Following the cancellation of UFC 151, after a couple false re-starts, the reset finally came with UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones set to put his belt on the line against Vitor Belfort in the UFC 152 main event.
Jones had originally been slated to head UFC 151, challenged by Dan Henderson, who fell off the card due to injury.
Belfort had been busy working his way back up the UFC middleweight division, but when push came to shove and the UFC needed an opponent for Jones, Belfort stepped up and was granted a title shot.
A war can be waged over whether the former UFC light heavyweight champion deserves a shot at Jones or not, but what really can’t be argued is the fact that anyone on any given day, at this level of the sport, can win. And that simple fact hasn’t slipped past Jones.
“Vitor Belfort is a UFC original, a real, true legend,” said Jones at Wednesday’s UFC 152 open workouts in Toronto. “He has so much experience at so many different weight classes and I cannot underestimate him.”
Belfort, 35, is one of the most experienced fighters in the UFC. He began his professional MMA career at just 19 years of age, shredding through the opposition. With the fastest hands in the sport, he knocked out his first four opponents, mowing three of them down inside the opening minute of the fight.
The fight that etched in everyone’s mind, however, is when Belfort blitzed a young “Axe Murderer,” laying out Wanderlei Silva in front of a fervent crowd of countrymen at UFC Brazil in 1998.
When he’s on his game, Belfort still possesses the speed and power to knock out anyone that sets foot in the Octagon.
Jones knows that, but he doesn’t fear it.
“He’s a very powerful striker, but in this situation, I feel I am the more versatile striker in the fight,” said the champ. “I won’t shy away from a striking battle just because he has a punch. He’s got a unique style and I enjoy matching up against guys like that.”
Much like Belfort in his day, Jones has stormed the completion, rolling over the likes of Vladimir Matyushenko, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Lyoto Machida, and Rashad Evans.
Just as Belfort was known as “the Phenom,” so is Jones.
That can be a dominant champions ultimate downfall, buying into the hype that surrounds him. Belfort, when he was in his zone, rolled over anyone in his path, but given to distraction, his alter ego, the vulnerable Vitor, could appear.
Jones has yet to show that he has that alter ego, but he’s surely being put to the test now, falling under a heavy dose of criticism for everything from a recent DWI incident to turning down a short-notice fight that may have saved UFC 151 from cancellation.
He also faces the calls of those who say he has decimated his division; that he needs to move on to superfights against the likes of Anderson Silva or perhaps move up to new challenges in the heavyweight division. But Jones isn’t buying.
“In no way have I ‘cleared out’ the division,” remarked the champ. “Everyone’s style is a puzzle for me, and who knows which style I will have the most trouble with.”
At 25 years of age, there’s a lot of life left in Jones’ career, and he’s got a clear vision for it.
“I’m about to fight my fifth straight UFC champion – which I was told is a UFC record – and I’m very proud of fighting the best guy available in each of my fights,” Jones stated. “That’s how you build a legacy in a sport.”
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