages to refine his stand-up arsenal, the Brazilian has all the tools to become a true title contender.

Belcher, 28, returned to the UFC after an extended layoff last September, notching a first-round win over Canadian veteran Jason MacDonald.

The Arkansas native also owns a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but he would be well-advised to avoid trading holds with his stronger adversary.

Under Duke Roufus, Belcher has become one of the craftiest strikers at 185 pounds. With UFC wins over Patrick Cote, Wilson Gouveia, Denis Kang, Ed Herman and Jorge Santiago, Belcher has carved out his niche as a force to be reckoned with after dropping some disappointing fights early in his journey with the promotion, such as his submission loss to Kendall Grove and TKO defeat against Jason Day.

However, Belcher is looking forward to bigger and better things in the organization, which would jumpstart if he can dispatch the menacing Brazilian. If he can keep Palhares at bay with his strikes, he will likely expose holes in his rudimentary standup game.

There is no doubt about Belcher being far more technically sound as a striker, but he will struggle in scrambling positions. If Palhares can close the distance and frustrate the American with his brute strength, turning this into a grueling battle in close quarters and on the mat, he should have his hand raised when it’s all said and done.

Verdict: Palhares via decision