Is there really any need to sell an opportunity to watch Brazilian Rousimar Palhares (14-3) in action? Well, he's become widely respected as one of the most talented submission artists in the sport ... and that should be reason alone even though it barely scratches the surface. He's prone to bizarre, head-scratching anomalies, such as when he paused mid-fight to transmit a telepathic suspicion to the referee that Nate Marquardt had violated the "excessive greasing" rule. Shockingly, since they were in the middle of a full-on brawl and MMA has yet to adopt spontaneous "timeouts," Marquardt shrugged it off and knocked him out.
Or, there was the infamous incident at UFC 134 in which Palhares crumpled Dan Miller to the canvas with a high kick and pounced on his dazed opponent with ground-and-pound. "Toquinho" then suffered a minor lapse in the realm of prioritization and chronological order and -- with no conceivable motive what so ever -- glossed over that pesky "finishing" portion of the fight to straddle the fence and celebrate.
It's an odd and inadvisable take on increasing your marketability and appeal as a fighter, but the blend of Palhares' signature "WTF just happened?" factor and his undeniable, almost savant-like affinity for wrenching human limbs has made him a must-see mixed martial artist. The broad-shouldered wildman has emerged victorious in 7 of his 9 Octagon outings, losing only to top-ranked notables Dan Henderson and Marquardt, and is currently enjoying a 3-fight win streak.
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Though not nearly as unconventional, Alan "The Talent" Belcher (17-6) distinguishes himself from the crowd with an enormous and partially distorted tattoo of Johnny Cash on his arm; an unusual choice of ink made even more unsettling by the fact that Cash's likeness seems to have been captured whilst embroiled in an unexpected battle with constipation. His in-Octagon panache should suffice where Cash's too-much-Taco-Bell face does not, as Belcher is a hard-nosed, all-business kickboxing prodigy who'll slingshot himself off the cage to initiate a Superman punch.
Belcher's UFC tenure started luke-warm at 3-3, but he's stomped on the gas in his latest sequence by winning 5 of 6 with a hotly contested decision loss to Yoshihiro Akiyama standing as the only blemish. Like Palhares, Belcher is on his own 3-fight roll and similarly trumpeted for his top-level abilities and innovative cage tactics.
Complete analysis in the full entry.
Now, the lead-in was a touch flowery because the dynamics of this match up are quite plain: does anyone envision Palhares with his hand raised by any means other than submission?
I don't. His striking has undoubtedly improved -- especially the ease with which he's flinging out high kicks, and doing so with absolutely no forewarning -- but the idea that he can out-strike Belcher is a tough sell. Additionally, since Palhares lacks a traditional wrestling pedigree and doesn't rely solely on shooting takedowns from outside, the imperative specs all pertain to proximity: Belcher has the advantage with distance and Palhares is more dangerous the closer he gets.
It's challenging to outline the unpredictable methods Palhares employs to impose his submission acumen, because they're ... well, unpredictable. In this regard, I don't feel comfortable concluding anything other than that Palhares is capable of swan-diving into Belcher in order to devour any appendage within his leaping range.
Barring the unforeseeable creativity of Palhares, which is still a very legitimate and important factor, all Belcher has to do is stick and move. Yes, like everything else in MMA, this is much easier said than done, but I can't think of any strategy more sensible than:
- using intelligent footwork to circle away from the cage and stay in open space
- avoiding the clinch and contact-range at all costs
- exploiting his striking advantage and not over-committing to his punches or getting caught flat-footed
- dedicating 100% of his efforts to stay at a distance any time he's not
Of course, Belcher has to land strikes and mount significant offense, but his chances of doing so drastically decrease anytime Palhares can tie up or physically exert force upon him.
"Toquinho" will have the modest comfort of knowing that Belcher can't connect on any strikes unless he's within contact-range, meaning that every ounce of Belcher's offense will be accompanied by an opportunity to implement his own. Unfortunately, it's much more difficult to adhere to incoming punches and kicks than a stationary human body, so Palhares will have limited material to work with. Just how limited it will be is all entirely dependent on Belcher's command of distance, range and elusive movement.
Palhares deserves respect for enforcing his best (and arguably, only) weapon even though everyone knows it's coming from a mile away. That requires exorbitant and unparalleled talent, which he most definitely has, but exorbitant and unparalleled talent is a risky necessity for consistent success in MMA, especially when it only comes in one form.
Despite the curiously overwhelming odds for Palhares that are as steep as -300 on the betting lines, I think Belcher is the safer pick in this "anything can happen" encounter.
My Prediction: Alan Belcher by TKO.