Vitor Belfort is constantly credited as having elite level striking and boxing but in truth his level of technical ability and scientific boxing is a step below the majority of good strikers in our sport. What Belfort does have is copious amounts of power and speed, everyone knows this, but his game lacks intelligent set ups and relies entirely on getting his punch in first through athleticism alone. Today we are going to take a look at what a good boxer / striker should be looking to do and what Vitor Belfort does instead.
Belfort faces Michael Bisping at UFC on FX 7 this Saturday Night in Brazil.
Let me be clear and say up front that Vitor Belfort has the kind of athletic abilities which mean he could be mopping the floor with technical strikers who lack his speed - unfortunately speed alone is pretty easy to defuse with movement, distancing and timing. Jon Jones and Anderson Silva had very little trouble avoiding Belfort's attacks because where Jon Jones and Anderson Silva adapt to their opponents, the exact same Vitor Belfort (at least from a strategic standpoint) shows up for every single fight.
I do not want readers to think that I am simply being a boxing elitist and picking up on minor error's in Belfort's form but it is hard to argue that Belfort is even an above average technical boxer when one considers the strategies and techniques which a boxer - or any type of technical striker - should be looking to do.
A good boxer or technical striker should be:
- Setting up power punches with lesser ones and footwork.
- Baiting his opponent into counters or baiting his opponent to throw his own, poorly chosen counters to expose further openings.
- Using a variety of punches to confuse the opponent.
- Moving his head as a pre-emptive defense while on the offensive or attempting to nullify the opponents' offensive options before attacking.
- Most importantly a good boxer should always be looking to move off of a straight line of attack.
Think through that list of points and try to imagine which ones you could apply to Anderson Silva, Junior dos Santos, Fedor Emelianenko, Nick Diaz or even lower tier fighters like K. J. Noons or Ross Pearson. Now each of those fighters has their own flaws - this is mixed martial arts after all, not simply boxing or kickboxing - but every single one is consistently doing a good number of the things listed above.
Anderson Silva is constantly walking his opponents into traps and moving off of a direct line of engagement
1 - 2. Anderson pressures Forrest backward with footwork and feints.
3. Anderson slips a jab as Forrest escapes to Silva's right side.
4. Anderson steps out with his right foot into a southpaw stance and nails Griffin with a right hook as he circles.
Junior dos Santos is always using his minor punches such as jabs to the body to set up a variety of numbing power strikes
and Ross Pearson has some of the best anticipation and pre-emptive head movement in the game.
Yet Vitor Belfort rarely commits to any of these principles, instead focusing on using his natural speed to beat opponents to the punch and he is still routinely called a great boxer in an MMA context. Every 'Vitor Blitz' is simply a lesson in how not to box scientifically. Try to picture in your mind Vitor Belfort's go to attack - running at an opponent with his left, right, left, right flurry and his head in one place. Now what is the difference between what Vitor does in almost every fight and this unfortunate young man in gi trousers running at a young Igor Vovchanchyn?
Of course, that guy's hands were all over the place, but Vitor's flurries aren't that far removed from the running flurries that got Forrest Griffin dropped by Anderson Silva, or Nate Marquardt's face first charge at Tarec Saffiedine the other night. Sure Vitor's hands come back to his chin a little better but the main difference is speed - Vitor runs in pumping his hands ridiculously fast and hard and his opponents are paralyzed to counter. Anderson Silva attempted a nice sway back against Belfort and was almost caught by his hard punching countryman as a result, failing to land a meaningful counter. Now it is true that Vitor's rush at Anderson was a far more controlled one than most of his old charges against Wanderlei Silva and Chuck Liddell (I examined that here), but though he has better control of his feet and posture, Vitor's go to attack is still along a straight line.
Vitor is not opposed to going back to his old way of running straight forward - while Vitor has displayed some nice counter punches against mediocre strikers, in a tight spot he returns to charging forward behind his chin. Notice below how he charges straight at Jon Jones who simply extends a hand and backpedals.
1 - 2. Vitor charges Jones.
3. Jones is too far away so Vitor stops.
4. Two seconds later Vitor charges forward exactly the same way and Jones easily side steps him.
Firstly it is energy consuming - because the attacks are all the same type of strike coming straight towards the opponent at the same target. No angle has been taken and no distraction has been made by an attack to another target meaning speed is the only means of landing. Even Vitor slows down after a couple of failed flurries - leading him to either gas or lose heart altogether and begin inexplicably pulling guard as he did against Kazushi Sakuraba and Alistair Overeem. Vitor's recent near submission of Jon Jones will of course lead fans to excuse these performances but where he surprised Jones, Vitor simply looked confused against Sakuraba and Overeem.
Secondly it is good boxing form to deviate from the line of attack after entering with a combination or flurry. Whether this be by weaving out or sidestepping, getting off line is the only thing stopping the opponent from countering as soon as the offensive fighter's punches start to slow. It is also very bad form to follow the opponent if he steps off line - the reason that you hear coaches shout "keep turning him" is that as a fighter turns to continue the chase he cannot punch with the power of his legs and is at a disadvantage in any exchange.
Vitor was arguably winning his fight with Chuck Liddell until he decided to pour on some aggression and chased Liddell. Liddell continued to try stepping off line as Vitor came at him and by swinging blind hooks he managed to floor Vitor simply because Vitor was in no position to defend (click for gif). As Liddell moved off line Vitor had few effective attacks and should have broken the assault there, but instead he chased and was floored for his trouble.
1. Belfort chases Liddell toward the camera.
2. Liddell pivots off.
3. Belfort follows, pumping his hands but slowing as he is forced to turn.
4. Belfort gets clipped with a hard left and dropped with a right.
An excellent example of a fighter with brilliant hand speed and flurries but with better punch variety and a more scientific approach to getting off line after he has landed all that he feels he can is Manny Pacquiao.
Notice that Pacquiao is always out of the way as soon as he feels his hands slowing down. The flurry at 0:50 is an excellent example as Pacquiao's feet stay underneath him the entire time and on his last punch - the classic Pacman upjab - he steps out and back to his left to re-establish distance rather than chasing wildly. This is hugely important in professional boxing matches because often it is as soon as an aggressive fighter begins to slow that he ends up eating a counter punch from his covering opponent. Notice also that his variety in targeting means a far higher connect rate.
In recent years Belfort has tried to throw more hooks in his running flurries, but ultimately he winds up throwing sloppy bombs and exposing himself unnecessarily as he did against Anthony Johnson.
Vitor swings an overhand, chases Johnson, swings a right hook. Johnson is able to duck under both and get to Vitor's hips, though Rumble was already exhausted at this point in the match and couldn't follow through with a takedown.
Vitor the Brawler
The truth is that Vitor doesn't excel as a boxer, he excels as a brawler. The "Vitor Blitz" serves the purpose of putting Vitor where he likes to be: near chest to chest, swinging at the opponent's head. This is where fights become about strength and speed entirely and all possibility of the opponent's footwork getting the better of Belfort's is out of the question.
This is the distance in which Vitor does his best work, chest to chest with a covering opponent. Here is a good example from my previous piece The Strengths of Vitor Belfort.
Ultimately Vitor displays few of the skills that mark a good technical boxer outside of the basic punches and occasional combinations which can be taught at any gym by any quality of coach. Vitor seems to get by almost entirely on his speed and power and very rarely defeats technical strikers - instead overwhelming herky jerky brawlers like Rich Franklin and grapplers who choose to swing like Matt Lindland and Yoshihiro Akiyama. Even with the improvements in striking variety that Vitor seemed to make under the tutelage of K-1 legend, Ray Sefo, Vitor is more than a decade into his career and it seems unlikely that he will learn the strategies of technical boxing as used by great MMA boxers like Anderson Silva any time soon.
It is a testament to just how athletic Vitor is that he will likely continue to overwhelm the majority of opponents placed in front of him with little in the way of scientific method to help him.
Later in the week we will be looking at the factors at play in Belfort's fight with Michael Bisping because either man is a bad match up for the other. Belfort struggles with fighters who have good movement and kicks, where Bisping struggles with fighters who swarm on him rather than letting him set his own pace. Stay tuned to my SB Nation blog to stay in the loop for when we examine the two men against each other.