In middleweight action on the UFC 133 main card, former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort (19-9) returns to the Octagon following his devastating loss to UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 126 to battle Japanese judoka Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-3-0-2). Belfort had previously enjoyed a career resurgence, winning five straight bouts under the Cage Rage, Affliction, and UFC banners. His most notable wins came in the latter half of that run, destroying UFC veterans Rich Franklin and Matt Lindland in first round knockouts.
Akiyama's career has been a roller coaster as of late, both in his performances inside the Octagon and in the outcomes to those bouts. He's lost two straight, dropping an unanimous decision to Michael Bisping at UFC 120 in October and losing via submission at UFC 116 in a wild affair to Chris Leben. He defeated Alan Belcher in his debut at UFC 100 in July of 2009, edging Belcher on the scorecards and earning a split decision win.
The UFC isn't giving Akiyama any layups. Two straight losses with the possibility of a third in his future may lead to Akiyama's departure from the promotion after Saturday night, which is strange considering the possibility of the UFC running an event in Japan. Perhaps this is a way to convey the message that Akiyama needs to drop down to welterweight as well. In any case, Akiyama has a tall task ahead of him, and history suggests that Akiyama will end up on the losing end.
What exactly does that mean? Akiyama's vaunted Judo background has become far less prominent in his overall game since his move to the UFC. He possesses the fight stopping power to be a true threat on the feet, but strategy is thrown to the wayside once he's hit. Standing toe-to-toe with Akiyama may not be the best idea for his opponents. Unfortunately, it isn't a good idea for Akiyama either as he's playing the dangerous odds game. His undersized frame for the 185 lb. weight class doesn't help either.
Like Akiyama, Belfort possesses one-punch stopping power. Belfort is the quicker puncher however, and he should have a size advantage over Akiyama. There is the off chance that Akiyama attempts to take down Belfort and implement a ground and pound attack, but I'm finding it hard to imagine Belfort wading in too far to allow that to happen. Belfort should maintain quick feet, stay on the outside, and unload power attacks from range, moving in and out and punishing Akiyama to a finish.