UFC 142 preview: Belfort vs. Johnson
Vitor Belfort (20-9) vs. Anthony Johnson (10-3)
The legendary "Phenom" looks to spoil the middleweight debut of a rising star in the UFC.
The 34-year-old Belfort rebounded from a first-round knockout loss to Anderson Silva last February with a resounding knockout of Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 133.
The Brazilian made his promotional debut in 1997, winning the UFC 12 heavyweight tournament. Belfort's career would be a rocky one as he defeated big names like Wanderlei Silva and Randy Couture, while suffering losses against Couture, Kazushi Sakuraba, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson.
Belfort experienced somewhat of a resurgence under the Affliction banner in 2008 as he knocked out Terry Martin and Matt Lindland in dominating fashion. This led to his eventual UFC return in September 2009, in which he stopped longtime poster boy Rich Franklin in the first round.
The Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo black belt still is trying to redeem himself after his vicious knockout defeat at the hands of Anderson Silva, but he can't afford to look past the explosive youngster Johnson. Belfort already is expected to take on Wanderlei Silva in a rematch as they will be coaching "The Ultimate Fighter Brazil," but Johnson certainly is the more dangerous foe at this stage of his career.
A former Abu Dhabi Combat Club bronze medalist, the Brazilian southpaw often is regarded as the best technical boxer in the sport. Belfort's outstanding hand speed and power make him a threat to any middleweight on any given night, but his wrestling and grappling too are often overlooked.
The 27-year-old Johnson, who weighed in 11 pounds over the 186-pound limit for the fight and must weigh less than 205 on fight night, continues to showcase improvements with each performance. He's coming off a first-round knockout win over Charlie Brenneman this past October.
The Imperial Athletics member, who trains with the likes of Rashad Evans, possesses great power, athleticism and wrestling. A NJCAA national wrestling champion in 2004, Johnson made an effective transition to mixed martial arts, but he still has work to do on his grappling and submissions.
If Johnson is able to put Belfort on his back, he could secure the biggest win of his young career. But Belfort's ability to scramble and stuff shots should not be discredited. Johnson is also a threat standing, but Belfort is the vastly superior boxer.
Belfort's key to victory is finding counter opportunities. Once his fists meet Johnson's chin, it should be a short night for the aspiring middleweight. Belfort will be ready for Johnson's takedown attempts and he will likely make him pay early, bulldozing the Georgia native with heavy power punches to knock him out in the opening stanza.
Verdict: Belfort via KO, Round 1