The first contest to open UFC 113's main card on Saturday will be a middleweight clash between former UFC middleweight contender Patrick Cote (13-5, 4-5 UFC) and Muay Thai specialist Alan Belcher (15-6, 6-4 UFC). The bout marks the return of Cote to active competition after sustaining a knee injury during a championship title fight against current UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 90 that sidelined him for roughly 18 months. Cote will now eye a spot near the top with a win while Belcher will continue to try to break into the upper-echelon of the division with a fourth win in five fights.
Cote rattled off four straight wins in the UFC after initially going 0-4 in his previous stints with the promotion. He defeated Scott Smith, Kendall Grove, Drew McFedries, and Ricardo Almeida on his way to a title shot at UFC 90 during a year-and-a-half long resurgence. While many were critical of Cote's shot at Silva, the division lacked any clear cut breakaway contenders with the exception of Cote at the time.
Belcher has been one of the long-time staples of the UFC. He's been with the promotion for almost four years since his debut at UFC 62. His most recent victory came at UFC 107 in which he fought Wilson Gouveia at a catchweight of 195 pounds after Gouveia failed to make weight. He crushed Gouveia in a little over three minutes, earning a "Fight of the Night" honor. He earned the same honor in a narrow split decision defeat at the hands of Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100, and introduced PRIDE veteran Denis Kang to the UFC by submitting him via guillotine choke at UFC 93.
Striking should be the emphasis in this battle. Belcher is one of the larger middleweights in the division, and while he tends to lose speed due to his size -- the amount of damage he can inflict on his opponents is rather high. He does seem to have problems with his pace and conditioning as the fights drag on, and speedier, smaller fighters can be overwhelming for him if they move in and out of range.
Belcher's biggest asset in this showdown should be his Muay Thai techniques. His size assists him in putting opponents into danger along the fence, and his power obviously factors into the damage he inflicts.
Cote's strategy will more than likely revolve around his footwork and peppering Belcher with blows from the outside while avoiding kicks and smothering clinch work. He's definitely a speedier fighter than Belcher, and as we saw in the Silva fight -- he has the speed to evade strikes. That should work to his advantage as Belcher's size limits his speed, and I imagine Cote will be able to land some significant strikes while avoiding Belcher's power.
While much of the time as of late has been spent rehabilitating his knee and getting back into fighting form, it's still going to be very interesting to see how he reacts to actually battling it out in the cage with a heavy striker like Belcher. Will he be hesitant to being hit in his legs? Or will he be fearless?
This could potentially be a real barn burner of a fight, and it could give both men some significant bonus money if their styles play out as they should. While I think Cote's ring rust is a huge question mark, Belcher's defense doesn't inspire confidence in a pick for me. He has a very real chance of winning, but I think Belcher allows his opponents to land way too often. Cote has the potential to hit like that bus that Luke is always telling people to jump in front of.
I also think Belcher's conditioning is a factor. As a bulkier middleweight who cuts down significantly, he may always have that problem. If Cote can tire him out with footwork for a couple of rounds, he'll have a higher percentage chance at downing Belcher in the third.
Belcher's best chance, albeit it's very unlikely, is to use his size to put Cote on his back and force him to use his jiu-jitsu to regain his feet. That may be a bad gameplan in that it may tire out Belcher quicker, but I think it's his best chance at avoiding damage and doling out his own punishment.
In the end however, I have to go with Patrick Cote. It's a risky pick due to the ring rust, but Cote's fists should do the talking in this potential Fight of the Night candidate.