Vitor Belfort has always been pretty much a puncher with the single exception - his throwing of at least one left high kick a round seems to be pretty reliable since way back in his bout against Chuck Liddell. Every time he does so commentators speak about how he has rounded out his game, but in truth it has never come close to being effective... until Michael Bisping ducked straight into it at UFC on FX 7.
The left roundhouse kick, without punches or footwork to set it up, has been such a common feature of Vitor's game for years and has been so ineffective up to now that I joked about it during the introductions.
Bets on Vitor opening with a left high kick without set up? ;)— Jack Slack (@JackSlackMMA) January 20, 2013
Unusually for Vitor it was the second strike that he threw, after a nice front snap kick, but it appeared as expected with little effect.
For the early going of the fight it was mainly Bisping jabbing and Vitor slipping deep. Both men began to lean and slip towards the other's rear leg and I, forgetting Vitor's love of throwing this kick, thought that Bisping - the more rounded striker - would take advantage of Belfort's hyperactive head movement.
Vitor slipped very deeply against many of Bisping's punches - seemingly open to the right high kick on most of these occasions.
Belfort could duck onto a high kick here...— Jack Slack (@JackSlackMMA) January 20, 2013
How wrong I was!
Not only did Bisping not throw kicks - probably due to overconfidence based on the jabs he was landing - but Vitor was the one to bait his opponent's hands and head out of position. This is why, when asked for a prediction, I always say that fights are only predictable if both fighters are predictable.
Much has been made of the three or four body kicks that Vitor threw in the fight and I am sure they played some part in the knockout but reviewing the footage it seems that equal significance should be given to the successful use of that classic Mirko Cro Cop staple - the left straight, left high kick double threat. The adjustments that a fighter makes to deal with a fast southpaw left straight (and boy does Belfort have one of those) - either by slipping or rear hand parrying - often put him in perilous position for a rear leg high kick.
The rear straight (or more importantly the threat of it) setting up the rear roundhouse kick is pretty common from savvy strikers and works especially well for folks who aren't known for their flexibility or kicking prowess. Here's Eddie Alvarez doing it:
Cro Cop did so to Mark Hunt (and a bunch of other people)
Maurice Smith even did it at age 50:
Basically any time an opponent is trying to escape to the elbow side of a rear straight punch - whether it be by slipping, side stepping or straight up running like the poor guy above - he adds force to a prospective collision with the kick from that side.
Bisping was more than willing to duck toward Vitor's rear leg to attempt to slip Vitor's rear hand and side step the usual Vitor Belfort charges.
While Bisping didn't fall into the trap of slipping the punch every time - instead backing up or blocking occasionally too - as soon as he ate a left straight from Belfort he backed up and tried to slip a second one which Vitor feinted, before throwing a left high kick and putting The Count on wobbly legs.
Bisping eats the first left straight, attempts to slip a second and ducks into Belfort's shin bone.
The adjustments made to deal with a troubling rear straight will often lead a fighter into the high kick - but committing to high kick defense does just the same in opening up opportunities for the straight punch again. As the second round began Bisping was determined to keep his head high and away from Belfort's left leg - consquently his response to Vitor's attacks was to back straight up. This allowed traditional chasing Vitor to come out a little bit without fear of his opponent slipping and escaping.
Vitor lunges with a hard left straight, Bisping's head is high and central and he takes the punch as he backs up.
Here is a second nice left from Belfort.
By the time the knockout came Bisping was beginning to move his head again and ducked right into the kick as he responded to Vitor feinting with his hands. Perhaps if his right forearm had been up he could have alleviated some of the impact but he once against committed the technical sin of straightening his arms as his opponent came in. Whether Bisping was trying to catch a body kick or slip the left straight he had just taken on the snout is unclear - but whichever he was attempting it probably wasn't worth it.
It was fantastic to see Vitor Belfort exploiting weakness rather than simply swarming on an opponent and hoping to overwhelm him, but ultimately this puts the middlweight division back a step. Belcher and Bisping have both failed to win their last bout, and Belfort and Okami have shown nowhere near the kind of improvement to lead anyone to believe they would be much of a challenge for Anderson Silva.
The finish was an unexpected shock to the system and ended a night of pretty appalling fights in spectacular fashion. The less said about paid professional athletes Ben Rothwell and Gabriel Gonzaga exhausting themselves inside of four minutes the better, but hopefully this weekend's fights can do something to take the taste of that from our mouths. Stay tuned to my SBN blog this week for Glover vs Rampage analysis and Cerrone vs Pettis analysis, and follow my twitter to hear more of me predicting head kicks from the wrong man!