The co-main event at UFC 142 pits middleweight Vitor Belfort against former welterweight-who-looks-like-a-heavyweight Anthony Johnson in the latter's middleweight debut. Although Johnson has a wrestling base, he has made it clear in his UFC career that he prefers to use it like Chuck Liddell more than Tito Ortiz, which means this pairing with the brutal striker Belfort seems destined to end with a punishing KO.
Providing one half of this heavy-handed pairing, Belfort has been knocking opponents out inside the Octagon since 1997. Although Belfort's Light Heavyweight title win sits labeled with the "fluke cut" asterisk and his first run in the UFC ended with a run of defeats, the public's fascination with Belfort's aggressive style never waned and a resurgence saw Belfort earn a chance at the UFC's Middleweight title last February.
After the poorest run of form in his career, Vitor Belfort rebounded with a pair of wins in Cage Rage and a pair in Affliction to earn another chance with the UFC. In his return bout Belfort dropped and finished former Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin in a 195-pound Franklinweight bout. The win earned Belfort a shot at Anderson Silva's belt where he fell victim to one of the most famous knock outs in MMA history when Silva front kicked Belfort in the face for the KO win. Belfort bounced back quickly and decisively with a first round stoppage of Yoshihiro Akiyama that convinced the Japanese fighter to have a shot at a lighter weightclass going forward.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Belfort is a seasoned veteran of MMA known as one of the most ferocious strikers around in the sport's early days. Belfort has fought in the best organizations in the world, and holds wins over some of the best fighters in the history of the sport as a result of those striking skills. Despite Belfort's emphasis on standing and throwing leather, he also holds black belts in grappling arts such as Brazilian jiu jitsu and judo. If the fight ends up on the ground, Belfort should have the offensive edge against Johnson.
One way or another this doesn't seem like a fight that is destined to go the distance. When two men who are both perfectly happy standing and both carrying a great deal of power in their hands come to throw down, the odds say one of them is going to have his lights turned off before the end of the night. If you think it's going to be Belfort, the second round seems like the ideal point to bank on the TKO victory, with the more experienced fighter a bit more content to take his time pressing a striking advantage. Belfort goes off as a -110 on the fantasy books, meaning if you have any confidence in Belfort beyond a coin-flip proposition it's a profitable play. Although you won't score a big pay day betting a -110 fighter, Belfort can provide value in your parlay as a lower-risk option to multiply your other picks by.
Anthony Johnson analysis after the jump.
Johnson has always been a fighter who seemed just a bit too big to be a middleweight, which made it all the more astounding that he was fighting at welterweight. With the occasional struggle to make weight, Johnson has finally made the decision to stop trying to cut down to the 170-pound limit, and the change appears to be doing him well as he as already announced a new found love for both the middleweight division and eating.
Johnson has won five of his last six fights, starting with a rematch of a "defeat" to Kevin Burns after an inadvertent eye poke was missed by an official. Johnson TKO'ed Burns in the third, then added first round TKO's of Luigi Fioravanti and Yoshiyuki Yoshida to earn a shot at top welterweight contender Josh Koscheck. After being penalized for an illegal knee which many still question whether or not it landed, Johnson ultimately tapped to a rear naked choke. Flipping the script, the KO artist reminded everyone he began as a wrestler against Dan Hardy, grinding out a unanimous decision, then returned to utilizing his sprawl in his final welterweight bout as he kept the fight standing en route to a first round TKO of Charlie Brenneman.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Anytime you look at Johnson the immediate positives you see in his game are his striking and his size. While his move to middleweight will diminish the latter to an extent, this photo with heavyweight Andrei Arlovski makes it clear Johnson still isn't in much danger of being dwarfed by opponents. Johnson's striking remains a dangerous weapon, as he hits fast and he hits hard, though his wrestling remains a skill set that is overlooked at your own detriment. The problems for Johnson begin if his wrestling defense is penetrated, as he has shown a vulnerability throughout his career to being outgrappled once on the mat and submitting.
As with the Belfort fantasy impact, Johnson winning is most likely coming as a result of showing superior striking and knocking out his opponent. As the line implies, deciding who will actually have the better striking appears to be anyone's guess. Despite being the slight underdog on the lines, I favor Johnson to come out on top in this bout. The step up in weightclass isn't a massive detriment due to his large size, and he'll only hit harder with a few more pounds and an easier cut. If Johnson does come out on top, it's less likely to involve a slow feel-out than Belfort, and go with the round one KO. In fantasy betting I much more highly prefer this play due to slightly favoring Johnson, and the fact the books slightly place him as underdog meaning higher pay outs if you're correct.