The main event between Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson was a match up between two true MMA veterans. Both started fighting in the UFC in a time where they were allowed to wear wrestling shoes into the Octagon. Vitor Belfort's first appearance was at UFC 12, where he won a Heavyweight tournament in dramatic fashion, while Dan Henderson made his debut winning the UFC 17 Middleweight tournament. In all that time nobody treated Dan Henderson the way Belfort did last night.
Vitor absolutely lifted Henderson off the canvas with an upper cut and blew his brains out with a head kick to become the first man to earn a (T)KO over the former Pride Champion. This puts both fighters in interesting positions, as Vitor is certainly in a title picture, but which one? In the last two years he has jumped between weightclasses, this most recent one being at Light Heavyweight, the one before that was at Middleweight with Luke Rockhold and back at UFC 142 Vitor even notched a Rumbleweight fight. So what title picture does Vitor fit into, Light Heavyweight or Middleweight? Dana White has suggested Middleweight, which makes sense as the champion of Light Heavyweight, Jon Jones, has already dispatched Vitor, but how things play out in the Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman rematch could have an impact on what is next for Vitor.
Dan Henderson on the other hand has officially run out his contract on a three fight slide. Will he retire, take what is likely to be a lower than he'd like offer from UFC, or leave and try his luck with Bellator or WSOF? It is a very interesting situation that could affect two divisions.
Other thoughts on the evening:
- With both Henderson and Belfort fighting on this card, Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) must be talked about. Both fighters have very long careers, and both have fought in places and times were steroid use was as much a part of MMA training as wrestling or jiu jitsu. In both the early UFC and Pride there was little or no testing, and fighters famously took full advantage of this. Of the two fighters only Belfort has a failed test, but to just assume Henderson is automatically a clean fighter by default would be silly. There is research suggesting that testosterone usage can have lasting effects on an athlete's physical build and abilities, and considering both these fighters have had amazingly long runs in this sport it is hard to image that their TRT usage is not contributing to their ability to keep fighting at a high level. Now Belfort has the extra burden of that there are questions if he would be able to get a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) under a rigorous athletic commission due to his positive steroid test and failure to abide by a suspension. This could hamper his chances of getting a title shot if he is unable to get a TUE in some of the states the UFC likes to do their large shows in. But at this point TRT used with TUE is completely legal, as much I as personally disagree with it, is not something fighters can really have held against them. It is the system that allows this practice that deserves the criticism and needs to be changed, not necessarily the fighter behavior.
- Cezar Ferreira beat Daniel Sarafian in a fight that had some implications to fans of TUF: Brazil, but had very little impact on their divisions in the larger UFC. Some good jiu jitsu and exciting moments, but not a fight worthy of the co-main event slot.
- Rafael Cavalcante got Igor Pokrajac out of the cage very quickly, and very possibly out of the UFC. This makes Pokrajac 0-3 (1 NC) in his last four fights, and the biggest effect of this fight will likely be Pokrajac moving to WSOF.
- Brandon Thatch looks like a legitimate contender in the making, he has run through pretty much every fighter he has ever faced in his career at this point. It is time for a big step forward for this kid to see if he is ready to swim with the sharks, perhaps a challenging but winnable fight with Dong Hyun Kim.
- Ryan LaFlare looked like the excellent prospect he was before taking three years off from the fight game. He dominated Santiago Ponzinibbio for the entire fight, save a short rally by Ponzinibbio at the end there. Welterweight in the midst of a new generation making a name for themselves, it will be interesting to see how high he can climb in the division.
- Jeremy Stephens blasted Rony Jason out of the cage. Not much in the way of big picture to take away from this fight, I think we all knew Rony wasn't a huge prospect but this puts a pretty clear ceiling on him.
- Godofredo Pepey Castro is a great example of why you don't just go crazy throwing up sweeps and submissions from guard in MMA. While highly aggressive off his back, he gives no regard to preventing strikes. As a result he has been finished from inside his guard two fights in a row. An active guard is a great weapon, but it needs to applied in a tactical and deliberate fashion.
- Omrai Akhmedov's knock continues a trend with Combat Sambo fighters crossing over to MMA, namely that they are excellent at striking in grappling situations. Be it the killer ground striking seen by Adlan Amagov or the knock out power strikes of Khabib Nurmagomedov, the combat sambo fighters, while not technically brilliant, have outstanding timing. Transition domination is something that sets grapplers apart on the mat when it comes to catching submissions, and we are seeing a very similar thing with striking in these instances. It is reminiscent of what makes top level Nova Uniao fighters so dangerous, who are excellent at that Vale Tudo brand of jiu jitsu grappling, where timing strikes is critical.
- Dustin Ortiz continued what started this Wednesday at Fight for the Troops 3, as he continually fouled Jose Maria Tome, faced no penalty for it and then was awarded a (T)KO win, Ortiz was impressive against a fairly underrated Flyweight in Maria, but this fight was marred by the poor job of Kevin MacDonald.